MA Programme Description

City Design

The new MA City Design is a 15-month, 240-credit programme, spread across four terms. Shared modules at programme, School and College level encourage different scales of collaboration with related disciplines and across the RCA as a whole. Project-based studio work forms the core of activity for the the first three terms, with complementary technical, historical, theoretical and case study seminars occurring in parallel. Group work is encouraged and considered an important introduction to the inherently collaborative process of city design. During Term 4 students complete an Independent Research Project (60 credits) as an individual submission where they will have the opportunity to work with and get feedback on their detailed design proposal/thesis from urban and city design practitioners. Workshops focus on new spatial epistemologies, especially systems of representation, visualisation and calculation. History theory subjects examine alternative models for the city throughout history, focusing on the way social and political ambitions have become spatialised. 

Term 1

Studio: Parameters and Objectives (20 credits)

This module is offered by the City Design programme and comprises an introduction to propositional modes of work, especially design-based research methodologies, including case study selection and project definition. Students will learn to describe, analyse and represent various urban processes with the aim of establishing opportunities for intervention. Urban processes will be compared and explored from the perspective of different epistemic frameworks and their unique value systems. It concludes by setting out fundamental parameters for the project in the form of a design brief.

Format: Group-based tutorials in studio
Submission: Preliminary brief

Seminar: Case Studies (20 credits) 

This seminar is organised around the weekly presentation of contemporary case studies in urban design across a broad variety of international contexts. Each case study represents a complex condition that students will be asked to respond to with an oral presentation during the seminar. Each week students receive a dossier setting out key factors in their case study, including disputes around concepts, organisations and institutions as well as legal and financial instruments and their applicability. The seminar develops the student's ability to familiarise themselves with a complex site and brief in a short amount of time, as well as to understand the parameters of transformation available in any given context.

FormatSeminar and roundtable forum
SubmissionOral presentations

Technical Workshop: Core (10  credits)

This module is offered by the School of Architecture and comprises sessions in core digital and analogue skills including moving image, animation and coding. The module is organised in a series of workshops and exercises provided by faculty and invited specialists. This course asks students to explore architectural, urban and territorial concepts in relation to observational, imaging, documentation and visualisation techniques. Students will test the ability of new systems of calculation and visualisation, to create alternative spaces for design intervention.

Submission: Technical portfolio

Critical & Historical Studies (CHS) (40 credits across Terms 1, 2 and 3)

The CHS module is offered by the School of Humanities as a  College-wide programme. This module introduces students to various research methodologies across the design, the arts and the physical and social sciences with a particular focus on ethnographic methods and their role in field work. The purpose of CHS is to encourage debate, understanding, intellectual confidence and self-expression in the history, philosophy and criticism of the various disciplines taught at the College.

Format: Seminar / tutorials
Submission: Essay due end of Term 2

Term 2

Studio: Strategy (20 credits)

This second studio module asks the MA students to develop a strategy for their design project. Emphasis will be placed on the definition of key principles, stakeholders, constituencies and spatial ordering strategies. Students are expected to develop a clear hierarchy of ideas and approaches rather than a proposition – thereby allowing for multiple scenarios to be managed in response to changing conditions. A core element in this module is the reproduction of externalities, such as conflicts between stakeholders or changes in the political and economic conditions that structure the project. Students will be asked to test their design strategy against these scenarios and to assess the project's viability.

Format: Group-based tutorials in studio
Submission: Strategic design proposal

Seminar: History & Theory (20 credits)

The module comprises a series of lectures and seminars on on histories and theories of City Design. Core concepts, debates and precedents will be introduced each week. A central methodological question in this module is the idea of a ‘model’: the way exemplary forms of city design establish exemplary relations of cause and effect between political, social and economic factors. Students might explore capitals, port cities, garden cities, smart cities, post-work cities, or many others. The primary idea the module puts forward is the way that ‘models’ define a series of initial parameters, values and aspirations that guide the future growth and development of the city in question. Students will be invited to speculate on the currency of existing city models and their relevance to future transformations in housing, transport, leisure and work.

Format: Seminar and roundtable forum
Submission: Essay

Technical Workshop: Advanced (10 credits)

This module is offered by the School of Architecture and comprises sessions in advanced data gathering, analysis and visualisation skills. The module is organised in a series of workshops provided by faculty and invited specialists. This module will ask students to explore the evolution of new metrics, systems of quantification and calculation, and their emerging role in defining structures of value within the urban realm, including its management and monetisation. Students will be asked to reflect critically on the role of these systems within existing structures of urban governance.

Submission: Technical portfolio

Term 3

Studio: Design Development (20 credits)

This module focuses on the development of a design proposal drawing on the strategic planning and brief established in earlier modules. Students will be expected to complete general arrangement plans, and physical and digital models of their proposal, as well as to establish a series of tests able to gauge the success of the design against prior assumptions. The design will be used to examine feasibility and technical resolution. At the conclusion of the module, students will be asked to revise their strategic plan and brief to incorporate findings from the design process.

Format: Group-based tutorials in studio
Submission: Concept design proposal

Seminar: Science & Technology (20 credits)

This module brings technical and scientific expertise as relevant to each project, by inviting experts from relevant disciplines to work alongside students on the project’s technical and scientific resolution.

Format: Lab
Submission: Technical portfolio

Term 4

Developed Design Independent Research Project (60 credits)

The Independent Research Project (IRP) consists of a detailed design proposal completed individually by each student and based on the earlier group work. The definition of the scope of the IRP and its relation to the group work will occur in collaboration with the IRP supervisor. It should include all exercises and projects completed in historical, theoretical and technical workshop modules. A written component is included in the module. An essential part of the IRP and the teaching during Term 4 is the opportunity to work with and get feedback from urban and city design practitioners.

Format: Individual tutorials (or in groups with similar interests)
Submission: Research portfolio with design and written component

Contact the City Design programme:

+44 (0)20 7590 4281


240 credits
15-month programme
Full-time study



+44 (0)20 7590 4281