The first decade of the Twenty-First Century has seen dramatic shifts in our global urbanized environments and cities. Developed countries have experienced rapid urbanization around their edges and deindustrialization in their cores, which are challenging historical models of city form and function. In the United States alone there is a record amount of blighted and vacant land surface available in urbanized areas that needs to be reimagined and retrofitted for productive uses. A renaissance of environmental thinking is creating demand for new urbanization models based on systems that are more energy efficient, digitally connected, culturally relevant, and ecologically sustainable. Unprecedented stress is also being put on the built fabric of existing cities due to forces such as climate change, migration, social reformation, and technological advancement.

Areas of Study


While each student program is unique, typical areas of concentration and exploration available within the City Design and Development program include:

Urban Design

This area focuses on the physical transformation of large-scale areas in cities. In CDD we are concerned with shaping the form of buildings, public spaces and infrastructure, as well as understanding the institutions and mechanisms that affect form, and how to implement physical change in the city. Graduates in this area typically practice urban design in private architecture or planning firms, or in public agencies, shaping the design of urban districts, large scale mixed use projects, residential neighborhoods, or transportation facilities.

CDD offerings in the urban design arena include a comprehensive array of studios and research workshops, subjects on the history and theory of city form, design skills and techniques, public policy and regulation, and development processes. Urban design studios engage students with real world issues such as: the revitalization of Southwest Washington, DC; redevelopment of former industrial sites in downtown Singapore; and creation of mixed income housing in Sao Paulo.

An Urban Design Certificate is offered to students who complete a specific curriculum of subjects in DUSP and Architecture. There are also opportunities to obtain dual professional degrees in architecture, planning, and real estate.

Architecture and Urbanism

This area is concerned with the theory and history of city form and design, including patterns of settlement, the imaging of urban environments, and relationships between politics and the form of cities, as well as the design of new urban tissue. Students in this area generally couple their studies with an associated area, such as urban design, or proceed to doctoral studies in theory and history. Many graduates teach, but a number also follow professional practice careers in architecture and planning.

Subjects in architecture and urbanism encompass the theory of city form, urban history, imaging and photography, the morphology of the city, and ideal city form. Recent studios have examined the role of history and memory in designing cities, new models of campus design in cities, and potentials of high density, monumental architecture on the urban fringe.

Community and Land Use Planning

This area concentrates on the planning of communities at a local and regional scale, including understanding natural systems, transportation options, the regulatory framework that controls land use, and the impacts and management of growth. Students make use of geographic information systems and simulation tools to aid in their analyses and proposals for communities and sites. Graduates in this area may work as municipal or regional planners, managers of large scale environments for specialized agencies, or as professional consultants to cities and towns.
Subjects cover topics such as: growth management, site and systems planning, legal issues, transportation planning, and ecological approaches to greenfield and brownfield development. Workshops in concert with local communities address issues such as: revitalizing traditional New England village centers, planning for transit oriented development, achieving “smart” growth in the suburbs, and pumping new life into dying main streets.

Housing Renewal and Design

This area engages with both the redevelopment of public housing projects in the United States and abroad, as well as the improving of the quality and efficiency of residential development.  The work has investigated the livability of existing housing being built, retrofitting existing development and the development of new models for community design. Graduates in this area may work in community development corporations, housing policy agencies, municipal planning offices, or as managers of large scale housing projects.
Subjects in this area include housing studios and workshops, real estate finance, affordable housing development, and housing policies delivered through action-based workshops, studios, or seminars.

Urban Development

This area links with the Center for Real Estate and includes the design and implementation of development projects, the economics and finance of real estate, and management of the development process. Some students in this area complete a dual degree in real estate (MSRED). Graduates work as real estate developers, architects and planners who couple their first professional skills with an understanding of development, and as managers of urbanplanning and development agencies.
Subjects in this area include finance, real estate economics, legal issues, project management, real estate products and affordable housing development. The Real Estate Development studio provides an opportunity for students to synthesize large scale, complex projects in real world settings, from suburban residential development to reuse of industrial sites.

Landscape + Urbanism

Landscape + Urbanism focuses on analyzing the forces that shape the built and natural environment and using that understanding to design strategic solutions to pressing environmental and social challenges—including climate change, renewable energy, water conservation, landscape toxicity, deindustrialization, environmental justice, adaptive reuse and the design of cultural landscapes. Graduates in this area may work as urban and regional planners, environmental planners, designers of large scale urban transformations and new infrastructure for public or private development entities.
Subjects offered by five landscape architects in the school and CDD cover a broad range of landscape + urbanism topics and engagements. Studios focus on the transformation of urban systems and under utilized areas, such as the former industrial waterfront of Mumbai, into more productive use.

Key Themes


The following are few related themes that are currently engaging CDD students and faculty, cutting across areas of study, subjects, and research:

Mediated City

This theme builds on work done by Kevin Lynch in the early years of the program and focuses on how form and meaning are perceived and communicated in the current city. At issue are the effects of advanced information technology on contemporary culture, as well as the increasing importance of narrative on the form and design of cities. Our work around this theme seeks to understand how urban experience is shaped by the preservation of culture, history and memory, by the development of new kinds of “mediated” places and activities in the public realm. We are also interested in the tools and technologies by which changes in urban form and landscape can be visualized and understood.

Urban Transformation

This theme is concerned with the future of cities and regions of the 20th century. Industrial land, infrastructure, warehouses, housing, ports and waterfronts, rail-lines and depots, mines and oil fields, are among an inventory of abandonment, all seeking temporary and permanent re-use. Our inquiries around this theme hope to clarify new design approaches to urban and regional transformation, involving elements such as education, ecology, retrofitting and cultural development as well as new forms of housing and transportation.

Urban Performance

The quality of urban life and work is currently being challenged and shaped by many forces such as demographic patterns (aging and disability, for example), international economics (globalization and the demise of distance), and environmental pressures (sustainability, resource conservation, energy). Our inquiries around this theme ask how cities can be reshaped in the face of these forces; how design and construction standards affect livability and energy consumption; what role citizens should play in determining urban quality in a contemporary democracy; and how one understands the form of the vast, poor urban areas of the world and the enormous discrepancy between them and places of wealth.

Design Paradigms

With the re-evaluation/repudiation of modernism as the dominant perspective on design, this theme takes to task the development of design paradigms appropriate to contemporary urban circumstances both in the United States and other parts of the globe. Our inquiries around this theme center on the making of good public places, the expression of private and public environments in the city, the aesthetics of popular demand, the reshaping of the form of low-density cities and public housing, and the role that design can play in the changing peripheries of cities.