Why designing for spontaneity is what cities need now

When people come together, we can create great adventures, and that in turn manifests in memory.”

- Su Lim, Managing Director, Freestate

We believe good things — great things — can happen when people come together through seemingly spontaneous experiences.

The emotional response we get when we’re surprised or delighted is hugely powerful. It can help us feel more connected to others, and our cities. It can inspire and move us toward great change — and great change is something our cities, communities and planet urgently needs.

But how do we design for spontaneity? Is this not inherently contradictory?


Season 4 Episode 1


Jon Hazelwood, Hassell


Su Lim, Managing Director, FreeState
Chong Wang, Hassell 


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As part of a series of insights and conversations on design for togetherness’ we asked Principal and previous Hassell Talks host Jon Hazelwood to return to the microphone for a conversation with FreeState’s Su Lim around the role of spontaneity in our cities and how we can curate spaces for the unplanned.

Su and Jon discuss how to design for experiences that we don’t always know we need but that can connect and reconnect us in novel and essential ways that will create memories and reset cities.

We discuss the role of landscape and nature in creating surprise and delight in cities and, with Hassell Principal Chong Wang, explore how one of the world’s great cities, Shanghai, has woven spontaneity into its DNA. We also hear from Hannah Fox, the creator of Melbourne’s renowned Rising Festival, about how spontaneous interactions feed creativity.

Bringing biodiversity into cities encourages people to respond to nature. Those natural elements of the city are constantly changing and they’re also spontaneous. There’s as much joy in seeing a bird land on a tree as there is bumping into a friend on a street corner.”

Jon Hazelwood

Through all this, the benefits to our cities, communities, economies and environment are clear — if we can grab hold of the opportunities to weave spontaneity into our urban fabric.

Listen to the podcast via the player below. Search for Hassell Talks on Apple, Spotify, iHeart, PodBean or on your favourite podcast app.

Our thanks to the team at MPavilion for permission to use the clip of Hannah Fox.

Increasingly we want to balance those efficient seamless journeys where we want to get somewhere fast with an open-ended meandering. It’s essential for creativity and thinking.”

Su Lim Managing Director, FreeState

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