Wasn’t Built in A Day

The 12.12.12 Humanity project

The 12-12-12 project

This was part of a project called Urban Future, Human Future that evolved from a series of discussions between Mike Mayhew (artist), Stefan White (architect and academic), Jenny Savage (artist), Steve Potter (psychologist and academic) and URBED’s David Rudlin. The discussions took place under the umbrella of the wider 12.12.12 Humanity project that was facilitated by Mike Mayhew and included a series of activities across Manchester on 12th December 2012.

Urban Future, Human Future explored the way we respond to each other as humans and how we live together in cities. Both Jenny and Steve ran projects involving a series of conversations that they interpreted through mapping people’s reactions to, and relationship with Manchester. At the same time students from the Manchester School of Architecture were running sixteen events with people across Manchester exploring changes that they might make to the city. 

URBED’s part – the ‘Wasn’t Built in a day’ project

‘Wasn’t built in a day’ was David Rudlin and URBED’s contribution to the 12-12-12 project, and involved the construction of a giant plasticine model of the city of Manchester in collaboration with the Manchester architecture school and others with interest in the idea. It was not intended as an urban design exercise, an urban strategy session, or a public consultation. Nor was the aim to model a utopian future for the city – such futures are always doomed to failure (or worse still to being taken seriously). The model instead sought to explore what it means to be human and how we as humans collaborate with each other at the scale of the city.

Victor Hugo described the city as a ‘self made tapestry’ created from ‘successive evaporations of human society’. If the city as an artefact is a physical representation of human relationships, then the shape of the city, its beauty or ugliness, might say something about the society that it houses. Are the car-based, out-of town, business-park and suburban estate cities of the modern age representations of the atomised society in which we live in which the largest unit of human interaction is the ‘hard working family’? On the other hand might the historic cities that we love to visit say something about a time when units of human interaction as communities also existed at the scale of the neighbourhood, town and city?



If this is true there must be a process by which the nature of human society shapes the city in which it lives. We assume, because cities are human constructs, that they have been designed. The professions of architecture, planning and urban design are based on this idea. There is however another way of looking at cities; as places that have grown. As soon as you introduce the idea of growth you open up the field of complexity theory, in which a simple set of rules over a long period of time can create hugely complex patterns and shapes. This further links to the idea of emergence in which order starts to resolve out of this complexity – a theory that makes the city the human equivalent of the termite mound or ant colony.

‘Wasn’t built in a day’ was an attempt to explore this process. The model was built over twelve hours, the first six concentrating on building the city as it is today, and the second half looking at how it could change. Built at a scale of 1:1250 the model was around 7m square and, as we have said, was built out of plasticine (in fact it was built out of Newplast, which is what we all think of as plasticine even if the lovely people at New Clay Products, who sponsored the event, no longer own the trade mark). At this scale a single strip of Newplast is the equivalent of a two storey building and the model uses grey for the existing buildings and red for the interventions. Many of the architecture students had been working with local communities across the city on masterplans for their neighbourhoods, which they transposed onto the model in the second part of the exercise. You might have supposed that this would have imposed some order on the chaotic model of the existing city – if so you would have been wrong.

Watch the timelapse video of the event by PeopleStaring

Explore in more depth the idea behind the project

Plan your own Dead Good Funeral

With John Fox & Sue Gill

Join John Fox & Sue Gill to Plan your own Funeral


With Rebecca Cunningham (Australia)

One focuses of an exchange of DNA


With Marcello Messina

New music focusing on bulling and the abuse of power.

Nuts & Bolts

With Paul Wood of Morris Minor Millennium / Manchester

Learn to know your car and sustain it!

What Makes us Human

With Steve Potter

A 2 hour workshop of difference and how it informs and effects ourlives whilst living within an urban environment of cultural diversity. But how do we live with it? What are our reflections on difference and humanity.

Manchester School of Architecture Project

A Series of human engagement projects by The MSA students engaging across the city!

Eat Love

With Aine Phillips and Members of Dublin’s Performance Collective

An opportunity to cook a 12 course meal based and talk about love.

Urban Future / Human Future

With David Rudlin / Jennie Savage and students from MSAP

Engage with humanism and urbanism and re-design the city, walk through the city and engage to change

Whole Earth / ECO12

With Àgata Alcañiz

Change the world with knowledge.

Stop & Talk

With Steve Potter

A unique project requesting you to engage with a global 12 minute project on talking in the street.

For the Sake of Humanity

With Rae Story

Enter a moment of retreat and reflection for humanity.

View David Rudlin’s thoughts and experiences on the event, and find out more about the idea behind the project on his blog Climax City.

The people involved…

Mike Mayhew

the plasticine suppliers!

People staring

Manchester school of architecture


John Fox, Sue Gill, Steve Potter, Stefan White,  Jennie Savage, Rebecca Cunningham, Marcello Messina, Aine Phillips, Performance Collective (Dublin), Rosie Donnelly, Luca Rudlin, Sophie Bee, Chris Jam, Niki Taylor. students of MSAP  Manchester Museum, ISIS, Antwerp Mansions. Dr J,  Paul Owen, Mouses Nest, Mark Mace Smith, Chanje Kunda Dominic Berry, Keisha Thompson, Ammada Milligan, Yvonne Mcalla Segun Lee French, Shirley May, Laura Stripling, Elmi Ali Mohammed Ali. Suhail Khan, Carol Huston, Michael Anthony Barnes – Wynters

and many many more