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Reshaping the city

Key details

  • 180 credits
  • 1 year programme
  • Full-time study

School or Centre

Application deadline

  • Still accepting applications

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.

Envisioning new concepts of city and urban life by placing design speculation at the core of social innovation

The MA City Design envisions new concepts of city and urban life 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 the way we live, work, reproduce and take care of the world around us, producing new lines of social solidarity as well as new sites of social conflict. Yet most of the methods used to research and design cities have resisted change, thus limiting our ability to perceive relevant changes and of conceiving radically different futures.

MA City Design believes in the unique capacities of design to conceptualise and propose new and original models of living in cities. It proposes an approach to city design education that unites architectural, social sciences and scientific research. The programme is site-focused and design-led and students have the potential to engage with NGOs, policy makers, government and industry.

The MA City Design envisions new concepts of city and urban life by placing design speculation at the core of social innovation. The programme believes in the unique capacities of design to conceptualise and propose new and original models of living in cities. It proposes an approach to city design education that unites architectural, social sciences and scientific research. The programme is site-focused and design-led and students have the potential to engage with NGOs, policy makers, government and industry.

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

Catch the replays from our November 2022 online Open Day.

Still accepting applications for 2023 entry. See the Eligibility and key dates webpage for round 3 details.



The School of Architecture is currently 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)

  • Studio crit

    Studio crit

  • Graduation Exhibition MA City Design 2018. Sara Anand, Stavros Oikonomidis, Julian Siravo, Priscila Mauro, Yara Galal, Image: Tarsha Finney

    Graduation Exhibition MA City Design 2018. Sara Anand, Stavros Oikonomidis, Julian Siravo, Priscila Mauro, Yara Galal, Image: Tarsha Finney.

  • London, September 2021.

    London, September 2021.

  • London, September 2021.

    London, September 2021.

More details on what you'll study.

Find out what you'll cover in this programme.

What you'll cover

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.

The programme is delivered across three terms and includes a combination of programme, School and College units.

Term 1

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.

Term 2

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.

Term 3

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.

Group of migrants seeking shelter in Ventimiglia  (AFP/Getty Images)

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

In 2022/23, students take either Underground Palestine II or Border Environments

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

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:

Silwan group, 2021-22

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.

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.

Intergenerational Cities

Intergenerational cities

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

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.

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.

Practice Mentorship Session, 17 June, 2021.

The City Design programme and the School of Architecture offer events all year round, including seminar series, practice mentorship sessions, as well lecture series.

Embodied Knowledges workshop series

Practice Mentorship session, 18 June, 2021

Practice Mentorship Session, 24 June, 2021


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

City Design is an interdisciplinary programme that aims at reflecting on the contribution of architecture towards the dramatic changes our cities are witnessing as a result from real-estate forms of urbanisation, such as housing shortages, an increase in precarious labor conditions, problems of mental ill-health, racism or xenophobia.

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.

What else would you like us to know about you? While portfolios showcase important technical and design skills, there are certain aspects of an application that are better grasped by hearing the applicant speaking about her/his own work.

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.

Finally, we would like to know where you see yourself in the future, and what you expect to gain from studying at the Royal College of Art and in the MA City Design.

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) 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.

Find out more about English-language requirements

Fees & funding

For this programme

Fees for new students

Fees for September 2023 entry on this programme are outlined below. From 2021 onward, EU students are classified as Overseas for tuition fee purposes.

£14,175 *
Overseas and EU
£33,600 *


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

Progression discount

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.



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

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

Value: £10,000

The RCA Cost of Living Bursary supports living costs for home students across all MA programmes.

Value: Bursaries of £5,000 each, for use towards living costs

Eligibility criteria: Financial hardship

Eligible fee status: UK fee status

The RCA Disabled Students Bursary supports living costs for home students with a declared disability across all MA programmes, recognising the contribution that UK students with disabilities make to the RCA

Value: Bursaries of £6,000 each, for use towards living costs

Eligibility criteria: Students with a diagnosed physical or sensory disability, or specific learning difficulties

Eligible fee status: UK fee status

The Vice Chancellor’s Achievement Scholarship supports academic excellence by rewarding talented home applicants with the highest scoring portfolios on application to RCA, with a partial fee scholarship

Value: Scholarships of £2,500 each, to be offset against fees

Eligibility criteria: Academic excellence

Eligible fee status: UK fee status

Summary: The Vice Chancellor’s Achievement Scholarship – International supports academic excellence by rewarding talented applicants with the highest scoring portfolios on application to RCA at Round 1 and Round 2 of applications, with a partial fee scholarship.

Value: Scholarships of £2,500 each to be offset against fees

Eligibility criteria: Academic excellence

Eligible fee status: International fee status

Summary: The Deputy Vice-Chancellor’s International Scholarship is aimed at international students applicants from selected countries and territories, and on selected programmes

Value: Scholarships of £3,500 each, to be offset against fees

Eligibility criteria: If oversubscribed, this bursary is awarded on academic merit or financial need.

Eligible fee status: International fee status, from: Canada, France, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Italy, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, USA

The Scholarship supports 21 UK MA, MRes and PhD students every year from across all RCA MA, MRes and PhD disciplines.

Funding Categories: Financial hardship, Students with Black African and Caribbean diaspora heritage, or mixed Black African and Caribbean diaspora heritage

Eligible fee status: UK fee status

Value: £21,000

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 2023. Applications now open.

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 and key dates
More information about eligibility and key dates
Check you have all the information you need to apply.
Read our application process guide
Consider attending an Open Day, or one of our portfolio or application advice sessions
See upcoming sessions
Please note, all applications must be submitted by 12 noon on the given deadline.
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.

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RCA Kensington cafe