2018 Shenzhen, China

The Productive City

Ambience photo Fontys

Shenzhen has done more than any other place on the mainland to debunk the outdated myth of "copycat China", becoming the global hub of innovation in hardware and manufacturing." The Economist, April 8, 2017

Shenzhen has earned its reputation as being one of the global manufacturing powerhouses. In the 1970's it was little more than an insignificant market town, but has grown out to become a vast, 12 million inhabitants megacity. Shenzhen is situated in Guangdon Province and is part of the Pearl River Delta (PRD) conurbation, accounting for over 60 million inhabitants and an estimated GDP of 1.2 trillion US$. Shenzhen is very close to Hong Kong, which makes it an attractive gateway to mainland China.

Low wages, a vast potential of workers and good connectivity to the world have helped to boost the growth of Shenzhen. Since 1980, the city has had the status of a Special Economic Zone, which furthermore enabled the city to develop fast and remain competitive against other low-wage countries. However, China itself has seen an unprecedented economic growth and can no longer be considered a low-wage country. The type of manufacturing has shifted to more complex and high end products and services. The PRD is still a major assembly and manufacturing hub, but today Shenzhen ranks as the 6th most competitive place in the world, outranking Hong Kong, Tokyo and Munich.

This trend towards innovation-driven economic growth has significant spatial implications as well. Dense urban fabrics with massive manufacturing sites have been demolished and replaced by high-rise towers and miexed-use urban districts. More traditional industrial activities have been relocated, either to peripheral industrial zones or to cheaper places inside or outside of China. The areas that previoulsy were the cradle of Shenzhen's industrial revolution are called 'urban villages', and the distinctive dense spatial and programmatic typologies of such settlements is disappearing as most of these urban villages have been demolished and rezoned.

Master Class (January 13-21, 2018)

In this Master Class program, Stadslab, Future+ and the Shenzhen Open Innovation Lab (SZOIL) will investigate the strategic potential to revitalize such 'maker districts' and urban villages, avoiding the demolishment or transformation of such areas, following the current global trend of 'hipster' neighborhoods with an arts and leisure profile. How is the tech industry transforming manufacturing and its spatial requirements? Will the 3D printing revolution radically transform the nature of industrial manufacturing? And can the city empower its position as a centre of production and innovation? Such questions will be addressed during the Master Class, taking in the experience and foresight of experts from urban planning and the tech community and engaging with local communities about their needs and expectations.

Target Audience

Shenzhen Productive City is designed as a collaborative program for professionals from the international design and planning community (architecture, urbanism, planning, real estate). We also welcome master students, urban studies academics and professionals from adjacent and other relevant fields. The objective of the one week workshop is to engage in an open exchange with each other, local and global experts and local authorities and business leaders to address the challenges and potential of productive cities and innovation.


Future+ is an Aformal Academy for Urbanism, Landscape, Public Art in Shenzhen. Its founder and dean, Jason Hilgefort, is an internationally acclaimed speaker and designer, who is also co-curating the Shenzhen-Hong Kong Architecture Biennale.

Shenzhen Open Innovation Lab (SZOIL) is a space and platform for worldwide makers to communicate and cooperate, and the first FabLab in Shenzhen authorized by MIT CBA. The lab dedicates in exploring the issues and devloping solutions to connect the massive production ecosystem to small hardware startups. David Li, its founder, has been committed to the development of Chinese makers and the transformation of innovative products since 2010.

Apply now!

The costs of the Master Class are 520 euro (app. 4000 RMB) for professionals and 325 euro (app. 2500 RMB) for students. These fees include the full lecture and workshop program, a full-day site visit of PRD, opening dinner, lunches and final reception. Not included are travel costs, accommodation, other meals and drinks, insurances and personal expenses. We will provide a list of hotel options, ranging from budget to luxury hotels close to the working site.

The working language during the Master Class will be English.

Applicants should send an updated CV and motivation letter to Stadslab before December 1st, 2017. We will review the applications and select maximum 15 participants.

Chinese participants can pay the program fees through our Chinese partners (Future+ or SZOIL). Other participants will pay the fees to Stadslab.