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MSc Building & Urban Design in Development


The production, reproduction, and transformation of urban space via socially, economically, and environmentally just methods presents a complex challenge for architects, designers, engineers, planners and other professionals. There is an urgent need to use our professional capacities to reconsider and recalibrate our engagement with design to effectively respond to rapid urbanisation.

The objectives of the MSc BUDD are to equip those interested in the development of urban areas with a political economy perspective of space, to further nuanced comprehension of the unique needs, abilities, aspirations, and forms of resistance of urban dwellers in various contexts - specifically in geographies of the global south; to be able to critically challenge different morphologies and tensions that shape the current complex neoliberal landscape at different scales; to be able to respond with strategically coordinated process design to leverage local abilities to meet local needs; and to be able to critically engage with the practice of urban design, architecture and urbanism.

It is combining cultural, social, economic, political and spatial analysis in the effort to present a holistic response to the growing complexities within the design and production of the urban form.

The course provides an opportunity for students to acquire relevant concepts and skills relating to development, urban design and building processes, and to test the theory of building and urban design through practice.

Poverty, social and political exclusion, extreme density, environmental degradation, marginalisation, land conflicts, informality and top-down governmental re-development plans threaten the life of millions of inhabitant at risk of eviction and forced to develop resistance mechanisms. The MSc BUDD explores what it takes to design an effective response to urban habitat – inclusive, secure, adaptive, and sustainable – in a conflicting urban setting.

The engagement of the MSc BUDD participants with the urban is explicit. During the course, participants develop a socio-spatial cognition; a knowledge and understanding of the socio-spatial intertwinement, through study, exploration, experience and critical thinking. This understanding is then translated into suggestions for strategies and actions that allow people to take ownership of their right to the city.

Central to this reasoning is the idea of critical design. The classical notions of urban design and the understanding of the role of the practitioner are recalibrated. Participants in the studio critically immerse themselves within the broader community in which they work. In trying to meet the challenges that are being posed, straightforward and conventional answers are refuted.

This way of working calls for an innovative attitude in which design is reconfigured at the urban and the architectural scale. Urban design practice becomes something more - it becomes an activator for change.

Contact details

Programme Director: Camillo Boano

Graduate Teaching Assistant: Camila Cociña


The course is structured so that 90 credits are devoted to the core subjects of building and urban design and 30 credits to a specialist option chosen from those available in the DPU or the Bartlett. The core course modules provide the theoretical and methodological components of the course while the specialist modules allow students to examine different approaches and problems in accordance with their own particular interests.

The Urban Intervention Studio, part of the practice module, allows the student to bring together theory and practice. In the first term the students engage in a studio-type exercise and are quickly introduced to skills and techniques in a London based design charette. This project-based module aims to provide an opportunity for students to acquire concepts and skills relating to development, urban design and urban transformations at different scales, as well as more general skills such as verbal, written and visual presentation, analysis and synthesis. It also enables students to test the theory of building and urban design through practice. The Urban Intervention Studio project is based on a real case where the multiplicities and challenges of intervening are met with the compounded realities of informality, socio-political and cultural constructs. In here, design thinking and design approaches are tested as a programmatic attempt to creatively strategise the transformative potential of various interventions.

During the second term the BUDDcamp experience offers the students a provocative, contemporary, instant, and brief immersion into an urban reality, extracting a certain momentum of reflection on the design research challenges and methodologies for intervention as part of a broader attempt to recalibrate the discourse around urban design in development.

In the third term the students are challenged to apply and practice skills and techniques they have acquired throughout the year in a fieldwork project in the global south. In recent years students have done research in in Cuba, Cyprus, India, Jordan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Malta, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Turkey.

In addition to the taught and fieldwork components, students prepare an individual dissertation report during the summer on a topic of their choice.

The course consists of reading, essay writing and individual and group project work delivered through lectures, seminars, workshops, analysis of case studies and a field trip. Student performance is assessed through course work, examinations and a dissertation report.

In November of the first term, students attend an in-house three-day workshop in the Cumberland Lodge, Windsor, with the rest of the DPU student body. This is a unique opportunity to work on an ongoing case study with experts in the field and, at the same time, socialise with other students.


Core modules

BENVGBU1 Transforming Local Areas: Urban Design for Development provides a structured understanding of the forces that shape and develop cities, particularly in countries of the global south; as well as the intellectual and theoretical bases for a recalibration of urban design praxis.

BENVGBU2 Participatory Processes: Building for Development introduces the theories and concepts of participatory approaches and the processes in development and practice.

BENVGBU3 The BUDD Studio is a studio-based practice oriented module designed to provide an opportunity for students to test theories through practice; and it is revolving around the Urban Intervention Studio, the BUDDcamp and the Overseas Fieldtrip.

Optional modules offered by BUDD

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

BENVGBU4 Housing Policy, Programme and Project Alternatives looks at the substantial changes that have taken place in housing policy over the last few decades. The role of the state, its relation to the other agents and actors involved in housing production and provision, the levels and instruments of public intervention in housing, have all gone through considerable transformation.

BENVGBU6 Disaster Risk Reduction in Cities provides a detailed examination and structured understanding of Disaster Studies and Disaster Risk Reduction, with specific reference to urban areas.

BENVGBU7 Post Disaster Recovery: Policies, Practices and Alternatives 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.

BENVGBU8 Critical Urbanism Studio I - Learning from Informality: Case Studies and Alternatives targets individuals of diverse academic backgrounds and levels of professional experience. This studio-based module promotes the merits of existing project scenarios and a critical understanding of case-study analysis and research in design processes.

BENVGBU9 Critical Urbanism Studio II - Investigative Design Strategies for Contested Spaces is the second Critical Urbanism Studio module. It builds upon the accumulated knowledge and conceptual framework of case study analysis (BENVGBU8) while focusing on a more profoundly phenomenological investigation into the multiplicity of contested developing arenas following a 'design as critique/resistance' attitude.

Optional modules offered by other masters

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

BENVGPU1 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.

BENVGPU2 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.

BENVGPU4 Gender in Policy and Planning is a 20-session module over two terms examining gender relations in the socio-economic, political and environmental processes in the development of human settlements.

BENVGSD1 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.

BENVGSD2 Social Diversity Inequality and Poverty explores the theoretical debates that link diverse social identities and power relations, and the competing models of equity that attempt to reconcile them.

BENVGES2 Urban Environmental Planning and Management in Development considers the immense health burden suffered by large sections of the urban population as a result of environmental hazards, especially in urban areas of Africa, Asia and Latin America.

BENVGES4 Urban Agriculture looks at the way in which our rapidly changing world now presents us with immense challenges linked to peak oil and climate change. Rising cereal prices threaten to trigger a global food crisis, while the cost of energy involved in long-distance transportation and refrigeration of food is no longer sustainable.

BENVGES5 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.

BENVGDA1 Management and Planning for Development: International and National Dimensions introduces basic notions of development management and administration, state, market and bureaucracy, and the role of NGOs in the development process.


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 Director

Dr Camillo Boano
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Graduate Teaching Assistant

Camila Cociña
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Staff currently teaching on the programme include:

Jennifer Cirne
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Jorge Fiori
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Dr Cassidy Johnson
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Ruth McLeod
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Dr Caroline Newton
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Giorgio Talocci
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Please click through to the UCL graduate prospectus page for this course, from where you can find information on application fees, eligibility, tuition fees, scholarships, and then complete the online application process.

Applicants should also review the faculty specific admissions information and the FAQ on admissions.


MSc Building and Urban Design in Development students have varied educational and/or professional backgrounds and come from a wide range of nationalities. Indeed, such interdisciplinarity and multiculturalism is encouraged as it contributes to the richness of the programme and adds value to the experience of studying at the DPU.

Although not limited to architects, the programme is aimed at those professionals who are (or would like to be) engaged with the built environment. BUDD focuses on taking a community-oriented, participatory approach to spatial design.

The skills that the BUDD Course provides arise directly from these objectives and include a wide range of participatory design and decision-making tools. 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, but are really brought into their own during the field project in the third term. This important component of the course is part of the taught course, which is also designed for students to apply and practice the learning of the first two terms. During the course, practical design exercises are also carried out through the BUDD Studio to help develop the more conventional analytical, urban design and architectural skills of students. The average number of students on the course each year is 15, facilitating positive learning and a close working relationship with members of staff. The course equips graduates to be able to work in NGOs or in local government, facilitating community organisations and households to improve their living conditions.

BUDD graduates go on to work in a wide variety of areas, including:

  • UK-based organisations in the public, private and community sectors that focus on local as well as international development;
  • architectural and urban design firms;
  • governmental, inter-governmental and non-governmental development organisations;
  • international NGOs and Aid and Development Agencies.

There is also variety in the geographic location of BUDD alumni: some decide to return to their home countries with the additional MSc qualification and engage in the practice, teaching or research of urban development, urban design and architecture there; others have successfully sought employment in international development organisations away from their own countries.