The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


MSc Building and Urban Design in Development

The MSc Building and Urban Design in Development immerses students in the theory and practice of urban design and its role in building just cities and communities.

View our 'Study at the DPU' page for information, guidance and resources for prospective applicants and offer-holders studying at the DPU in 2021/22.

Programme highlights

  • Focus on crucial skills for urban practitioners, including critical thinking, action-oriented research, socio-spatial analysis and design research practice.
  • Aimed at those interested in the development of urban areas with a political and economic perspective of space in the Global South.
  • The nuance of the unique needs, abilities, aspirations, and forms of resistance of urban dwellers in various contexts.
  • Engagement opportunities to work on living, community-driven and action research projects, gaining practical experience. 
  • Content delivered through a wide range of teaching techniques (increasingly mediated by digital technologies) including taught lecturers and seminars, design-based studio work and practice engagement with global partners.

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Programme overview

The majority of the world’s human population lives in urban areas. While such urbanisation is substantially transforming the planet, cities are fundamentally shaped by neoliberal policies and exogenous transformative market-led forces that deepen the vulnerabilities of the urban poor and marginalised communities.

Architects, planners and urban practitioners concerned with urban design are trained mainly to cater to the needs of a small minority of the population. Rarely are they equipped to address the problems of the marginalised, illegal or unplanned settlements, areas that lack basic urban services, or unhealthy and deteriorating environmental conditions, including disasters and tightly constrained resources.

Additionally, the destructive effects of climate change and disasters tend to be concentrated disproportionately in poorer urban districts with the least adequate provision of protective infrastructure and services. The result of these global, regional and local processes is that cities, the planning of cities and the design of urban space has become increasingly fragmented, while socio-spatial inequality and vulnerabilities have risen. 

There is an urgent need to use our professional capacities to reconsider and recalibrate our engagement with design to effectively respond to social, economic and environmental global urban challenges and to address transformative change in cities primarily located in the Global South.

The programme presents a holistic process of design for development in cities within this context. It combines an examination and analysis of political, social, cultural and spatial elements in the production of urban spaces with the principles of designing for development, which include affordability, acceptability, sustainability, participation and responsiveness in design. 

The MSc Building and Urban Design in Development links together the methods and practice of 'design' with the complementary 'developmental' processes of development practitioners dealing with the spatial manifestation of injustices, complex urban challenges and spatial transformations at the scale of the building (architecture) and wider fabric (urban design) not as isolated disciplines or fields of practice but rather ones that are embedded and infused in a broader and more complex and contested urbanisms.

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Learning outcomes

By the end of this MSc, students will have:

  •     Developed a deeper understanding of the role of urban design as a transdisciplinary practice
  •     The ability to critically analyse, document and spatially visualise complex urban issues
  •     The confidence to design and propose strategic spatial plans that are fundamentally rooted in social and environmental justice
  •     Experimented with the practice of urban design beyond the classroom environment through practice engagements with international partners
  •     Cultivated their capacity to grow professionally as a practitioner in urban development planning
  •     A deeper understanding of spatial urban design and architecture practices in developmental processes – particularly in the Global South.


Programme structure

The MSc programme represents approximately 1,800 hours of student learning time. It involves several activities such as online and face to face lectures, seminars, workshops, tutorials, field visits, field trip, project work, private reading, writing and revising for examinations. Full-time students should commit to an average of at least 35 hours of study a week throughout the programme of study. All other commitments should be secondary to this time. 


The programme is organised into modules (more description below). Each module requires a critical amount of learning time, which is measured in credits. For example, a 30-credit module involves around 300 hours of student learning time. 


75% of the taught components of the programme (90 credits) are devoted to the core subjects of Building and Urban Design in Development. In comparison, 25% (30 credits) are reserved for an elective from a range of optional modules on offer. Core modules provide the theoretical and methodological components of the programme while optional modules allow students to examine different topics and approaches in accordance with their own particular interests.


The focus throughout the three academic terms is on the understanding of urban design, contested urbanisms in the Global south, the role of the urban practitioner and participatory approaches to urban transformations. This is done through a series of synchronous and asynchronous learning activities, such as lectures, seminars, reading discussions, fora, exercises and studio work. It also introduces the methodology and framework for a critical participatory, community-based approach that paves the way to deconstruct urban design as a political economy of space.


The BUDD Camp and the overseas field trip, respectively on the second and third term, are an integral part of the programme. The first consists of a long-weekend design engagement; the second, consists of a study visit to a city of the Global south. Most recent field trips have taken place in Mumbai, Istanbul, Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Yangon and Medellin. Should restrictions affect or prevent travel to any field trip destinations, we will implement alternative plans, involving similar work with the same partners and the same learning objectives, but using digital online platforms as appropriate. Whether there are restrictions in place or not, field trips employ a range of learning media, including both online and offline. 


The programme is structured into 3 modules (core) of 30 credits each, and 1 module (optional) of 30 credits –or 2 modules of 15 credits. Optional modules are chosen from those available either in the DPU or The Bartlett. The theoretical and empirical framework that underpins the course is covered by the modules of the first term, which are extended to a more practical sphere during the second term.


Core modules in the programme are central (mandatory) and comprise a linked series of lectures and workshop exercises. They are as follows:


(DEVP0002) Transforming Local Areas: Urban Design For Development introduces the urban design for development critical epistemology – and a set of concepts with which to analyse, understand and explain the form, structure, process and dynamics of urban areas and set up the philosophical apparatuses of its theoretical elements. 


(DEVP0003) Participatory Processes: Building for Development examines the theory and practice of participation by deconstructing its relationship with the processes that shape the built environment. 


(DEVP0004) Building and Urban Design in Practice is a project-based studio and practical module that provides an opportunity for students to test and implement relevant concepts and theories related to design, space and urban interventions, while building upon communication techniques such as verbal, written and visual presentation.


Optional modules give students an opportunity to dive deeper into the topics closer to their interests. These can be taken from the wider range of 15-credit modules offered by the DPU or the Bartlett, as long as they do not clash with the core modules of the programme.


The following are optional modules offered by the MSc BUDD programme and further below, option modules offered by other master programmes within DPU. 


DEVP0006 Critical Urbanism Studio I - Learning from Informality: Case Studies andAlternatives

Cities everywhere are being created without any architects or planners involved. An often quoted statistics is how almost 1 billion people live in informal settlements. Initiatives are trying to manage and control this informality in cities. With these unique challenges in mind, this module questions the definition of urbanism towards one that is social in nature and asks, what and for whom urbanism is for?

DEVP0007 Critical Urbanism Studio II - Investigative Design Strategies for Contested Spaces

This module builds on the Critical Urbanism Studio I (DEVP0006) approach for students who want to gain more experience in investigative urban analysis and development of design strategies. It focuses on phenomenological investigation as a different way of seeing people and place to engage with the multiplicity of contested developing arenas.

DEVP0008 Housing as urbanism: housing policy and the search for scale

This module reflects on the evolution of ideas and practices in the field of housing policies, in their direct connection with the wider context of development theories and strategies. It explores the changes in the role of different stakeholders, in the understanding of the multiple articulations of housing and urbanism and in the meaning and tools of scaling-up in housing provision. It pays particular attention to the convergence of debates on informality and housing as central to a major paradigmatic shift at conceptual and policy levels which will affect the direction of housing strategies far beyond just questions of informal housing.

DEVP0009 Housing policies: practical dimensions and alternative options

This module focuses on how interventions in housing can build on a complexity of sectoral inputs to produce multiple pro-poor development outcomes. Participants are exposed to a range of approaches to housing and settlement upgrading policy and practice. The roles of the state, market and civil society in housing and settlement upgrading are examined in different national contexts. The importance of land, finance, infrastructure, organisational capacity and governance are emphasised as well as the longer-term sustainability of different approaches.

DEVP0005 Disaster Risk Reduction in Cities

This module provides a detailed examination and structured understanding of Disaster Studies and Disaster Risk Reduction, with specific reference to urban areas. It engages with extreme conditions of disasters and their social, physical and political implications on urban areas, the built environment and planning disciplines. Drawing from current research on the urban turn in Disaster Studies and the entanglements between Disaster Risk Reduction, Development processes and Urban Poverty, the module offers an introduction to the debate on urban resilience and its policy implications.

DEVP0001 Post Disaster Recovery: Policies, Practices and Alternatives

This Module provides a detailed and critical examination of post-disaster recovery practices and policies, with a particular focus on its institutional arrangements and socio-spatial implications. Drawing from transnational research experiences and connections with practitioners, humanitarian workers and development managers, the module reflects on the different challenges posed when working in a post disaster environment and implementing plans, projects and interventions.

For optional modules offered by other DPU master programmes and their full description, please visit the postgraduate modules page


The BUDD programme is delivered to students by a group of academics, development professionals, architects, urbanists and planners with a broad scope of collective experience both in the theoretical construction of development practice -as well as practice engagement- in rapidly developing cities.

Besides, lecturers have expertise in post-disaster reconstruction, participatory design methodologies, livelihoods and capabilities of the urban poor, housing policy and finance, and knowledge of urban design's functioning and capacity for transformation as a political economy of space.

Expand the tabs below to learn more about our staff, their expertise and interests

Programme Leaders

Dr Giovanna Astolfo

Beyond the imperative of identifying commonalities, trends and patterns across cities, my urban enquiries are connected by an abiding and incessant interest for the social and lived experiences of the often marginalised urban majority, their spatial provisions and power arrangements. Away from disciplinary categorisation, my research focuses on overlapping and inherently plural urbanisms –as the many ways people make space and themselves: unconventional, contested, improvised and feminist. Following the lead of many women researchers and activists before me, my research practice aspires to be situated, reflexive, disobedient, critically inquisitive, and caring.

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Dr Catalina Ortiz

Research summary

I consider recalibrating knowledge production from the Global South is the main challenge of contemporary urbanism. That is why, my quest on understanding the territorial and relational nature of urban spaces serves as the intellectual platform to guide my research and teaching.  My areas of intellectual inquiry seek to understand the territorial and relational nature of urban spaces and the political economy of urban design. I am interested in disentangling the ways in which the transnational flows of urban models, ideas, and tools shape the built environment and the political process of space production in global south cities. 

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Graduate Teaching Assistant

Laia Garcia Fernandez
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Staff currently teaching on the programme

Prof Camillo Boano

Research summary

My research has centred on the complex encounters between critical theory, radical philosophy and urban design processes, specifically engaging with informal urbanisations, urban collective actions, as well as crisis-generated urbanisms. In doing so, I have been practicing, conceiving and teaching an idea of urban design that should be treated as part of an expanded field, where the many scales of architecture are manifested –from their urban manifestation to how building and spaces are conceived, occupied and used, incorporating objects, spaces and theories.

I’m author of different publications in academic journals as The Journal of Architecture, Disasters, The Journal of Urban Design, The Journal of Developing Societies among others and edited a book on humanitarian urbanism and refugee camps tiled Citta Nude. Iconografia dei campi profughi (2005, in Italian) of The Ethics of a Potential Urbanism: Critical Encounters Between Giorgio Agamben and Architecture (2017), and two edited books Urban Geopolitics. Rethinking Planning in Contested Cities (2018) with Jonathan Rokem and Neoliberalism and Urban Development in Latin America: The Case of Santiago (2018) with Francisco Vergara-Perucich.

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Dr Giorgio Talocci

Teaching Fellow

Development Planning Unit

Faculty of the Built Environment

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Jorge Fiori

Principal Teaching Fellow

Development Planning Unit

Faculty of the Built Environment

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Dr Cassidy Johnson

Research summary

 My current research interests span across the following themes:

  • Disasters as a socially-constructed phenomenon, and the linkage between disasters and development. How our environment is shaped by the larger political economy in which we live.
  • The role of communities and local governments as central co-producers of responses to address disaster risks
  • The importance of disaggregated data for understanding the impacts of small-scale and everyday disasters, especially in informal settlements
  • Environmental justice, risks and urban planning
  • Evictions, resettlement and relocation. Narratives of struggle and resistance
  • Post disaster housing recovery

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Ruth McLeod

Teaching Fellow

Development Planning Unit

Faculty of the Built Environment

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Careers and employability

For more info view our DPU Careers page

The course encourages a transdisciplinary approach to urban design. As such, it attracts architects, urban planners, urban designers, geographers, social scientists, anthropologists, environmental scientists, artists and others with a passion for urban issues. This diversity fosters a cooperative working environment and the opportunity to negotiate creatively with others.

The programme is equally valuable for those with initial training in planning, architecture, urban design and landscape architecture, who wish to complete or expand their professional education. However, it also offers an invaluable grounded qualification for new entrants to the field. The programme is equally suited to those with professional experience or those with none.

Students find that they form strong networks and collaborative working relationships that continue after the course has ended.

The programme enhances students skills in critical thinking, action research, spatial analysis, design research and creative practise, which are in demand in a variety of sectors around the world including:

  • NGOs;
  • Aid and development agencies;
  • Social movements;
  • Community-led organisations;
  • Government organisations;
  • Urban think tanks;
  • Public agencies and institutions; and
  • Architectural, planning and urban design practices.

The course has often inspired graduates to pursue further research at PhD level and to develop independent practices.

Who should apply?

We aim to cultivate socially sensitive urban practitioners who can promote human-centric responses to challenges like marginalisation, inequality and environmental degradation. The course is suitable for graduates and professionals who want to engage with contemporary urban issues while acquiring the practical skills needed to deliver positive urban change.

This course provides an open space for learning and deepening our areas of interest related to transformative urban design. It explores several urban theories and methodologies complemented with multidimensional and multi scalar analysis to address urban inequalities and imbalance power relations that often shape human settlements.  

What our alumni say

Aurélie Knecht
I am so grateful for the life-changing conversations I had and still have with my BUDD friends and the teachers, and for the precious lessons learned that I try to apply in my everyday practice and life. The most valuable ones for me are about the constant questioning of our role of practitioner, of our responsibility to deconstruct and decolonise design and knowledge, and the endless possibilities that open up when we act collectively

Aurélie Knecht (2019-2020)

Jessica Alvarez
This course provides an open space for learning and deepening our areas of interest related to transformative urban design. It explores several urban theories and methodologies complemented with multidimensional and multi scalar analysis to address urban inequalities and imbalance power relations that often shape human settlements. ” 

Jessica Alvarez (2019-2020)

shoko sakuma
"One of the unexpected lessons was the importance of admitting emotion. This has been extremely relevant in reflecting on the positionality of practitioners and research ethics, and the course offered real experiences to encounter struggles, frustrations and anger” 

Shoko Sakuma (2016-2017)

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