So… You want to know what to read to become a better designer, urban planner, architect, and social activist who puts inclusion at the forefront of their work? Here are a few recommendations from our Designing Cities For All (DCFA) team. We will add new recommendations periodically. For all you city designers who want to empower yourself (and others), let these reads guide your practice of transforming cities for the better. And guess what? You can order these books with a pretty neat discount via our local bookstore Athenaeum!*

The following books were chosen by the 5th DCFA fellow of 2024: Shibaura House. These books and articles relate to Japan and the overall theme of our fellowship: (Re)Designing Connection. We delve into the multifaceted concept of connection on three different scales: humans & non-humans, communities and cities. Our modern urban existence led us to disconnect from ourselves, our communities, and the cities we inhabit. How can we reclaim and (re)design these connections through personal practices and grassroots initiatives? This series aims to explore practical strategies and innovative approaches for reviving the lost essence of connection on both individual and collective levels, fostering a more inclusive city for and with all.

Watch the first and second episode of Shibaura House’s fellowship!



Cleanliness is next to enlightenment. In this Japanese bestseller, Buddhist monk Shoukei Matsumoto explains the traditional meditative techniques that will help cleanse not only your house but also your soul. Live clean. Feel calm. Be happy. We remove dust to sweep away our worldly cares. We live simply and take time to contemplate the self, mindfully living each moment. It’s not just monks who need to live this way; everyone in today’s busy world needs it. In Japan, cleanliness is next to enlightenment. This bestselling guide A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Mind by a Zen Buddhist monk, draws on ancient traditions to show you how a few simple changes to your daily habits – from your early morning routine to preparing food, from respecting the objects around you to work together as a team – will not only make your home calmer and cleaner, but will also leave you feeling refreshed, happier and more fulfilled.


Architect Rem Koolhaas and curator Hans Ulrich Obrist compile a history of Metabolism, the first non-Western avant-garde architecture, born out of postwar Tokyo. In Project Japan: Metabolism Talks, extensive interviews and rare photographs introduce the movement and shed light on the group’s futuristic vision: a dream of cities that would grow, reproduce, and transform in response to their environment.


We are living in a time of deep divisions. Americans are sorting themselves along racial, religious, and cultural lines, leading to a level of polarisation that the country hasn’t seen since the Civil War. Pundits and politicians are calling for us to come together and find common purpose. But how, exactly, can this be done?

In Palaces for the People , Eric Klinenberg suggests a way forward. He believes that the future of democratic societies rests not simply on shared values ​​​​​​​​but on shared spaces: the libraries, childcare centres, churches, and parks where crucial connections are formed. Interweaving his own research with examples from around the globe, Klinenberg shows how “social infrastructure” is helping to solve some of our most pressing societal challenges. Richly reported and ultimately uplifting, Palaces for the People offers a blueprint for bridging our apparently unbridgeable divides.


Kazu is dead. Born in Fukushima in 1933, the same year as the Japanese Emperor, his life is tied by a series of coincidences to the Imperial family and has been shaped at every turn by modern Japanese history. But his life story is also marked by bad luck, and now, in death, he is unable to rest, doomed to haunt the park near Ueno Station in Tokyo.

Through Kazu’s eyes, we see daily life in Tokyo buzz around him and learn the intimate details of his personal story, how loss and society’s inequalities and restrictions spiralled toward this ghostly fate, with moments of beauty and grace just out of reach. A powerful masterwork from one of Japan’s most brilliant outsider writers, Yu Miri, Tokyo Ueno Station is a book for our times and a look into a marginalised existence in a shiny global megapolis.


Keiko has never fit in, neither in her family, nor in school, but when at the age of eighteen she begins working at the Hiiromachi branch of “Smile Mart,” she finds peace and purpose in her life. In the store, unlike anywhere else, she understands the rules of social interaction―many are laid out line by line in the store’s manual―and she does her best to copy the dress, mannerisms, and speech of her colleagues, playing the part of a “normal” person excellently, more or less. Keiko is very happy, but the people close to her, from her family to her co-workers, increasingly pressure her to find a husband, and to start a proper career, prompting her to take desperate action…

A brilliant depiction of a world hidden from view, Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata is an ironic and sharp-eyed look at contemporary work culture and the pressures we all feel to conform, as well as a charming and completely fresh portrait of an unforgettable heroine.


Japan, after suffering from a massive irreparable disaster, cuts itself off from the world. Children are so weak they can barely stand or walk: the only people with any get-go are the elderly. Mumei lives with his grandfather Yoshiro, who worries about him constantly. They carry on a day-to-day routine in what could be viewed as a post-Fukushima time, with all the children born ancient-frail and gray-haired, yet incredibly compassionate and wise. Mumei may be enfeebled and feverish, but he is a beacon of hope, full of wit and free of self-pity and pessimism. Yoshiro concentrates on nourishing Mumei, a strangely wonderful boy who offers “the beauty of the time that is yet to come.” A delightful, irrepressibly funny book, The Emissary is filled with light. Yoko Tawada, deftly turning “the curse” inside out, defies gravity and creates a playful joyous novel out of a dystopian one, with a legerdemain uniquely her own.

All books (Except Palaces for the People) in this list can be ordered at Athenaeum Bookstore. With the code DCFA2324 you get a 10% discount on non-Dutch publications.


Make sure to join us in the last episode of the (Re)designing Connection series called “More Than Cities” on Monday 24 June.