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MSc City Design and Social Science

Group with David Madden  
Students and staff on the field trip to Sarajevo, May 2014


This interdisciplinary Master's programme sets the design and development of cities in its social, political, economic and environmental contexts. Students are drawn from across the design disciplines, social and economic sciences, natural sciences and humanities. We take an integrated approach to urbanism based on the exchange of knowledge, information and skills between the different actors involved in city-making.

At the heart of the MSc is the City Design Research Studio, in which students work together intensively on specific sites and practical challenges in London, developing innovative propositions for urban interventions out of interdisciplinary research and analysis. Recent Studios have focused on 'urban edges', including sites bordering the 2012 Olympic development, on the 'city fringe', and on the seam between the inner and outer city, and on neighbourhoods where the interests of various actors compete and sometimes conflict .  The students' work is published at the end of each year - follow the link under Contents to see our annual Studio publications.

This sustained focus on London is complemented by international urban case studies, and an international fieldtrip each year (subject to funding).The students research key aspects of city life and design, and turn that research into strategic guidance for future design - see our International fieldtrip pages for more information.

Students take further core and options courses from leading urban faculty across the LSE, and meet eminent urban scholars and practitioners in a series of dedicated masterclasses. This rewarding programme aims to promote interdisciplinary professionals who will engage with the city in a holistic manner and have a positive impact on the making of cities and the built environment.

Our graduates say:

"I cannot say enough good things about the CDSS program. ...I really appreciated how the program provided a holistic academic framework that we could use to study cities in the ways that best suited us. I was able to take the analysis techniques and ideas we learned about in the program and apply them to my research on ethnic conflict and racial politics within the urban environment. Others of my peers had completely different angles they took to examine cities, whether it be through looking at planning, sustainability, architecture, etc. I think the greatest strength of the program is that all of these perspectives complement each other without one perspective dominating the discourse. I used to joke that if you talked to two different CDSS students that you could come away with drastically different ideas of what the program is about. This I consider an immense compliment."
Jacob Brown, graduate of the MSc City Design and Social Science (2012-13)

"I would like to thank (my teachers) for a terrific year and a great experience with the programme! Reflecting back on the Master's full cycle, I definitely feel I was exposed to a new wonderful world of social theories... broadened my skill sets - learned to write passably (such a challenge for an architect!!) and to listen and negotiate differences... and learned how to think strategically about urban interventions. All in all, thank you for opening these doors!"
Bethania Soriano, graduate of the MSc City Design and Social Science (2011-12), consultant at Turnberry Consulting Ltd (development strategy and urban planning).

"The Cities Programme is certainly a place of academic excellence but is first and foremost a place of encounter of great individuals and friends."
Carlo Castelli, architect and graduate of the MSc City Design and Social Science (2010-2011).

"I became interested in globalization dynamics and governance issues during my time in the Cities Programme, and on my return to Canada was appointed Policy Advisor to the Ontario Ministry of Public Infrastructure Renewal in Toronto. While my peers have a strong tendency and knowledge to look internationally for models and case studies for information and new ideas, I think learning in London about globalization and economic development really gave me a leg up - a more truly international perspective.  Even more important has been the ability to really look at issues in a cross-disciplinary way as taught by the Cities Programme; truly thinking about social segregation, urban development, and real sustainability, in the context of transportation and economy I think is proving quite powerful. My year in the Cities Programme was maybe the most significant single year of my student life."
Michael Sutherland (Class of 2006), Policy Advisor, Ontario Ministry of Public Infrastructure Renewal, Toronto, Canada.

MSc 2014-15

This year's City Design Research Studio takes the theme of the 'critical city.'The word critical can describe something in the throes of crisis—or denote a critique
of established ways of doing things. These two meanings will provide the initial
inspiration for our studio exploration. What does it mean to live in a city in a critical
condition? How should we criticise contemporary forms of urban development? And
what critical interventions can we propose for urban life today?

Our focus will be Tottenham, a district in the borough of Haringey in northeast
London. Tottenham is a place where many of the crises of urban life are visible. It is
the poorest neighbourhood in the most unequal borough in the capital. Many
Tottenham residents experience numerous forms of injustice, and the area has
repeatedly been the site of uprisings and riots. And many locals feel that the
councilʼs official regeneration plans threaten to bring gentrification and displacement
rather than social progress.

Despite these struggles, Tottenham should not be seen as a space of deprivation or
dysfunction. It is by some accounts the most ethnically and linguistically diverse
neighbourhood in Europe. The area is home to a multiplicity of cultural groups and a
wide variety of social, political and spatial projects.

Our challenge will be to understand this area without simplifying or stigmatising it.
We shall use the tools of urban social science to understand both Tottenhamʼs
struggles and its collective resources. And we will aim to propose critical
interventions that will help Tottenhamʼs communities on their own terms rather than
facilitating their erasure.

The handbook for this academic year, with detailed information about the programme, is available as a PDF - see contents panel above left.  Students may wish to refer to the PDF version for links to LSE's webpages.

MSc 2013-14

Elephant and CastleCity Design Research Studio
This year's Studio moved south, to focus on the 'Resourceful City: a studio exploration from the Elephant and Castle to St.George’s Circus'.  Within this historic stretch of south London are a host of territories and interests, including a vacated, large-scale housing estate, the London College of Communication and London Southbank University, the Elephant and Castle transport intersection, and a number of large-scale pieces of land subject to private redevelopment, including the Aylesbury Estate and the Elephant and Castle Shopping centre. Urban renewal within this historic stretch takes on multiple forms and values.  Only a ten-minute bus ride to the prestigious city to its north, this highly strategic area hosts varied and competing interests.  The Studio was led this year by Dr Suzi Hall, Dr David Madden and Professor Fran Tonkiss.

International fieldtrip: This year's students went to Sarajevo - for this and previous field trips see our International fieldtrip pages.

MSc 2012-13

Class photo 2013
Class of 2013: Students and staff celebrate the publication of Local City and the end of the academic year (picture courtesy of MSc student Minh Toan).

City Design Research Studio
What does it mean to be ‘local’ in a global city? Our studio exploration addressed this question from the base of a dense, inner city area in east London: Hackney Central. Hackney sustains established and emerging forms of economic and social vitality, while simultaneously surfacing contestations around urban transformations and rupture. Hackney’s local worlds exemplify the convergence of working-class histories, urban multicultures, and gentrification. It is portrayed both through processes of protest, including the August 2011 riots (in which the local Pembury Estate was particularly affected), and strategies for cohesion such as the “I love Hackney” campaign. Its local politics are actively shaped by prominent personalities, established community groups, charities and NGO’s, as well as the local borough council. 

With the economic crisis of 2008, coupled with the ideological advance of ‘The Big Society’ and its legal promulgation in ‘The Localism Act’ as introduced by the Coalition Government, new questions emerge: How is ‘local’ urban life understood?; What are the elements of local power?; How are local initiatives resourced?; What are the boundaries and connections of local space? Our students engaged with these larger concerns, while paying close attention to the contextual realities within Hackney Central
and the Pembury Estate.

MSc 2011-12

City Design Research Studio
This year's students explored the massive Barbican arts centre and housing development on the edge of the City of London (pictured above), addressing the question: How is public space and public culture constituted in a diverse and rapidly changing city? Their analyses and propositions form the basis of the Studio publication Public City.

Barbican workshop FM 2012'Adult fun' in the city
MSc City Design student Francis Moss (2011-12) won first prize in the London Festival of Architecture‘s official photo competition project, organised by Space Syntax and Hype: PLOY – Public Life in the Olympic Year, for the image right of fellow student Guy Trangos and playmates in the Barbican (focus of this year's Studio), full title ‘Stand in a circle, trace your feet with chalk and jump, hop and skip to the next foot prints. Adult fun’.

International fieldtrip
The Ove Arup Foundation| pledged a very generous gift of £105,000 over three years (starting 2009-10).  This funds specialist teaching on infrastructure, environment and resources on the MSc City Design and Social Science, including the work of Philipp Rode as the Ove Arup Foundation Fellow; the funding also supports the annual MSc fieldtrip to some of the world's fastest-growing conurbations. In March 2012, MSc students and staff visited CEPT University in Ahmedabad, northwest India - see our International field trip pages.

MSc 2010-2011

MSc City Design display at UCL Cities Methodologies 2011

MSc City Design students and teaching fellows Dr Suzanne Hall and Juliet Davis displayed their work on 'High Street 2012' at the annual UCL Cities Methodologies exhibition at the Slade from 4 to 7 May 2011, and held a discussion on 'City Street: public realm as line and labyrinth', based on this project.  The students' work was published at the end of the academic year as City Street (see Studio publications).

This year masterclasses were given by Edward Soja, who returns regularly to the Cities Programme, Sharon Zukin, Joseph Heathcott, Gerald Frug and Richard Sennett (also a regular visitor).  Previous masterclasses have been held by Alejandro Aravena, Ian Gordon, Hashim Sarkis, Michael Storpor.

International fieldtrip: This year's students went to Moscow - for this and previous field trips to Istanbul see our International fieldtrip pages.

External Examiners' Reports 2010

First examiner:
"In my view the programme goes from strength to strength and is a tribute to the hard work and diligence of the teaching staff. The academic content is high and the essays written by the students reflect a high level of scholarly input from the teaching staff. As a result the student work has improved a great deal over the last few years.

"I was particularly impressed by the dissertations, which showed evidence of originality and excellent research across a range of different sites and spaces.

"Of even more impressive standard was the work of the design studio conducted on the areas around the London Olympic site. The work has been gathered together by the team into a publication. This is an impressive publication and I encouraged the team to seek a publishing outlet outside the school, so it could reach a wider audience. In my view this work was quite as good, if not better, than the equivalent work carried out by consultants in the private and public sectors.

"Overall therefore I commend the excellence of the programme both at the level of teaching and research. It is also very well administered."

Second examiner:
"The programme is well conceived, and the course's aims are clear, ambitious, and well developed through the curriculum. One of the best aspects of the course is the combination of studio work with theoretical engagement.

"The teaching standards, as these are reflected in the students' submitted work are high.

"Students are well prepared, and by the end of their course can acquire a sophisticated understanding of contemporary issues of urbanisation. In preparation for their exam, students were evidently given good guidance and sound advice.

"The assessment methods are particularly apt to the aims of the course, combining theoretical engagement with studio practice. Marking is of an appropriate standard and consistent range.

"As I noted above, this year's top range papers are of publishable quality, reflecting the continuous striving of teachers for critical and engaging teaching and effort to make this one of the best Masters taught courses in the UK."

Film projects (2007-08)

Five short films made by Cities MSc students (2007-08) as part of a workshop led by Cassim Shepard (currently Director, Urban Omnibus, The Architectural League of New York) can be viewed online at http://vimeo.com/user1875724|.  The videos were part of the students' project work on different neighbourhoods in London.

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