City Design and Development

We research the development of alternative urban forms, techniques, policies, and codes by testing them in design in applied projects within cities.


The Joint Program in City Design and Development (CDD) is an academic and research program concerned with shaping and designing the built and natural environment of cities and suburban territories.

CDD is a collaboration of the MIT Departments of Urban Studies and Planning and Architecture, as well as the Center for Real Estate, the Center for Advanced Urbanism, and the Media Lab. As such, it joins key actors and disciplines that are shaping cities. Together, we seek to better understand the changing urban environment and to invent new architectural forms, public policies, development products, and technologies that will improve the quality of urban life.

The program is led by scholars and practitioners who are committed to interdisciplinary research as well as action in the field, developing new modes of professional intervention. Our extensive course offerings and projects allow advanced students to develop specialized skills, while enabling those new to the field to achieve professional competence in city design.

The program addresses both cities and urban regions. It examines ways that they have been designed, planned, and developed in the past, while proposing new visions for the future. It is also international in scope, with studios and research projects in the US and worldwide. In all of these venues the faculty brings a commitment to reflective practice, to involving those who will be affected by city design decisions, to sustaining the natural setting and local culture, and to promoting a long range perspective on the consequences of actions that shape the urban fabric.

Students in CDD come from many countries with diverse backgrounds and experiences. Some have prior professional degrees in architecture, landscape architecture, and planning; others come from varied academic fields in the sciences and arts. Faculty advisors help students to tailor the program’s extensive subject offerings and research opportunities into individualized areas of study, supported by the unparalleled information and technology resources of MIT.

The Department of Architecture and the Department of Urban Studies and Planning offer a joint graduate program in urban design, and recognize the completion of this program by awarding a Certificate in Urban Design.  Learn more.

Areas of Study

Urban Design

Connecting the physical transformation of large-scale areas in cities through the 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.

Architecture and Urbanism

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.

Community and Land Use Planning

Concentrated 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. 

Housing Renewal and Design

Engages with both the redevelopment of public housing projects in the United States and abroad, as well as improving the quality and efficiency of residential development. Investigates the livability of existing housing being built, retrofitting existing development and the development of new models for community design. 

Urban Development

Linked with the MIT Center for Real Estate, integrates the design and implementation of development projects, the economics and finance of real estate, and management of the development process.

Landscape + Urbanism

Analyzes 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. 

Key Themes

Mediated City

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

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.