Dutch designer combines city and country to reverse 100 years of urbanisation

Robert Stockdill

Robert Stockdill


If we could undo the damage to nature and people’s wellbeing caused by a century of rapid urbanisation, what would it look like?

Fernando Donis has created a concept of habitable topographies in which humanity and nature coexist – a concept that earned him first place in Dezeen‘s Redesign the World competition powered by Twinmotion.

Each high-density city is designed to house 1 million people, formed of mountain-like terraced structures made from cross-laminated timber, which would be built to frame natural landscapes.

Roads and private vehicles would be banned, replaced by an infrastructure to support pedestrians and cycling, with cities carefully planned to ensure everyone can access necessary services and amenities within a 15-minute walk or cycle of home.

Donis, from Rotterdam in the Netherlands, refers to a city proposed in 1922 by Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier that could house 3 million inhabitants. The city was never built, but Donis believes the proposal typifies the urbanism people in cities have come to believe as normal during the past century. 

It was based on a business and commercial hub with high-rises surrounded by the sprawl of low-density housing, large highways for cars with less importance given to a pedestrian network, unsustainable steel and concrete construction generating ‘concrete jungles’ and endless urbanisation.

“These tenets engendered the urbanism we live in, making us prisoners of an endless capitalist consumption of cars, energy, time and landscape,” explains Donis.

“Today, despite new attempts to integrate solar energy, EV mobility and underground infrastructure, the core of the problem still comes from the cities we envisioned a century ago.”

Donis imagines his proposed Frame City would integrate with and complement its natural surroundings, creating a diverse network of different urban settlements, which would lead to “rich cultural exchanges and tourism”.

“Redesigning the world means radically rethinking the economic, political and environmental model of the city: a bottom-up agenda from the city to the entire planet, reinventing new sustainable standards that adapt to the population and climate change needs of the 21st Century.”

Frame City combines city and countryside, with the following key points:

  • The integration of housing, business and commercial programmes within densified structures.
  • The combination of urban programs within organic compositions, surrounding large green parks or forests.
  • The elimination of the highway and the use of private vehicles in exchange for pedestrian and cycling networks.
  • Sustainable cross-laminated timber (CLT) construction, generating ‘green cities’.
  • Framed densified cities.

“The best places to live in the world are right in from of the best parks: Central Park in New York, Hyde Park in London, Chapultepec Forest in Mexico City, Kralingse Bos in Rotterdam, etc.

“Such places find a balance between city and countryside, engendering a 15-minute healthy polis, ideal for walking and cycling. The new cities can become that, simple frames surrounding distinct natural landscapes with every human being living at the most valuable parts of the city,” says Donis.

“A combination of high-rise and megastructure, large curvilinear ‘mountains’ with terraces integrate a quarter of a million living units with four inhabitants average per unit.

“Services, commercial and business areas form the triangular structural base of the mega waves with views towards the open fields. Every city would vary according to the park, forest or landscape they frame, potentially creating thousands of singular experiences that would forge tourism and cultural exchange.”

Donis says the rest of the environment should be reclaimed by nature, protecting our planet ecosystems and the human race for millions of years.

“Architecture becomes an extension of nature at the Frame City, undoing thousands of years of mistaken so-called progress. The city architects would now cooperate to design and maintain each city, rather than competing for extravagant uniqueness.”

You can read a more extensive description of Donis’ project here on Dezeen

About Redesign the World

Dezeen describes Redesign the World as the ultimate design competition, calling for new ideas to rethink planet Earth to ensure that it remains habitable long into the future.

Launched in partnership with Epic Games, the contest asked entrants to visualise their concepts using the architectural visualisation software Twinmotion.

Donis won the top prize of £5000. You can read about the proposals from all 15 finalists’ projects here

The finalists were assessed by a judging panel comprising White Arkitekter CEO Alexandra Hagen, structural engineer Hanif Kara, speculative architect Liam Young, Twinmotion product marketing manager Belinda Ercan and Dezeen founder and editor-in-chief Marcus Fairs. 

Robert Stockdill

Robert Stockdill

Robert Stockdill is a content writer with more than 30 years of experience in five countries. His style has built upon award-winning success in news and features in the print media to leadership in digital communication, spanning news websites, social media, magazines, brochures, and contributing to books. Recognising the devastating impact of consumer behaviour on the planet and wanting to help make a difference Robert launched Viable.Earth as a platform to celebrate positive contributions by brands, companies and individuals towards reducing environmental impact and improve sustainability – especially in the fields of fashion, beauty, food, lifestyle, and transportation.


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