UCL Module Catalogue


Understanding Cities and their Spatial Cultures (BASC0010)

Key information

Faculty of Arts and Humanities
Teaching department
Arts and Sciences BASc
Credit value

Alternative credit options

There are no alternative credit options available for this module.


This module will help students develop the evidence-based perspective on cities and life in cities (spatial cultures) that is becoming ever more important in a rapidly urbanizing world. Understanding the complexity of cities demands a distinct interdisciplinary nexus across the arts, sciences, social sciences and humanities. The Understanding Cities and their Spatial Cultures module acknowledges the complexity of cities as distinctive material environments for social life. It raises the question of how the macro-infrastructural aspects of the city such as street, transport and communication networks, and the evolution of its historical built environment, permeate the everyday life of the contemporary city and vice versa. Traditionally the systemic and experiential qualities of cities are treated in their different disciplinary silos – this module, by contrast, identifies their intimate relation as its key interdisciplinary focus, reflecting the research priorities of the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis and the Space Syntax Laboratory at the UCL Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment.

Understanding Cities and their Satial Cultures is a second-year elective module in the BASc programme. It is a 15-credit module that runs in the second term and is open to all students.


Indicative Topics

The module will cover the following topics, which may be subject to variation depending on developments in academic research and the interests of the class:

  • Cities, memory, urban walking, spatial stories
  • Linking the physical city and the social city with space syntax
  • Urban network science, urban data and urban analytics
  • Urban demography, visualizing cities
  • ‘Smart’ cities, big data and the internet of things

By the end of the module, you should be able to:

  1. Understand cities as a distinctive mode of social and physical organization;
  2. Formulate your own research questions on an urban topic of your choice
  3. Undertake indepenent research into an urban topics by identifying appropriate datasets and engaging in micro-research exercises
  4. to present your research ideas clearly using the Pecha-Kucha format
  5. Relect on how interdisciplinary concepts such as ‘network’, ‘complexity’ and ‘emergence’ can help understand how cities function and what they mean to people.


Teaching Delivery

Teaching for the module consists of a weekly series of ten two-hour lectures supported by two one-hour micro-research workshops, over the second term. Students are expected to review recommended readings ahead of the lectures and a programme of core readings should be read over the term. For the tutorials students will undertake three micro-research projects and contribute at least one blog post to the module blog over the term.

Recommended Reading

In preparation for the module, we advise reading the following core texts. These can be found in the UCL Library:

  • Jane Jacobs (1962) Death and Life of Great American Cities. London, Jonathan Cape: Chapter 22 (available through UCL library)
  • Michael Hebbert (2005) ‘The Street as Locus of Collective Memory’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 23(4), pp.581-596 (article, available online through UCL library)
  • Bill Hillier and Laura Vaughan (2007) ‘The city as one thing’, Progress in Planning, 67 (3), pp. 205-230, (article, available online through UCL library)
  • Sharon Zukin (2010) The Naked City: Life and Death of Authentic Places. Oxford, OUP (Chapter 1, 5 copies in UCL library)
  • Christopher Alexander: A city is not a tree. Architectural Forum, 122 (article, available online and through UCL Library)

For further information on this module, please contact the named individual below.  

Module deliveries for 2020/21 academic year

Intended teaching term: Term 2     Undergraduate (FHEQ Level 5)

Teaching and assessment

Mode of study
Methods of assessment
85% One coursework (2,500 words)
15% Presentation
Mark scheme
Numeric Marks

Other information

Number of students on module in previous year
Module leader
Dr Sam Griffiths
Who to contact for more information

Last updated

This module description was last updated on 5th March 2020.