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, and the Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism. 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 Urban Studies and Planning  and the Department of Architecture offer a joint graduate program in urban design, and recognize the completion of this program by awarding a Certificate in Urban Design (see below).

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. Through urban design course material, students will also engage 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.
The department offers several opportunities for students to practice and incorporate urban design into their MCP curriculum. Every year, the Urban Planning and Architecture departments offer a joint studio elective course open to students from both programs. Every two years, dating back to 1985, the Urban Planning department offers a studio in collaboration with Tsinghua University in Beijing. This studio takes students to China to work alongside Tsinghua graduate students on a modern urban design challenge. In addition to these studio opportunities, MCP students are also offered a studio course as an option to fulfill their practicum, or client-based work, course requirement.

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.

Ecological Urbanism

Analyzes the impact of the built environment on the natural environment while seeking means for coevolution between these realms. Ecological urbanism applies this understanding to design strategic solutions to pressing environmental and social challenges—including climate change, renewable energy siting, water conservation, landscape toxicity, deindustrialization, environmental justice, adaptive reuse and the design of cultural landscapes.

Spatial Analytics

Critically examines the social implications of built and natural forms, land use structures, and demographic patterns using data and computational techniques.  The use of spatial analysis, computational modeling, statistics, and data visualization provides urban planners, architects, and designers critical technologies and methods to understand  how the complex forces shaping built environments change over time, respond to planned interventions, and desirably lead towards more equitable and resilient outcomes.

Decarbonizing Cities

Climate change is the defining challenge of our times, and cities are at the two extremes of climate change: urban activities are causing a warming planet, and at the same time, the structures and systems of cities embody the greatest potential for curbing human energy consumption and emissions. How fast we decarbonize the planet depends on how we and future generations will live in, move through, use and develop in cities. How can city design and planning offer solutions to adapt and mitigate the impacts of global warming?

Urban Design Certificate

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. 

To earn the Certificate in Urban Design students must first be admitted and enrolled in the MArch, SMArchS, MCP, or MS degree programs and complete at least one subject in each of six curriculum areas. At least one subject must be at an advanced level. The Urban Design Seminar, covering key issues and trends in city design, is a required subject for all certificate students, providing a common experience and base of knowledge.

Students who intend to complete the requirements for the Urban Design Certificate should complete the urban design certificate form, indicating the subjects they have taken or plan to take, and the timetable for completing their studies. The student, academic advisor, and your department’s Urban Design Certificate committee member should sign this form at the time of submission. Forms should be submitted to the graduate administrator of your home department and your academic advisor. 

Students pursuing the Certificate in Urban Design will be expected to complete a thesis on a topic substantially related to urban design, and at least one member of their thesis committee must be a member of the City Design and Development faculty. Students’ thesis proposals must also be approved by the Certificate committee.

Apply for the Urban Design Certificate.