- 180 credits
- 1 (FT) / 2 (PT) year programme
- Full-time or part-time study
School or Centre
- 11 Oct 2023
- City Design graduates are expected to go on to work in a range of fields, from architectural design practices focussed on questions of housing, to multidisciplinary design practices operating at a city scale, to further academic study, to roles in NGOs, urban planning agencies and design agencies.
Envisioning new concepts of city and urban life by placing design speculation at the core of social innovation
MA City Design envisions new city and urban life concepts by placing design speculation at the core of social innovation.
City life is undergoing momentous change. New forms of urban development and technologically driven forms of social innovation are transforming how we live, work, reproduce and care for the world around us, producing new lines of social solidarity and new sites of social conflict. Yet most methods used to research and design cities have resisted change, limiting our ability to perceive relevant changes and conceiving radically different futures.
MA City Design empowers you to envision fresh urban lifestyles by merging architecture, social sciences, and scientific exploration. Guided by design principles, the curriculum connects you with NGOs, policymakers, and industry leaders, offering an immersive learning experience.
Immerse yourself in digital tools like animation and immersive design that drive speculative innovation within the discipline. We encourage collaborative approaches and the fostering of visionary and equitable futures. Engage with urban visionaries, from industry experts to grassroots pioneers, during guest sessions, visits, and collaborations.
Join a top art institution and benefit from a rich culture of radical, interdisciplinary work at the Royal College of Art. Forge global connections through our pioneering mentorship scheme, uniting you with local and international expertise, elevating your journey in the field.
Students have the option to undertake study as either a full-time, year-long programme, or part-time over two years.
Applications for the September 2024 intake are now open.
View graduate work
In July 2023, students presented RCA2023, a series of exhibitions of their work and events. Explore online at https://2023.rca.ac.uk/
You can also view previous events and exhibitions online at Showcase.
Find out more about this programme
Catch the replays from our previous online Open Day.
Godofredo Enes Pereira
Head of Programme
Godofredo Enes Pereira is an architect and researcher. He is the Head of Programme for the MA Environmental Architecture and the MA City Design.
Our studios are the heart of day-to-day activity for the School. Studios are purpose-designed for inspiration and interaction between students of different design disciplines. Studio workspace is provided for each student. In addition, you have access to wood, metal, plastic and resin workshop facilities, as well as contemporary digital fabrication equipment and a suite of bookable project and making spaces.
Student and alumni stories
Sara Anand studied MA City Design after working in Mumbai with short stints in Berlin and Moscow. Although her undergraduate study was in Product and Interface Design her work also constituted strategic design for service and systems change. She now plans to establish her career as a researcher and design practitioner, investigating the possibilities of design as a tool to safeguard civic rights and facilitate the co-creation of equitable, inclusive forms of civil society.
More details on what you'll study.
Find out what you'll cover in this programme.
What you'll cover
How you'll learn
The MA City Design makes use of digital design, analysis and visualisation tools, including moving image, animation, augmented and immersive design, as drivers of speculative innovation. Together with collaborative forms of knowledge production and exchange, the programme argues these are necessary for enabling the designers of cities to creatively imagine the future in just and equitable ways. Through invited guests, collaborators and site visits, students will have access to different stakeholders involved in contemporary urban transformation. These will range from industry and design practitioners to central and local government, or community and grassroots organisations.
Students of the MA City Design will have the opportunity to pursue a degree within a world leading art and design institution, and to access the rich culture of radical and experimental interdisciplinary work at the Royal College of Art. Moreover, the programme will help students to establish a network of colleagues and mentors by offering them the opportunity of connecting to leading figures in City Design both in London and internationally through an innovative practice mentorship scheme.
Programme structure (full-time)
The programme is delivered across three terms and includes a combination of programme, School and College units.
Design Studio 1: Conditions: This unit consists of an introduction to the programme’s design-led, and site-based pedagogical model. It familiarises you with design-based research methodologies, and collaborative forms of knowledge production. The unit will require you to work in partnership with non-academic urban actors and organisations to speculate on the realisation of change in the city.
Seminar 1: Positions: The Seminar unit will aim to help you to situate city design in relation to the collective knowledges, perspectives and experiences of those in the frontlines of urban change.
Media Studies: The unit is subdivided into multiple sections led by tutors with a diverse range of media experience. Lectures are delivered by staff and invited guests and introduce a range of media and spatial practice methodologies. In the tutorials, you will learn specific skills related to your section, and deploy your research through the execution of new media-based projects. The unit’s mission is twofold: first to encourage the incoming MA students from disparate programmes to increase their cross-disciplinary communication and secondly to challenge you to expand your media practice beyond architecture’s reliance on media as purely representational.
College-wide unit AcrossRCA: Running across terms 1 and 2, this unit aims to support students to meet the challenges of a complex, uncertain and changing world by bringing them together to work collaboratively on a series of themed projects informed by expertise within and beyond the College. See below for more details.
Design Studio 2: Propositions In Studio unit 2 ‘Propositions’, you will develop a series of spatial interventions with the objective of developing innovative forms of social organisation for their studied sites. Working in groups, you are required to develop a set of spatial propositions for design intervention in your site of study. This will require a clear hierarchy of ideas and approaches, in response to potentially changing conditions. A core element in this unit is the exploration of digital tool to speculate on forms of social innovation. The unit requires as well as the understanding of potential externalities such as conflicts between stakeholders or changes in the material, political and economic conditions that structure the project.
You will be asked to consult local specialists, NGO’s, planning authorities or private developers or others currently operating in the context of their project. You will be asked to critically explore modes of digital representation and communication in relation to the different forums where their project might be presented. The submission will take the form of a design brief including proposed design stakeholders and methods.
Seminar 2: Transformations Seminar unit 2 deepens your understanding of contemporary urban transformation theories and principles.
Media Studies In term 2 all School of Architecture students will participate in the Media Studies, School-wide unit. The unit aims to increase students’ critical engagement with media and space. Through this unit you will be supported to increase your cross-disciplinary communication and you will be challenged to expand your media practice beyond architecture’s reliance on media as purely representation.
Independent Research Project (IRP) The Independent Research Project aims to enable you to apply the intellectual, technical and professional skills that you have developed throughout the programme, to a challenging self-set brief focusing the role of digital tools to fostering social innovation.
Programme structure (part-time)
The part-time programme is spread across two years, with a distribution of 90 credits per year. This allows for a lower intensity of teaching which is balanced by a longer maturation time for the development of the Independent Research Project.
Year 1 is focused on theoretical and historical skills, developed together with the full-time programme. Students will familiarize themselves with the field of City Design through the seminar units ‘Positions (term 1) and ‘Transformations’ (term 2). Year 1 includes the AcrossRCA unit, which will allow students a critical complement to seminar-based teaching, reflecting on collaborative research practices. In term 3 students will develop the first stage of their Independent Research Project and participate in the public presentation of work.
Year 2 is focused on studio-based skills, developed together with the full-time programme. Students will be able to further explore the design implications of the work developed in the previous year by engaging with the site-based research developed in the studio units ‘Conditions’ and ‘Propositions’, including the field trip. Year 2 includes the School Wide and Elective units across term 4 and term 5.
The year concludes with the second part of the Independent Research Project in term 6 when students will work towards fine-tuning their proposals towards the final submission at the end of term.
You will participate in AcrossRCA. This unit aims to support students to meet the challenges of a complex, uncertain and changing world by bringing them together to work collaboratively on a series of themed projects informed by expertise within and beyond the College. These projects will challenge you to use your intellect and imagination to address key cultural, social, environmental and economic challenges. In doing so, you will develop and reflect on the abilities required to translate knowledge into action, and help demonstrate the contribution that the creative arts can make to our understanding and experience of the world.
AcrossRCA is a compulsory 30-credit unit which is delivered as part of all MA programmes.
Situated at the core of your RCA experience, this ambitious interdisciplinary College-wide unit supports you in responding to the challenges of complex, uncertain and changing physical and digital worlds. Developed in response to student feedback, AcrossRCA creates an exciting opportunity for you to collaborate meaningfully across programmes.
Challenging you to use your imagination and intellect to respond to urgent contemporary themes, this ambitious unit will provide you with the opportunity to:
- make connections across disciplines
- think critically about your creative practice
- develop creative networks within and beyond the College
- generate innovative responses to complex problems
- reflect on how to propose ideas for positive change in local and/or global contexts
AcrossRCA launches with a series of presentations and panel discussions from acclaimed speakers who will introduce the themes and act as inspirational starting points for your collaborative team response.
Delivered online and in-person across two terms, the unit has been designed to complement your disciplinary studies and to provide you with a platform to thrive beyond graduation.
The programme focuses on case studies and organises student research and projects around site-specific questions and spatial problems within cities. Each year the design studio units focus on a unique case study. Case studies are chosen according to their capacity to challenge and inspire students, and to allow for critical and skills based teaching within the studio.
Design Studio 2022/23
Underground Palestine II posits heritage sites as sites of urban struggle and those that are weaponised for settler colonialism and occupation. Archaeological sites, and sites of cultural heritage, are generally understood as frozen in a moment of ruination. By highlighting those spaces as living and breathing landscapes today, and questioning the value systems and assumed linear time embedded in the classics and archaeological discourse, the studio embraces a delinear and decolonised methodology in order to contest the prevalent instrumentalisation of archaeological sites. This year, the studio case study is the city of Akka (Acre) in 1948 Occupied Palestine.
Read more about the Underground Palestine II studio.
Border Environments investigates the phenomenon of "illegalised" circulations within the European Union through a spatial lens by mapping the interplay between migrant bodies and the physical, political, and cultural environment they move into. Borders and bordering practices are often analysed as geographically localised, linear, material manifestations of power – a wall separating two territories, a series of checkpoints funnelling and filtering circulations. By taking an environmental perspective, the studio proposes to move beyond such limitations to investigate borders and bordering practices within the European Union "against the line", as relational, dispersed events bringing together distant geographies, inter-scalar condensations of communitarian and national politics, widespread racism, and colonial refluxes.
Read more about the Border Environments studio.
Past Studios Archive
Our mentorship scheme is an innovative partnership between the MA City Design programme, and city and urban design professionals.
For the final Independent Research Proposal, you’ll work on-site within leading London-based firms involved in urban thinking and action. These might be architectural practices, but they might also be municipal authorities, planning practices or other allied fields. During your time on placement, key people within the organisation will provide feedback relevant to your project.
Access to and reflection on real-world practice will offer you unique career insights, while our partners benefit from innovative thinking emerging from the RCA. Working with you also enriches our partners’ network of high performing professionals working in cities across the world.
Recent practice mentors include:
- Akil Skaife Smith / RESOLVE collective
- Alice Meyer + Saijel Taank / EDIT collective
- Anurag Verma / Rural Urban Synthesis Society
- Allied London
- Claudia Theisen/Mehr Als Wohnen Zurich
- dRMM Architects
- Greater London Authority
- Haworth Tompkins
- Karakusevic Carson Architects
- Nick Stanhope / SHIFT design
- Publica London
- Tiago mota Saraiva / Ateliermob
- Tonet Font / La Dinamo
Independent research project
The independent research project (IRP) is a continuation of the work previously developed in the Studio Units ‘Conditions’ and ‘Propositions’. This is an opportunity for students to reflect on the theme of the studio while pursuing their own research interests, either in continuity with studio units or in a new direction. Priority will be given to the use and exploration of digital research, design and visualisation tools.
Teaching consists of studio based tutorials and seminar sessions. The IRP project can be submitted through project or by thesis, and includes a Public presentation of work, that might take the form of an event or exhibition. The portfolio will be submitted in the form of a blog/online platform.
Each year, City Design MA students undertake two field trips
The first is a short study tour of a European city such as Barcelona, Zurich or Berlin.
The second is a longer design workshop study trip. For the last three years, the destination for this trip has been Hong Kong. Here we partner with NGO Help for Domestic Workers and the Tai Kwun cultural centre Hong Kong in a 10-day workshop looking at the production, use and domestication of public space in the city.
Follow us on Instagram for more details, and look out for our public programming in Hong Kong while we are there in February 2020.
In addition, in mid-February 2020, City Design MA will be in Melbourne, Australia as guests of MPavilion and the Naomi Milgrom Foundation.
Essential to understanding the opportunities and challenges of the global intensification of urban life and of a general move toward the city and its inner urban core, is understanding the parallel question of ageing and labour. The plasticity of human capital, its ‘employability’ within new and emerging labour markets, depends on its capacity for both mobility, and for lifelong learning and adaptation. This demand extends the productive lifespan of human beings beyond concepts of retirement established in the twentieth century, while pulling people out and away from traditional support structures such as community or family, those sites that have traditionally carried the responsibility of care for the old and the very young. The Intergenerational Cities Research Group asks: where are the new collectivities of intimacy and care for the intergenerational city if the single-family dwelling and the nuclear and extended family are no longer fit for purpose, or are being pulled undone?
This research group examines the conditions under which such a question of the relationship between housing and the city may begin to occur: through spatial experimentation and through the innovation and transformation of the performance of housing at multiple scales, in the context of new procurement processes that support such transformation, and through the regulatory framing that needs to transform to support innovation and experimentation with housing ownership.
Future Homes for London
Along with St Ann’s Redevelopment Trust, Haringey, The Architecture Foundation and Baylight Foundation, the City Design MA programme organised Future Homes for London, a two-day series of presentations and discussions, questioning alternate models of affordable and community-led housing projects for the UK.
This unit enables students to explore how architects communicate ideas from both a contemporary and historical perspective. This encompasses a range of media that spans disciplines, ideologies and methods.
Students will use both analogue and digital technologies to understand better how a designer creates, interrogates and manipulates spatial environments.
This investigation will take place in a critical context, which explores how images are used to manufacture socio-political ideologies and negotiate public identities.
The City Design programme and the School of Architecture offer events all year round, including seminar series, practice mentorship sessions, as well lecture series.
What you need to know before you apply
Candidates are selected entirely on merit and applications are welcomed from all over the world. The selection process considers creativity, imagination and innovation as demonstrated in your portfolio, as well as your potential to benefit from the programme and to achieve high MA standards overall.
This programme accepts students from a wide range of backgrounds, including career changers. Many of those who join the programme will be students of architecture with a 3+2-year Bachelor and Master’s degree, or Master's-equivalent five-year diploma, preferably in Architecture, Urban Design, Urban Planning or other related design discipline looking to acquire expertise in city and urban design projects.
However the programme also attracts many people from other backgrounds, such as social sciences, geography, urban studies, or economics, as well as those who do not already have a Master's degree. If prior work is of exceptional merit and you are able to demonstrate your ability to work alongside and contribute to multidisciplinary teams, please do apply.
Evidence of intellectual and professional curiosity and a readiness to engage in a rigorous and demanding period of study is essential.
What's needed from you
The City Design MA is an interdisciplinary programme that envisions new concepts of city and urban life. It places design speculation at the core of social innovation. We welcome architects and designers from multiple fields of expertise, career changers and people with diverse experiences and backgrounds. If you're not a designer, don’t worry – show us how you’ve previously addressed city and urban design issues in your field, and communicate it visually or in writing, evidencing your unique creativity in whatever form this may take.
While we hope to receive applications from diverse geographic and academic backgrounds, we would like you to prioritise projects or other pieces of work that showcase:
- Ability and interest in addressing urban problems through design
- A range of technical design skills (these might take the form of drawing, model making, 3D models, film, photography, writing, painting, performance, exhibition design or others)
- A range of research methods (this could include academic papers, fieldwork, interviews, documentary practices, mapping or other)
- Experience in group work and collaborative practices
- Experience of working with non-academic partners (if possible)
All submitted materials should state if they were done individually or in collaboration, and clearly explain the research methods and design processes that led to the final outcome.
You must submit a video of no more than 2 minutes as part of the application process.
Please take this opportunity to tell us a bit more about your motivations and personal interests, your intellectual and design references, and how these have led you to apply to the programme of City Design.
- Please tell us why you think it is important to study City Design today.
- What do you think could be the role of digital visualisation and simulation tools for City Design thinking and practice?
- Finally, where do you see yourself in the future, and what you expect to gain from studying at the Royal College of Art and in the City Design MA.
If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need the equivalent of an IELTS Academic or UKVI score of 6.5 with a 6.0 in the Test of Written English (TWE) and at least 5.5 in other skills. Students achieving a grade of at least 6.0, with a grade of 5.5 in the Test of Written English, may be eligible to take the College’s English for Academic Purposes course to enable them to reach the required standard.
You are exempt from this requirement if you have received a 2.1 degree or above from a university in a majority English-speaking nation within the last two years.
If you need a Student Visa to study at the RCA, you will also need to meet the Home Office’s minimum requirements for entry clearance.
If you require a Student Visa (part-time route) for the MA City Design programme, you will have work restrictions and will not be allowed to work in the UK during your studies. If you are currently employed on a Tier 2 visa you can apply for the part-time MA City Design programme as long as you can continue to work for the same employer who is sponsoring you, otherwise you would need to switch to a Student Visa (part-time route) and would no longer be allowed to work in the UK.
For this programme
Fees for new students
Fees for September 2024 entry on this programme are outlined below. From 2021 onward, EU students are classified as Overseas for tuition fee purposes.
Overseas and EU (Full-time)
Overseas and EU (Part-time)
New entrants to the College will be required to pay a non-refundable deposit in order to secure their place. This will be offset against the tuition fees.
Overseas and EU
For alumni and students who have completed an RCA Graduate Diploma and progress onto an RCA Master's programme – MA, MA/MSc, MFA, MDes, MArch, MEd or MRes – within 10 years, a progression discount of £1,000 is available.
* Total cost is based on the assumption that the programme is completed in the timeframe stated in the programme details. Additional study time may incur additional charges.
The RCA scholarship programme is growing, with hundreds of financial awards planned for the 2024/5 academic year. Examples of financial awards offered in 2023/24 are given below.
House of Fraser Bursary
Supporting students on any MA programme from the UK (Preferably is a Scottish national), experiencing financial hardship.
Eligibility criteria: Financial hardship, student preferably of Scottish origin
Eligible fee status: UK fee status, full-time
Sir Frank Bowling Scholarships
For: All programmes excluding short courses
Eligibility criteria: Home fee status; Black or Black British Caribbean, Black Or Black British African, Other Black Background, Mixed - White and Black Caribbean, Mixed - White and Black African
Value: Full-fee & contribution to living costs
Applying for a scholarship
You must hold an offer to study on an RCA programme in order to make a scholarship application in Spring 2024. A selection of RCA merit scholarships will also be awarded with programme offers.
We strongly recommend that you apply for your programme as early as possible to stand the best chance of receiving a scholarship. You do not apply directly for individual awards; instead, you will be invited to apply once you have received an offer.
In addition to your programme fees, please be aware that you may incur other additional costs associated with your study during your time at RCA. Additional costs can include purchases and services (without limitation): costs related to the purchase of books, paints, textiles, wood, metal, plastics and/or other materials in connection with your programme, services related to the use of printing and photocopying, lasercutting, 3D printing and CNC. Costs related to attending compulsory field trips, joining student and sport societies, and your Convocation (graduation) ceremony.
If you wish to find out more about what type of additional costs you may incur while studying on your programme, please contact the Head of your Programme to discuss or ask at an online or in person Open Day.
We provide the RCASHOP online, and at our Kensington and Battersea Campuses – this is open to students and staff of the Royal College of Art only to provide paid for materials to support your studies.
We also provide support to our students who require financial assistance whilst studying, including a dedicated Materials Fund.
There are many funding sources, with some students securing scholarships and others saving money from working. It is impossible to list all the potential funding sources; however, the following information could be useful.
Change your life and be here in 2024. Applications now open.
The Royal College of Art welcomes applicants from all over the world.