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MSc Building & Urban Design in Development


The MSc Building and Urban Design in Development seeks to provide candidates with the analytical, intellectual and practical tools to engage reflectively with the social production of urban spaces and places through a recalibration of the dimensions of urban and architectural design, especially in the urban global south and contested urban territories. The programme is aimed at those professionals who are (or would like to be) engaged critically and practically with contemporary urban issues and those who are driven to actively discover a new design agency and reclaim the socio-political project of architecture and planning. Through transdisciplinary research and practice, the course develops a critical understanding of the design of the urban, the relevance of the collective and the radical practices required to transform spaces and cities. 

For over twenty years, the MSc BUDD programme has embraced the task of developing and understanding urban design as an interdisciplinary, spatially complex and hybrid practice that engages with the political and social urban realities. The BUDD course is rooted in the intellectual and visionary legacy of Otto Königsberger and the leadership of John Turner, Michael Safier, Patrick Wakely, Cho Padamsee, Ronaldo Ramírez, Babar Mumtaz, Nabeel Hamdi and others. 

Architects, designers, planners, geographers, engineers and other professionals interested in engaging with the production, reproduction and transformation of urban space via socially, economically and environmentally just methods are continually confronted with complex challenges. To fulfil this type of engagement with the urban, we need to reconsider and recalibrate how we imagine, plan and make cities. We need to use our professional capacities differently, taking on different design approaches and practices to respond effectively and responsibly in the context of rapid urbanisation, population growth, constrained resources and spatial injustices. Poverty, social and political exclusion, extreme density, environmental degradation, marginalisation, land conflicts, informality, risks of eviction and top-down governmental re-development plans are some of the challenges faced. The MSc BUDD is taking up these challenges by embracing a different mode of inquiry design: active, relational, collective, embedded, reflexive and transdisciplinary, which requires a different mode of thinking, researching and practicing.

The MSc BUDD explores how to design holistic strategic responses to conflicting urban settings – inclusively, securely, adaptively and sustainably - specifically but not only in geographies of the global south. It combines cultural, social, economic, political and spatial analysis to recalibrate the perspective on urban design practice in order to develop design strategies based on critical engagement with contemporary urban issues, from the policy sphere to the community scale. Principles such as affordability, acceptability, sustainability, participation and responsiveness to the local context are considered central in this process of designing for and in informal and contested urban space.

The BUDD course is concerned with a reorientation in the relation of politics and aesthetics and therefore engages directly with transformative and critical urban design practices (architectural and urban) that contribute to changing the paradigm of working with communities, the urban poor and the city towards a shared production of space and knowledge. The MSc BUDD directly challenges the paradigms of participation, the agency of design and the political potential of architecture. Within the course community-based collective practices are developed through action-research initiatives, research projects and learning exchanges. Within this context, design, strategies and building processes, become the means to address social and political issues, build lasting social and political processes of building and designing spaces, and empower community and citizens through strategies and practices that help enact equality. 

In the programme, students are equipped with a political economy perspective of space, a comprehension of the unique needs, abilities, aspirations, and forms of resistance of urban dwellers in various contexts, the ability to respond with strategically coordinated proposals to leverage local abilities to meet local needs and to critically engage with the practice of urban design, architecture and urbanism in developmental processes. 

Central to this reasoning is the idea of critical strategic design. The classical notions of urban design and the understanding of the role of the practitioner are recalibrated. Participants become critically immersed with urban transformative practices - researching, exploring and intervening in the complex dynamics of the ways cities are shaped. Specifically, participants will focus on: Resisting un-critical engagements with design practice, moving away from a narrow and static solution-focused vision of architectural and urban design, and dealing with precariousness and informality as constituent parts of our new urban reality. This way of working calls for an innovative attitude in which design is reconfigured at the urban and the architectural scale.

This innovative design thinking is employed beyond the teaching/classroom environment thanks to the active engagement with urban practitioners, design networks and collectives globally. In 2011 the programme created a roving itinerant workshop series called DPU summerLab, which has since developed to include workshops in Rome, Zurich, Beirut, Medellin, Santiago, and London. In 2012, the MSc BUDD took a leading role in launching a DPU/ACHR Junior Professionals Programme with the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR) and the Community Architects Network (CAN). 

The programme is delivered through a combination of weekly lectures, seminar presentations, group exercises, and workshops both in London and overseas. The BUDD studio includes a fieldwork project in an urban reality of the global south, developed in partnership with local organisations, networks of communities, universities and governments alike. It also includes a short fieldtrip to a European location to engage with contemporary urban issues together with local partners. 

Contact details

Programme Director: Camillo Boano

Graduate Teaching Assistant: Giulia Carabelli


The MSc BUDD course offers an understanding of urban design as an interdisciplinary, spatially complex and hybrid practice that engages with the political and social reality of the urban global south. It advances the necessity of design practice to contribute to changing the current paradigm of working with disadvantaged urban communities and the city itself. The programme is delivered through a combination of weekly lectures, seminar presentations, group exercises and workshops, with a strong emphasis on the practice module.

In the course structure 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 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 three core modules are “Transforming Local Areas: Urban Design for Development”; “Participatory Processes: Building for Development”; and The BUDD Studio.

The BUDD Studio is a project-based module that enables students to deliberately connect the theory of building and urban design with practice, which is done through a series of interrelated action research and design research initiatives. It also 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. 

The Urban Intervention Studio, part of the BUDD Studio during the first and second term, allows students to bring together theory and practice. This project is based on an urban contemporary reality where the multiplicities and challenges of intervening are met with the compounded realities of informality, socio-political and cultural constructs. Here, design thinking and design approaches are used creatively to test the transformative potential of various interventions at different urban scales.

During the second term the BUDDcamp experience – a short Fieldtrip to a European location– offers a provocative, contemporary and instant immersion into an urban reality with the opportunity to reflect on design research challenges and methodologies for intervention in this particular context as part of the MSc BUDDs broader attempt to recalibrate the discourse around urban design in development.

In the third term students are challenged to apply and practice the skills and techniques they have acquired throughout the year in a Fieldwork Project in the global south. In recent years this research took place in Cuba, Cyprus, India, Jordan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Malta, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia and Turkey in collaboration with governments, urban activist groups, universities, civil society groups involved in planning and design as well as communities and urban poor collectives.

The course consists of reading, essay writing and individual and group project work which are guided through lectures, seminars, workshops, analysis of case studies and an overseas fieldtrip. Student performance is assessed through course work and examinations. In addition to the taught and fieldwork components, students prepare an individual dissertation report during the summer on a topic of their choice.

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 on-going case study with experts in the field and, at the same time, socialise with other students.


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

BENVGBU1 Transforming Local Areas: Urban Design for Development provides a structured understanding of the forces that form and transform cities – particularly in countries of the global south – as well as the intellectual and theoretical bases for a recalibration of urban design praxis. Students have also the occasion to touch ground through a London-based urban design exercise, in partnership with a relevant stakeholder. The module engages with critical transformative literature and specifically with alternative design approaches connected with literature of renewed philosophical and critical studies.

BENVGBU2 Participatory Processes: Building for Development introduces the theories and concepts of participatory approaches and the processes in development and practice. It questions the nature and limits of participation and participatory design while engaging with case studies of collective and critical urban and spatial practices.

BENVGBU3 The BUDD Studio is a project-based module that enables students to connect the theory of building and urban design with practice in a series of continued interrelated action research and design research initiatives. It revolves around the Urban Intervention Studio, the BUDDcamp and the Overseas Fieldtrip.

Optional modules offered by BUDD

In addition to the core modules, where the main intellectual, ethical and methodological reflections are provided and elaborated, a series of optional modules have been created to allow participants to tailor their learning pathways to an area of development and critical urban investigation of their choice. 

(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 other agents and actors involved in housing production and provision and the levels and instruments of public intervention in housing have all gone through considerable transformation. The module critically reflects on the nature of collective initiatives in the context of housing policies, on urbanism of mass housing, financial and political complexities as well as on their urban scale.

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. 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.

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. 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.

BENVGBU8 Critical Urbanism Studio I - Learning from Informality: Case Studies and Alternatives will suit students 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. It focuses on how informal urban territories are constituted and imagined, and engages with a vast variety of urban materiality as a way to learn from existing experiences and reflect on design strategies that are able to deal with the complexities of the urban project. 

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. The module evolves around a real-life contemporary urban case study developed in collaboration with a partner in the Global South. It offers the platform to reason on a new aesthetics of informality and experiment with design research and strategies that reflect on the design process as act of critique, resistance, balance, while putting the poor at the centre of it. 

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.

BENVGPU5 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.

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

Dr Giulia Carabelli

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Staff currently teaching on the programme include:

Dr Catalina Ortiz
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Dr Giovanna Astolfo
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Giorgio Talocci
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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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Maggie Stephenson
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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.

Please note the ETS TOEFL English language qualification has been removed from the UK Visas and Immigration Department's list of acceptable secure English language tests, and is not longer valid for UCL applications. Read more about the English Language Requirements and accepted tests on the UCL entry requirements website.


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, urban design and planners, the programme is aimed at those professionals who are (or would like to be) engaged critically and practically with contemporary urban issues and those who are driven to actively discover a new design agency and reclaim the socio-political project of architecture and planning. The critical and action oriented nature of the course is also ideal for career changers in development studies, geography, art, media, design, policymaking, who want advanced degree and training in urban design and urbanism taking a community-oriented, participatory approach to spatial design at the centre.

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 are extended to the practical sphere through the Studio, workshops, and Fieldwork. Critical spatial practices, urban tactics and urban focused  exercises are 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 18, facilitating positive learning and a close working relationship with members of staff. The course equips graduates to be able to work in local government, NGOs, international organisations, and conventional and innovative design practice, facilitating community organisations and households to improve their living conditions.

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

  • Organisations in the public, private and community sectors that focus on local as well as international development, both in the UK as overseas;
  • Architectural, urban design and planning firms, development corporations, foundations;
  • Governmental, inter-governmental and non-governmental development organisations;
  • Urban related knowledge-intensive setting, including design criticism, design research, urban think tanks, public agencies, and community groups and architectural collectives;
  • International and local NGOs and Aid and Development Agencies and United Nations Agencies;
  • The program suits also students planning to pursue a PhD in urbanism, urban planning, public policy, architecture, or other fields related to urbanism.

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; others have successfully sought employment in international development organisations away from their own countries.

Check some Alumni career profiles:

Nathan Mahaffey 2012-13
Francesco Pasta 2011-12
Katja Starc 2010-11
Josue Robles Caraballo 2010-11
Jose di Girolamo 2010-11
Jennifer Cirne 2009-11
Krista Canellakis & Marisol Garcia 2009-2010
Igor Malgrati 2009-10
Andrew Wade 2008-09
Benjamin Leclair 2008-09
Kelvin Naidoo 2007-09
Diego Collazos 2007-08
Katja Schäfer 2002-03