City As Lab

Within the didactical frame of the initiative Urban Transformation and Placemaking, cities are conceived as laboratories where people interact with each other and with their (im)material environment to create, shape, or even radically transform forms of co-existence and mechanisms of cultural and economic production. To the urban researcher observing such reactions, emergent trends become visible, conflicts brew within the cracks of the social mosaic, and certain groups and places are made to be in/visible. To study and understand a city, we thus need to think in terms of placemaking: who are the people who make the urban place – by walking, sitting, loitering, working, playing, controlling, gatekeeping, and subverting customs and regulation?

Through creative and experimental research methods across the disciplines of anthropology, human and social sciences, art and design, architecture and geography, our students and teaching staff practiced ways of ‘getting to know’ the city, of unravelling its complex transformations, and of representing the fieldwork results through multiple media. Fieldworks and workshops have been conducted in the cities of New Delhi, Kathmandu and Heidelberg, and the participants had the opportunity to appreciate the unique characteristics of these urban centers, as well as to try out similar research methods in different socio-cultural environments.


From November 23rd to 27th, 2023, a South-South Excursion took place in Kathmandu as part of the DAAD-funded Partnership 'Urban Transformation and Placemaking: Learning from cities in South Asia and Germany.' This collaboration brought together four students from SPA Delhi and five students from KU Art + Design, accompanied by faculty members, artists, architects, and heritage activists. The focal point of this engagement was a South-South Excursion, a journey that extended over two days, immersing participants in the rich tapestry of Kathmandu's cultural heritage. The chosen backdrop for exploration was four settlements in Lalitpur, each holding its unique history, changes, and challenges. Guided by notable personalities such as Anil Chitrakar, Dr. Rohit Ranjitkar, Padma Sundhar Maharjan, and Asoj Maharjan,  the [...]

Read more


The Sanskrit name of Itumbahal, ‘Bhaskardeva Sanskarita Keshchandra Krita Parawarta Mahavihar’ is a clue, which explains the historicity of Itumbahal. The legendry figure Keshchandra who has believed to have constructed, Itumbahal is still elusive. Some historians date him about the 11th century AD. In those days Kathmandu is under the rule of king Bahasrkardeva of Nuwakot. Keshchandra was a gambler son of Bhaskardeva, a Thakuri king of Nuwakot, once he lost everything in gambling, disheartened, he went to the jungle, to be returned with sack full of Gold, then he established huge monastery and named it as “Bhaskardeva Sanskarita Keshchandra Krita Parawarta Mahavihara” The nearest meaning of this Sanskrit name is as follows: – ‘The pigeon monastery founded by Keshchandra [...]

Read more

Knowing and Living (in) the City – differently!

The DAAD-funded Partnership ‘Urban Transformation and Placemaking: Learning from cities in South Asia and Germany’ organized an international workshop in Heidelberg between the 2nd and the 8th of July 2023. Over 20 students from participating schools shared a week of field visits, joint fieldwork and discussions with professors, experts and stakeholders of knowledge and experience in and of the city. An interdisciplinary faculty and student group researched in disciplines such as urban geography, art and architectural history, urban planning, art, and visual and media anthropology. Questions motivating in the workshop included: What new ways of seeing are allowed by looking into the past of the city from perspectives that challenge its mainstream historic discourses? How to make cultural diversity in [...]

Read more

“Un/belonging to and in the city” 

The focus for joint fieldwork and teaching was on the way communities can claim, retain and make places of belonging in a rapidly changing city. In most traditional settlement fabrics, the ‘street’ has remained the social space of community life for centuries, where the private worlds of families gave way to the public sphere of the community. The collective association and connected meanings of spaces of dwelling intertwined with the dynamic public life of sur­rounding urbanity become the foundation of community belongingness and social cohesion. This forms the connective thread weaving the social and physical fabrics of our cities. However, over time, the processes that determined the making of physical environments, for example, the joint family as the primary social unit, [...]

Read more
Image from Pimbahal

Urban Heritage Mining Summerschool (Heritage as Placemaking)

From the 22nd to the 29th September 2022, students, young professionals, heritage activists, and teaching staff came together in the Kathmandu valley to participate in the international ‘Summer School: Urban Heritage Mining’. A project born from the collaboration of Heidelberg University and SOAS University of London, in the framework of the research project "Heritage as Placemaking: The Politics of Solidarity and Erasure", the summer school presented 20 participants from different countries and disciplines with the chance to learn from experts, as well as from one another, approaches to research, preservation and revaluation of urban heritage. The summer school was a collaboration with the DAAD-funded partnership "Urban Transformation and Placemaking: Learning from South Asia and Germany”. Streets, squares, palaces, temples and [...]

Read more


This blog has emerged from a research-based Seminar in the Master of Transcultural Studies at Heidelberg University. The class was geared at an intense, interdisciplinary examination of urban transformation and everyday life in South Asia and Germany. Central for this exploration was the use of concepts related to placemaking, heritage, mobilities and belonging. The focus was Kathmandu Valley (Nepal) as one of the fastest growing metropolitan sprawls in the world, and Heidelberg (Germany) as a historical student city. The class was part of an international teaching initiative with Delhi’s School of Planning and Architecture and Kathmandu Universities department of art and design, entitled "Urban transformation and placemaking: Fostering Learning from South Asia and Ger­many." It is funded by the German Academic [...]

Read more