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.

Why choose MSc Building and Urban design in Development?

We offer:

  • a focus on key skills for urban practitioners, including critical thinking, action-orientated research, social-spatial analysis, design research and spatial design practice
  • several field work 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 fieldwork
  • immersion into the field of spatial thinking through critical theory and philosophical reflections

About the course

The Masters in Building and Urban Design in Development (MSc BUDD) emphasises the need to reconsider how we go about planning, designing and building cities. It calls for a radical rethink of conventional practices to tackle increasing conflicting political visions and the challenges these produce. It reconceptualises classical notions of ‘design’ beyond the practice that conceives only the physical form of the city, to one that engages a social-political process that integrates complex formal and informal acts, from policy making and master planning to artistic protests and everyday citizen-led creations of place.

The course aims to cultivate socially-sensitive urban practitioners who can promote human-centric responses to the challenges of marginalisation, inequality, informality, extreme density, gentrification, and environmental degradation.

Design is seen as a collective practice rooted in community. It debates and analyses the political economy and power dynamics at play, through the multiple lenses of social, cultural, economic, environmental and political drivers. In so doing, it allows students to a gain a deeper understanding of the ways in which such acts reinforce or change engrained spatial issues. We’ll tackle issues of participation, resilience, the politics of architecture and design activism as mechanisms for spatial transformation. We’ll explore how grassroots movements can provide inspiration for new modes of action for a better future. The programme also encourages students to explore and identify actors, entry points and positive forms of power that can achieve just, scalable and sustainable urban 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 field work 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.

How the MSc Building & Urban Design in Development is structured.

Structure Overview

This is an intensive 12 month programme that immerses students in the theory and practice of urban design and its role in building cities and communities that are just and sustainable. The course modules consists of:

Three core modules (90 credits) that are compulsory for all students; A choice of two optional modules (making up 30 credits); and A dissertation report (60 credits), where students can explore their own research interests.


Windsor Workshop - During the first term, students attend an intensive three day residential workshop in Windsor together with students from the Development Planning Unit. The workshop exposes students to their first challenge – working on a case study in collaboration with expert practitioners and students from a wide range of disciplines. BUDD Camp – This takes students to a European city in the second term. Recent camps have taken place in Brescia, Italy for a three day intensive urban analysis and design reflection workshop. Each year a different lens of analysis is considered and students publish their reflections in a BUDD Camp publication series. Equipped with the tools taught in the first term and a brief that describes the lens of analysis, students are transported into a real world, case-based learning opportunity.  International Field Work - During the third term, students carry out a longer field expedition in a city of the Global South. Previous filed work has taken place in Turkey, India, Thailand and Cambodia. This gives students the opportunity to work alongside local organisations and community groups in delivering real-time, bottom up social-urban change. Students work in groups, exploring and experiencing the urban issues they have been learning about. They are also asked to help communities draw up design interventions to tackle their specific challenges. Students collate their strategies in a final, end-of-year report that forms part of their final assessment. London Based Project - As part of the core module (BENVGBU1 Transforming Local Areas), students undertake a London-based urban design project in which they demonstrate their understanding of urban analysis and transform this into holistic design strategies. Students work in groups together with local partners to gain an understanding of the place in question and its challenges, and respond with a detailed urban analysis and development brief. This report forms part of their final assessment.

The compulsory modules are designed to provide the core building blocks that cultivate interdisciplinary professionals who can engage holistically in building better urban futures. The optional modules give students an opportunity to dive deeper into the topics closer to their interests. Please see the Content section for a detailed breakdown of the modules.

Teaching and Learning Approach

The course is delivered through a range of lectures, seminars, workshops, case studies, and practical experience through field work. It involves individual reading, essay writing, interdisciplinary design project work, as well as group project work. There is a particular focus on learning through case study analysis and learning by doing, through several field work opportunities.

In addition to acquiring specific thematic knowledge, students are also exposed to the learning of transferable skills through the practices of critical thinking, action orientated research, social-spatial analysis, design research, citizen engagement and creative design practice, all core to being an urban practitioner.

Workshops and Field Work

Students have the unique opportunity to attend several field workshops and expeditions that expose them to experiential learning through the interdisciplinary reading and analysis of urban space in situ:



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.

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.

The multiplicity of urban morphologies and social-political tensions that shape current urbanisation are reviewed through the analysis of a series of case studies, with a particular focus on projects from the Global South. It debates and analyses the political economy and power dynamics at play, through the multiple lenses of social, cultural, economic, environmental and political drivers. In so doing, it allows students to a gain a deeper understanding of the ways in which such acts reinforce or change engrained spatial issues.

In the second term, students put their learning into design action by tackling a live case study in London. Through the introduction of topical lenses of analysis and design research as an approach, students undertake field work and develop strategic design interventions in the production of a development brief, in partnership with local stakeholders.

Tutors: Dr Camillo Boano and Giorgio Talocci

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.

Through the analysis of theoretical readings, exercises and case studies, this module is designed to give students a structured understanding of participatory interventions in urban development planning. It sets out to present different participatory concepts and processes, and engage students in critically reflecting on the issues, limitations, but also innovative potential they present.

Students will learn about different participatory, tools and techniques and encouraged to think creatively about how public leadership and participation can be supported, mobilised and promoted to help improve democratic decision-making in the design of the built environment. Throughout the term, students will also be tackling key questions around the role of design, knowledge production and the role of the expert practitioner in delivering a collective urban future that is just and sustainable.

Tutors: Dr Catalina Ortiz and Camila Cociña

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. 

Various analysis methodologies are introduced and used as a vehicle to conduct detailed investigation and interpretative responses. Through the exploration of alternative modes of urban engagement and action research practices, students work towards developing, designing and visualising their urban design interventions that are grounded in the principles of social and environmental justice. Three core projects are introduced:

A studio based case study that is studied remotely; this may involve investigating one or two study areas using an analytical framework to guide students through the research design process. Find out more about the Urban Intervention Studio. A short three day BUDD camp takes students to a European city to discover and tackle how social-cultural tensions can manifest themselves in urban space, and how in turn, urban space impacts these social-spatial outcomes. Find out more about BUDD camp. Later in the third term, students undertake a longer field expedition where they get the opportunity to work with local organisations and community groups who are delivering bottom-up processes of urban change. Find out more about our fieldwork. For more information see the fieldwork page.

DEVP0023 Adapting Cities to Climate Change in the Global South aims to provide participants with an understanding of the ways in which climate change will affect urban areas in low- and middle-income countries.

Tutors: Dr Catalina Ortiz, Giorgio Talocci and Dr Camillo Boano

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?

Through case study analysis this module presents how informal urban territories are imagined and constituted and serves as an opportunity to interrogate the role of design, architecture and urbanism in such contested urban settings. It encourages students to critically appraise this radical form of urban design and building of cities and seeks to underscore what could be learnt from such phenomena. The module is delivered in a studio based format, where students are tasks with delivering their own holistic and strategic urban design intervention to tackle a particular case study.

Tutor: Dr Giovanna Astolfo

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.

Learning evolves around a real-life contemporary urban case study developed in collaboration with a partner in the Global South but worked on remotely in the studio. As students work on the case study, they are encouraged to use this as a platform to reason with the aesthetics of informality and experiment with the design process as act of critique and resistance that puts the communities at the centre of the place.

Tutor: Giorgio Talocci

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.

Tutor: Jorge Fiori

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.

Participants have an opportunity to work in small groups to track and analyse the historical development and implementation of housing policy within a specific country. They are also expected to develop a personal case study that demonstrates how the interaction between personal and political contexts results in differing housing outcomes. 2015-16 tutor: Ruth McLeod

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. 2015-16 tutor: Dr Cassidy Johnson

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.

Careers and employability

How the MSc Building & Urban Design in Development will help develop your career in the built environment.

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.”


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 field work - 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 Camillo Boano
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Dr Catalina Ortiz
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Graduate Teaching Assistant

Azadeh Mashayekhi

Staff currently teaching on the programme include:

Dr Giovanna Astolfo
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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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Camila Cocina
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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