Update you browser

For the best experience, we recommend you update your browser. Visit our accessibility page for a list of supported browsers. Alternatively, you can continue using your current browser by closing this message.

Sai Ying Pun Market, Hong Kong


Reshaping the city

Key details

  • 240 credits
  • 15 month programme
  • Full-time study

School or Centre

Career opportunities

  • 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.

Harness new social, technical and spatial innovations to generate alternative forms of urban life.

City Design MA provides a forum for an emerging generation of architects and those in allied design based disciplines, interested in the convergence of new social, technical and spatial innovations and in harnessing their potential to generate alternate forms of urban life.

The global urban population stands at 4 billion, with dozens of megacities and expansive metropolitan aggregations emerging and consolidating. Urban life is undergoing momentous change as patterns of settlement, growth and decline diversify. Many cities are centralising as knowledge and service economy workforces are concentrating toward the core. This is adding enormous pressure to housing affordability. New social groups are emerging, populations are ageing, family units are extending and dispersing as work is casualised, and whole communities are moving online.

At the same time, dangerous new social divides are appearing, on the periphery of cities, between different cultures, and now also between different generations. Yet many of the models used to explain, design, develop, and manage cities have resisted change.

More recently however, new possibilities are emerging and their consequences promise to be profound: modern social movements, automated building supply chains, technology platforms, driverless transport and logistics, distributed water and energy infrastructure - all will radically reshape the city's fundamental building blocks and allow us to ask a different set of questions: where within these changing conditions is the logic of the new collectivities of intimacy and care that allow us to live and work together.

City Design MA believes in the unique capacities of design and the value of propositional forms of spatial thinking.

City Design MA is a field-focused, design-led, and project-based course. It proposes a unique, multi-scalar approach to city design education that unites architectural, technological and scientific research.

City Design MA proposes a pedagogical model centred around the idea of case studies and the power of design practice to intervene within multiple scales in the city and through multi-stakeholder and participant disputes.

Our Industry Advisory Group is a consultative forum that supports the continual improvement of the City Design MA programme and ensures its relevance to ongoing problems and issues in city-making globally.

Catch the replays from our March 2021 Virtual Day.



The School of Architecture is based at our historic Kensington site.

View all facilities

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.

  • MA City Design design studio crit (photo: Tarsha Finney)

    MA City Design design studio crit (photo: Tarsha Finney)

  • Unit Trip, Barcelona 2019 (photo: Tarsha Finney)

    Unit Trip, Barcelona 2019 (photo: Tarsha Finney)

  • Seminar with Dr Chris Lee of Serie Architects

    Seminar with Dr Chris Lee of Serie Architects speaking about urban change in Singapore and London. Image: Tarsha Finney

  • Students in the School of Architecture Studios (photo: Richard Haughton)

    Students in the School of Architecture Studios (photo: Richard Haughton)

  • Activity in the School of Architecture Studios (photo: Richard Haughton)

    Activity in the School of Architecture Studios (photo: Richard Haughton)

More details on what you'll study.

Find out what you'll cover in this programme.

What you'll cover

City street

Students in the City Design MA programme engage in three terms of live design studio before embarking on their Independent Research Project in term 4. These studios respond to complex stakeholder contexts involving both government and non-government actors in the city, questions of urban transformation, and issues of socio-demographic change. Key focus areas for the programme have been around issues of housing, ageing, health and the challenge of new responses to a desire for intimacy and care in the context of isolation and loneliness in the city.

Design Studio 2020/21

The design studio for this year is Post Pandemic Urbanism.

Design Studio 2018/19

New Logics of Intimacy and Care: City/House

Transforming Demographics/Changing Cities: the multi-generational City.

Underpinning our approach to the site of Canada Water are overlapping questions of ageing and labour with regards to the city, and to its housing.

In the first instance there has been a transformation in what is demanded of labour particularly with regard to the plasticity of human capital – its ‘employability’ – is predicated on its capacity for adaptation and lifelong learning, as well as its mobility.  This new and emerging requirement extends the productive life span of human beings beyond concepts of retirement established in the twentieth century, while pulling people out and away from the traditional support structures such as established community or family.  This is leading to a crisis of care in cities as populations age.

Second, to take note of the transformation of alpha cities such as London from a condition of decentralization mentioned above, to centralisaiton.  At the same time, the commodification of housing and a legacy of housing stock organized around the modern/nuclear family and the private dwelling, is resulting in a crisis of access to suitable housing provision, excluding many and putting others in an increasingly precarious economic situation.

Finally, a massive and now well-developed shift in developed and developing economies toward an ageing population with attendant issues around the balance between tax base and obligations for ongoing care, the increased role of degenerative mental diseases, and the withdrawal of the state from provision of health care – all without the traditional structures of support and care that once existed such as the family. In another direction, services that are still provided by the state are in the form of ‘ageing in place’ – there has been a de-institutionalisation of ageing, away from aged care hospices, and instead, focuses on keeping people in their homes, where care is brought to them several times a day – to wash, help with meals, dressing etc. While it is generally agreed that this is a positive change, in isolating older people in their homes alone, with short visits, there is emerging a profound existential crisis of loneliness and isolation with exacerbated effects on health care needs.

Taken together, the new phases required of a productive life, the centralization of opportunity in cities, and a widespread and vast demographic change add up to a complex spatial social challenge with important consequences.

H Koon Wee presenting his new publication The Social Imperative: Architecture and the City in China

The seminar series in the City Design MA programme considers the city of modernity and the emergence of urban spatial reasoning through the 19th and 20th century. It asks how should we think about issues such as politics, political action, social equity and the right to the city within the context of both contemporary urbanism, and within the context of a School of Architecture within a College of Art and Design

MA City Design Students on Site Visit, Canada Water, South London

The case study series within the City Design MA programme is an opportunity for students to study in depth large complex urban projects in London and internationally. Working in groups, students produce both a dossier accounting for the complex coming into form of a specific project and its transformation through time, in addition to producing a seminar that involves interviews and discussions with key actors in the process - both historic and contemporary.

Projects covered include: Kings Cross London, Victoria Gate Leeds, The Brunswick Centre, The Peckham Levels, The Coin Street Community Builders and Mehr Als Wohnen Zurich.

Practice mentor studio

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:

Dongyang Mi RCA Media Studies

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.

Middle East city

The final term 4 of study in the MA programme is dedicated to your Independent Research Project. You will be required to develop a sophisticated, innovative and creative design or written response to the thesis question as established in via the group design studio work in Terms 1, 2 and 3.

Lunch scenes, Sara Anand

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. Visit the MPavilion website to view more information about the What is Home workshop and associated public events.

Study Tour + workshop, Kraftwerk II co-operative housing project, Zurich

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.

Our research symposia

Find out more about intergenerational cities

Future Homes for London

Along with St Ann’s Redevelopment Trust, Haringey, The Architecture Foundation and Baylight Foundation, City Design MA organises 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.

Visit the Future Homes for London: Alternate Models page to view all presentations.

All studio-based MA students follow a weekly schedule of Critical & Historical Studies (CHS), a College-wide initiative that provides you with the intellectual framework to build a coherent relationship between theory and practice.

CHS delivers exciting, thought-provoking and inspiring lectures by experts within the programme and high-profile visiting lecturers. You’ll have the opportunity to explore the theoretical background and aspects of your chosen discipline through a tutored dissertation process, as well as receiving individual tutorial support from our team of expert tutors.

View more CHS information


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 will consider 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.

You are likely to be students of architecture with a three+two-year Bachelor and Master’s degree, or Master’s-equivalent five-year Diploma preferably in architecture, landscape architecture, urban design or other related design discipline looking to acquire expertise in large scale, urban/city design projects.

We’ll consider other backgrounds, such as social sciences, geography, urban studies, planning or economics, if your prior work is of exceptional merit and you’re able to demonstrate your ability to work alongside and contribute to multidisciplinary teams. Evidence of your intellectual and professional curiosity and a readiness to engage in a rigorous and demanding period of study is essential.

What's needed from you

Your portfolio is a showcase of your work as an artist or designer and can be made up of images, videos or writing examples. Your portfolio helps us to better understand your application and allows you to show evidence of your ability and motivation to undertake a given programme.

Generally, we’re looking for you to demonstrate your:

  • Creativity, imagination and innovation
  • Ability to articulate the intentions of the work
  • Intellectual engagement in areas relevant to the work
  • Technical skills appropriate to the work
  • Potential to benefit from the programme

Each programme is looking for different things in a portfolio. Each Head of Programme provides specific advice on portfolio requirements in the online application system. We advise you to consider these requirements carefully before submitting your application.

Visit our application portal to view more portfolio requirements

If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need the equivalent of an IELTS Academic score of 6.5 with a 6.0 in the Test of Written English (TWE). 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.

Find out more about English-language requirements

Fees & funding

For this programme

Fees for new students

Fees for September 2021 entry on this programme are outlined below. From 2021 onward, EU students are classified as Overseas for tuition fee purposes.

£14,850 total cost*
Channel Islands and Isle of Man
£17,425 total cost*
Overseas and EU
£34,850 total cost*


New entrants to the College for MA, MRes, MPhil and PhD degrees will be required to pay a non-refundable deposit in order to secure their place. This will be offset against the tuition fees for the first year of study.

Overseas and EU

* 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.



Scholarships are awarded for a specific programme and entry point and cannot be deferred without consent from the academic Programme and scholarships panel.

More information

External funding

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.


Tuition fees are due on the first day of the academic year and students are sent an invoice prior to beginning their studies. Payments can be made in advance, on registration or in two instalments.

Start your application

RCA students at work (photo: Richard Haughton)

Change your life and be here in 2021

The Royal College of Art welcomes applicants from all over the world.

Before you begin

Make sure you've read and understood the entrance requirements
More information about entrance requirements
Check you have all the information you need to apply.
Read our application process guide
Visit our applications portal to get started

Ask a question

Get in touch if you’d like to find out more or have any questions.

Register your interest with us here