This paper describes the process of a studio and research project called ‘Working on Cities’ (WOC) by students from the Academy of Architecture and of the Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The studio brought together architects, designers and urban management professionals from developing countries and the Netherlands. The objective of the WOC studio was to arrive at a sustainable, integrated plan and design for a particular settlement in Africa. The location for this project was the Ayigya subcentre in Kumasi, Ghana. This settlement is currently facing many challenges inherent to the urban growth of African cities and the limited technical and financial resources at hand. The focus is on the description of the process that supported the WOC studio by the interdisciplinary team of students. The challenges of the settlement and the applied action-research oriented methods are explained. Principles of action planning and integrated development planning were used as a basis for developing a ‘common language’ amongst students and it is argued that is vital for the development of designing sustainable areas such as Ayigya while recognizing the realities of the people and their future needs.