The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


The legacy of 'cosmopolitan development': towards a new research agenda

The aim of the Cross-Cluster Research Project is to contribute to the academic debate on post-conflict reconstruction and planning in divided societies.

The legacy of 'cosmopolitan development': towards a new research agenda


Cross-cluster Research Project:

  • Diversity, social complexity and planned intervention
  • State and Market: governance and policy for development

The aim of the Cross-Cluster Research Project is to contribute to the academic debate on post-conflict reconstruction and planning in divided societies. The project critically engages with the work of Michael Safier, a key figure of the Development Planning Unit. Michael dedicated his life, investigations, teaching activities and professional practice to the conceptualisation of 'cosmopolitan development' as a means of promoting peaceful co-existence and dialogue between cultural groups in urban areas.

The project develops in two phases. The first phase consists of archiving Michael’s work and reviewing it. The second phase looks more closely at the aims, goals, and production of the - now closed - MSc Cosmopolitan Development, founded by Michael in 1999, with the aim of reflecting on its innovative pedagogy. Overall, the project aims to provide a cross cluster platform from which to reconfigure and consolidate post-conflict and cosmopolitan development interests and ground new research proposals and ideas. The project is aimed also at providing continuity between generations that deal with similar themes, building on the DPU60 initiative 'Looking back, looking forward'.

Project Team: Camillo BoanoCaren LevyGiovanna Astolfo, Giulia Carabelli, Sigi Attender

Implementation time: January – July 2015


The archive on Cosmopolitan Development collects and organises the work, research and teaching material of Michael Safier, one of the most influential figures of the Development Planning Unit, from the early 1990s to 2006. The archive contains a wealth of material relating to Safier's intellectual contribution to the international debate on cosmopolitanism and his innovative pedagogical approach developed at DPU that formed the basis for the MSc programme Cosmopolitan Development.

The archive displays Michael’s early articles on cosmopolitan city in the 1990s, his work about Jerusalem and Sarajevo, and the teaching material he authored for the MSc Cosmopolitan Development. The archive also includes interviews with Michael, photographs he has taken and collected and other relevant material. All files available are free to download.

The archival material was collected during January-April 2015 by the research team formed by Giovanna Astolfo, Sigi Atteneder and Giulia Carabelli.

This project was made possible by the patient collaboration and engaged supervision of Michael Safier.

The content of the archive can be downloaded through the pdf links below:


Friday 12th June 2015 | 10am to 1.30pm | Room 101, DPU, 34 Tavistock Square

The seminar was the first public event in the ongoing Cross-Cluster Research Project The legacy of cosmopolitan development: towards a new research agenda. The project started in January 2015 seeking to contribute to the academic debate on post-conflict reconstruction and planning in divided societies. The project critically engages
with the work of Michael Safier, and his conceptualisation of cosmopolitan development as a means of promoting peaceful co-existence and dialogue between cultural groups in urban areas.

After the completion of the first stage of the project, the preliminary research findings were presented and discussed in conversation with Micheal Safier, Caren Levy and Camillo Boano. The seminar focused on three aspects of the research: the pedagogical project and the intellectual legacy of Safier’s work, the recent advances in cosmopolitan thinking, and encounters between cosmopolitan and post conflict planning/development.

Cosmopolitan Planning: Then and Now

The papers offer a reflection on the notion of cosmopolitan development and planning under three different perspectives: as formulated and developed by Micheal Safier at DPU, as portrayed by the international debate and in relation to the current post-conflict reconstruction debate.

Working paper – “The legacy of ‘cosmopolitan planning’: towards a new research agenda”

by Sigi Atteneder, UCL, The Bartlett, Development Planning Unit, May 23 2015


This paper presents a review of literature published on cosmopolitanism from the mid 2000s to the present. It picks up on the notion of cosmopolitanism, as dwelled upon by Michael Safier in the course of his work at the Development Planning Unit (DPU). The paper starts with a review of Michael Safier´s own work and published and unpublished texts. Michael´s central claim is that it should be the goal of an urban development that embraces a cosmopolitan ethic, to transform the jumbled, overlapping identities in urban areas into productive dynamics. The review is divided into a section on normative aspects, one on ‘real’ appearances of the concept and a brief focus explicitly on ‘cosmopolitan planning’. The first part discusses the historical and philosophical basis, sets cosmopolitanism in contrast to similar yet different terms, highlights the concept’s stance toward the (nation-)state and ends with political aspects in cosmopolitanism. 

The second part is concerned with more grounded applications of the concept. It looks at terminologies and concrete applications, revisits the contrasting national/cosmopolitan discourse, highlights cosmopolitanism’s processuality and practicality, introduces methodological considerations and ends with non-western accounts. A brief third section sketches out ideas around cosmopolitan planning, that, ideally, incorporate thoughts and approaches, introduced in the first two sections. The major developments observable in the reviewed literature are a move away from merely normative and ethic concerns of the concept to more varied notions and actually applied cosmopolitanisms; a focus on non-western sources and versions of the concept; the appreciation of in-betweenness rather than qualities or properties of fixed entities; an attention to cosmopolitanism as a set of processes rather than as a desired (end)product; and the integration of imaginary aspects, highlighting both the concepts limitations and potential.

Sigi Atteneder was born in Freistadt, Austria, he now lives and works in London.

After training as a builder, working as a foreman and site manager, he went on to study architecture at the University of Arts and Design in Linz, Austria. During his studies he completed an exchange semester at the University of Hong Kong, worked for various architecture firms in Austria and for Shigeru Ban Architects in Tokyo. He was a leading team member of the University of Arts’ internationally honoured Living Tebogo – Building in a Township project in Johannesburg, South Africa.

For his work in the cross-over field of art, architecture and development, he earned several prizes and awards, including, among others, a working grant from the Austrian-Hong Kong Education Foundation, the World Energy Globe (with the University of Arts Team), a Talent-Award from the government of Upper Austria, a working grant from the Emanuel and Sofie Fohn Foundation, a Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky grant from the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, a research fellowship position from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a Kuzinez Research Award from the Elena Kuzinez Foundation.

With his thesis project The East Mediterranean – Insight and Outlook, and the related entry HUMMUS 2050 to the Just Jerusalem – Jerusalem 2050 competition (with Lorenz Potocnik), held by MIT, he was granted a 6 month research fellowship position at MIT.

His research interest lies in the East Mediterranean, or the “Levant”, its urban centres, and the socio-spatial implications for this contested region. He is a PhD candidate at UCLs Development Planning Unit in London.

Sigi Atteneder is a member of the Architekturforum Oberoesterreich and a member of the Alumni-Forum of the University of Art and Design, Linz, Austria.

Working paper – “The legacy of ‘cosmopolitan planning’: towards a new research agenda” by Giovanna Astolfo, UCL, The Bartlett, Development Planning Unit, April 2015


A cosmopolitan thinking goes beyond the mere purpose of any research and the boundaries of any disciplinary field. It is a reasoning around universal concerns and overarching ideas. Back in the 1990s such debate was, with Micheal Safier's words, "imperative, given the urgency and danger of present circumstances" (1996). Sadly, fast forward 20 years little has changed: the dangerous circumstances Safier was referring to - the war in Bosnia - have been the trigger of a ripple effect with long term devastating consequences. The current 'clash of civilisation', the nonsensical dual narrative and the war on terror can be regarded as a by-product of the war in 1993 and the lack of a just resolution. "What has happened to, and in, Sarajevo marks an extreme of devastation brought on a city and its citizens by collective cultural conflict. The intense involvement and contested intervention - I would say abject failure - by 'the international community marks the permanent presence of such conflict as a global issue, whether near or far, in which we are all involved"(1996). In our post-Sarajevo era, urban conflict has become increasingly ubiquitous and fratricidal. A cosmopolitan thinking is today even more imperative and crucial in order to question our ability of 'learning how to live together or die apart'. More than ever we urge to apply the principles of cosmo-development that Safier envisioned 20 years ago, and learn again how to celebrate diversity.

The purpose of the present paper is precisely to re-read and speculate on Micheal's cosmopolitan writings/legacy and to revive the debate over cosmo-development, interrupted in 2006 with his retirement, tracking back its genesis along with some biographical notes. Cosmopolitan development has been an underlying theme in Micheal's career and a tout court project encompassing research, teaching and professional activity; and covering a substantial period of his life. His interest started with the engagement with the cities of Jerusalem and Sarajevo and it further found its materialisation as a course module, subsequently as a master course, a research programme and a tentative research centre at DPU. The present paper outlines the development of the idea from the early stage and the way in which it subsequently informed writings, papers, lectures and course material and at same time was informed by the international debate, the debate at DPU, and the parallel interest in development planning.

In the first part, a timeline diagram helps the reader to follow the genesis and development of Micheal's cosmopolitan thinking and the intertwining events along the last two decades, starting from the war in Bosnia. Across the text, some relevant words are highlighted in blue, and linked to the papers where they appear for the first time. Some of them are neologisms (urbicide, room for manoeuvre), some others are powerful images (convivencia, urbicide, the as well as concept), and others are related to his methodological approach (interdimensionality). All of them are recurrent in Safier's writings, developed and refined over time. Taken as a whole they reveal a certain degree of interconnectedness and complexity. Altogether, they map Micheal's intellectual legacy on cosmopolitan development.

Timeline - Cosmopolitan Development

Giovanna Astolfo's background is in architecture and urban design; Giovanna did the MSc BUDD Course and she holds a PhD at School of Architecture in Venice. Her research focused on the nexus between density, proximity, re-use of vacant land and sustainable development of medium sized cities in Southern Europe. She further developed the investigation on the role and implications of social housing in the peripheries of Italian middle cities and the opportunity of redevelopment of abandoned urban areas.

More recently her research is focused on urban borders, division and its production in the global everyday. Giovanna combined academic research and professional practice, working in architectural offices in Venice and São Paulo, on international projects and competitions for the recovery and reuse of existing buildings and urban regeneration, infrastructural projects and environmental plans. She is Teaching Fellow at the Bartlett DPU.

Working paper – “The legacy of ‘cosmopolitan planning’: towards a new research agenda” by Giulia Carabelli, UCL, The Bartlett, Development Planning Unit


The main goal of this paper is to engage with Michael Safier’s conceptualisation of cosmopolitan planning (and development) to explore its potential as a tool for post-conflict reconstruction. In particular, this paper focuses on the implications of cosmopolitan planning in rehabilitating urban life after violent ethno-national conflicts that lead to urban polarisation and segregation. The paper reflects more closely on the case of Mostar to offer empirical evidence and enrich the theoretical discussion with data from my own research about the process of rebuilding the city after the wars in the 90s and especially after the imposed reunification in 2004.

The problem of how to engage with the process of reconstructing cities after violent conflicts has been a major preoccupation for many of the international organisations in charge of rehabilitating the precarious everyday life of the post-war areas. Among the main concerns there are the need to provide shelters, to re-build the lost infrastructures, and to set the basis for new economies to thrive ensuring jobs and revenues for the residents. There are procedures in place to ensure that post-war life can be re-started efficiently, in short periods of time, and according to ‘scientific’ models elaborated and tested internationally also to ensure their replicability. The principles of cosmopolitan planning and ethics follow this attempt to establish ways in which ‘belligerent’ societies could be guided toward renewed peace and stability. And if cosmopolitan planning perhaps lacks in concrete directives, it is rich in principles and ideas that are – probably - meant to inspire (rather than instruct) urban planners and administrators. In this paper, I wish to engage with these inspiring ideas. In particular, I wish to further the discussion of the key concepts underlying the principles of cosmopolitan planning as elaborated by Michael Safier such as urbicide, community, culture for development, and the role of civil society in rebuilding weak (or contested) states. Throughout this paper, I wish to draw on the outlined theoretical discussion to evaluate the case of Mostar, as an emblematic case of division where different planning strategies, implemented to advance peace and reconciliation, seem to have failed.

Giulia Carabelli holds a PhD in sociology at Queen's University Belfast and a Masters in Research Architecture at Goldsmiths College. Her PhD thesis, developed as part of the "Conflict in Cities and the Contested State" project, examined the process of reconstructing Mostar in Bosnia Herzegovina. Giulia's research interest is located at the intersection of urban sociology, art practice, and political theory. In particular, she is interested in Lefebvrian analysis of urban space production in relation to notions of political resistance, social change, and modes of criticality. Giulia mainly works as an ethnographer in exploring the roles and potential of grassroots movements and civil society actors in the making of urban spaces in contested and politically fragile environments.

Prior joining the DPU, Giulia worked as research associate of the "Imagine Sheppey Fast Forward" project at the University of Kent where she experimented with arts-based methods to explore how young people imagine their future on the Isle of Sheppey (Kent).

Giulia also has experience working in the NGO sector and, in particular, in the fields of art and cultural production. She has been the research manager of Abart, a platform for art production and urban research in Mostar since 2010.

Michael Safier

Michael Safier is a key figure of the Development Planning Unit. He dedicated his life, research and teaching activities, and professional practice to urban planning development specifically around the conceptualisation of cosmopolitan planning. In 1970, he was appointed Lecturer at the Architectural Association, London, Department of Development and Tropical Studies. In 1972, the Department transferred to University College London, where Michael continued teaching until retirement in 2006.

While teaching at DPU, Michael worked as consultant to various missions and Overseas Development Administration projects. These include the early experiences in Iran (1974-76) as consultant for UNDP and World Bank; in Indonesia, from 1981-83, China from 1983-94 for the British Council, ODA; Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Ghana and South Africa from 1985 to 1991 for ODA, UNHCS, DFID. Most relevant for the purpose of this research project, he was Consultant to the Commission on the Future of Jerusalem (IPCRI, U.K FCO) in Israel-Palestine in 1993 and Consultant for the Bosnian Institute of Regional and Urban Development (EU) from 2001-2005.