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.

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View our 'Study at the DPU' page for information, guidance and resources for prospective applicants and offer-holders studying at the DPU in 2020/21

Programme highlights

  • Focus on key skills for urban practitioners, including critical thinking, action-oriented research, socio-spatial analysis, design research practice.
  • To those interested in the development of urban areas a political and economical perspective of space in the Global South
  • The nuance of the unique needs, abilities, aspirations, and forms of resistance of urban dwellers in various context
  • Several practice engagement opportunities to work on live, community-driven and action research projects, gaining practical experience
  • A wide range of teaching techniques, including taught lecturers and seminars, design-based studio work and practice engagement

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Programme overview

The central focus of the programme is urban space, in all its manifestations, including buildings, infrastructure and landscape. The programme examines the ways in which human activities shape and influence their spatial environment, and how the physical environment in turn affects and influences human activity.

The programme is based on several key premises:

• The design of buildings (architecture) and of urban spaces (urban design) demands a transdisciplinary approach enriched by different knowledge and professional backgrounds;

• Urban design is not the plan of the city but is conceived as an expanded practice that has at its core the production of places and spaces: a gesture (practical, intellectual and visual) that configure its object (the form of the city and the urban territory at different scales) within the broader ecologies of tensions in which it is situated;

• A strategic, situated, incremental and negotiated approach therefore becomes the only possible path for the project that becomes both plan and possibility, both instrument and means, for a new urban to come. The urban project here is not a masterplan, but must be configured as an architecture of engagement: a form of situated planning, dialogic, relational that makes spatial practices and intervention in space both a criticism and a future imagination.

• The built environment does not contain any political essence in itself; rather they become meaningful due to relational dialectics established between their physicality and specific social, economic and historical processes;

• Spatial urban trajectories are both territorial and relational and comparative accounts of urbanization help to learn linkages across cities, territories and geographies.

• The notion of Global south offers a perspective more than a fixed geography to understand variegated uneven urban development;

• Different forms of long term engagements and partnership of equivalence shape our understanding and actions in the urban design practice

• Theory and practice are not separated but rather are dialectically constructed as Theory-practice relations needed for experimenting practicable

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

Structure Overview

The MSc programme represents approximately 1,800 hours of student learning time. This involves a number of activities such as lectures, seminars, workshops, tutorials, practice engagements, 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 a number of modules (see below). A module comprises several of the above activities. Each module involves a number of hours of learning time, which is measured in credits. For example, a 30-credit module involves around 300 hours of student learning time.

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

The BUDD programme is structured around a series of modules that allow the student to pursue individual interests within a clear conceptual and analytical framework. The central (mandatory) parts of the programme comprise a linked series of lectures and workshop exercises. Transforming Local Areas: Urban Design For Development (DEVP0002) 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. Participatory Processes: Building for Development (DEVP0003) examines the theory and practice of participation by deconstructing its relationship with the processes that shape the built environment and the process of empowerment. Building and Urban Design in Practice (DEVP0004) is a sequential project-based studio and practical module that provides an opportunity for students to test and implement relevant concepts and theories relating to design, space and urban interventions, while building upon communication techniques such as verbal, written and visual presentation.

In the first and second terms, the focus is on the understanding of urban regions, urban design, the complex urbanisms of the Global south, the role of the professional and participatory approaches to urban transformations. This is explored through a series of lectures, linked exercises and studio work that develop an understanding of the form and formation of local areas. 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 third term focuses on integrating previous learning while refining a methodology for urban design and development through an application of the meta-frameworks introduced in the previous terms. This is done through the BUDD Camp and the overseas practice engagement (see below for more information), which are an integral part of the programme and consist of a long-weekend design engagement and a study visit to a city of the Global south respectively. In addition to testing the concepts presented during the programme, the trip is used to analyse scenarios in the preparation of a group report. Most recent practice engagements have taken place in Mumbai, Istanbul Bangkok, Phnom Penh and Yangon.

Terms 2 & 3 Overseas Activities:

Design Workshop (BUDD Camp) unfolds in a three-day progressive design exercise, in which students are exposed to the challenges of a specific location, serving as a real-life platform to test the theoretical notions explored throughout the programme. The workshop occurs in the form of a three-day visit to an urban geography to experiment with a live design intervention. Previous experiences have taken the BUDD group to Brescia (Italy) to work with a local partner.

Overseas practice engagement synthesises the hands-on experience of using the skills, concepts, theories and techniques of urban design for development, taught in the BUDD Modules. Practice engagement preparations begin in Term 2 for 2-3 weeklong trips to a city in the Global South in Term 3 in collaboration with local partners. Recent practice engagement has taken place in Istanbul, Mumbai, Bangkok, Phnom Penh and Yangon.

Further integration of learning is achieved through the preparation of a dissertation, which is developed and completed in the third and fourth terms. The student, in discussion with either the Programme Leaders and/or Dissertation Supervisor, decides on the dissertation topic.


Find out more about the modules you can study on the MSc Building & Urban Design in Development

The MSC BUDD course is structured so that 3 modules of 30 credits each are devoted to the core subjects of building and urban design, and 1 module of 30 credits (or 2 modules of 15 credits) to a specialist option chosen from those available 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.

For a full description of our modules, please visit the postgraduate modules page

Core modules

The compulsory modules are designed to provide the core building blocks that cultivate interdisciplinary professionals who can engage holistically in building better urban futures.

DEVP0002 Transforming Local Areas: Urban Design for Development

This module aims to provide students with the building blocks to construct a theoretical and critical understanding of urban design. Fundamental for a renewed approach to undertaking an urban project, this module explores continental philosophy and post-structuralist critical thinking with the objective to develop and deepen students’ understanding of the complex, dynamic and transformative processes that form and transform urban areas through both formal top-down and informal bottom-up practices of individuals and communities.

DEVP0003 Participatory Processes: Building for Development

As we continue to observe and experience how conventional delivery systems have failed to address urban challenges, new forms of agency and action are needed. This module is concerned with highlighting how the collective power of many small changes can be harnessed to effect realistic and creative urban transformations.

DEVP0004 Building and Urban Design in Practice

This is a practice-based module delivered through studio teaching that involves collaborative and cooperative learning. It provides an opportunity for students to put into practice their theoretical and methodological learning as they tackle a sequence of projects through a learning-by-doing approach.

Optional modules offered by BUDD

The 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.

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

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 of BENVGBU8 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 condition 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. 2015-16 tutor:Dr Camillo Boano

Optional modules offered by other Masters in the DPU

(please note that enrolment onto each module is subject to places being available)

DEVP0028 The City and Its Relations: Context, Institutions and Actors in Urban Development Planning explores the economic, social and physical change of cities in the wider context of development and globalisation.

DEVP0029 Urban Development Policy, Planning and Management: Strategic Action in Theory and Practice explores strategic action in urban development policy, planning and management which recognises social justice in cities.

DEVP0031 Gender in Policy and Planning is an 18-session module over two terms examining gender relations in the socio-economic, political and environmental processes in the development of human settlements. 

DEVP0032 Transport Equity and Urban Mobility focuses on the relationships between social identity, transport and planning in the context of urban development in the Global South. It critiques and explores the implications for transport planning and its interaction with other kinds of planning, and the relationships between the state, civil society and private sector in the provision of transport for more socially just cities.

DEVP0033 Social Policy and Citizenship looks at socially sensitive development, which has its roots in the social sector and social welfare models that were developed during the last century.

DEVP0034 Social Diversity, Inequality and Poverty argues that social development is no longer confined to the 'social sector', but is increasingly defined more broadly as an approach that attempts to put 'people' and social equity at the centre of development initiatives across all sectors.

DEVP0021 Urban Environmental Planning and Management in Development surveys environmental problems in urban areas and their underlying causes and identifies who contributes most to such problems and who is most affected by them.


Find out more about the staff working on the MSc Building & Urban Design in Development.

The BUDD course is delivered to students by a group of academics, development professionals, architects 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.

In addition, lecturers have specialist 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.


Programme Leaders

Dr Giovanna Astolfo
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Dr Catalina Ortiz
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Graduate Teaching Assistant

El Anoud Majali (maternity cover)
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Azadeh Mashayekhi (currently on maternity leave)
View Azadeh's profile

Staff currently teaching on the programme include:

Prof Camillo Boano
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Dr Giorgio Talocci
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Jorge Fiori
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Dr Cassidy Johnson
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Ruth McLeod
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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 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. Alumni have spoken positively of how the course has supported their professional development:

“It was an important year of professional and personal reflection, marking the moment that design became an ethical as well as technical pursuit.”

And allowed them to explore new perspectives in urban development practices:

“It exposed me to various discourses on urban development, new design methodologies and communication techniques, providing me with a rather sound theoretical base to build upon, but most importantly it included practical works to test this learning.”

The course exposes students to skills in critical thinking, action research, spatial analysis, design research and creative practice that 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 Architectural, planning and Urban Design practices.

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

“We felt that there were fundamental issues with the practices of many development agencies and we wanted to create our own platform through which we could drive positive change.”

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.

More information

urbanism development design building global south cities