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MSc City Design and Social Science

 Street art in Beirut BR
Some of our MSc students in Beirut, May 2015 (image Bianca Ryseck).


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 2015-16

This year’s City Design Research Studio, 'Infrastructural City',  is concerned with infrastructure as urbanism. Working on different infrastructural elements, and in different site contexts across inner London, the Studio teams will explore how infrastructures make the city, and how spatial and social forms might be transformed through infrastructural interventions.

The Studio takes an expansive and critical understanding of infrastructure, considering how different forms of infrastructure are materialised in the built environment as well as how these are economised and socialised as sites of investment (and disinvestment), regulation and interaction. We consider infrastructure in terms of different spatial and physical morphologies: linear, hub and network geographies –

  • open space and green infrastructure (Elephant & Castle)
  • transit infrastructure: railways and waterways (Elephant and Castle/ Hackney)
  • everyday infrastructure: streets and pavements (Hackney)
  • social and community infrastructures (Somers Town/Kings Cross)

The handbook for this academic year, with detailed information about the programme and core courses, is available as a PDF - see contents panel above left.  Students are given copies on arrival but may wish to refer to the online version for links to LSE's webpages.

MSc 2014-15

This year's City Design Research Studio took 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 provided 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 was on Tottenham, a district in the borough of Haringey in northeast
London and 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 was to understand this area without simplifying or stigmatising it,
using the tools of urban social science to understand both Tottenhamʼs
struggles and its collective resources. The aim of the Studio was to propose critical
interventions that would help Tottenhamʼs communities on their own terms rather than
facilitating their erasure, and these can be found in the latest Studio publication Critical City.

International fieldtrip: This year's students went to Beirut - for more on this and previous destinations see our International fieldtrip pages.

MSc 2013-14

 Group with David Madden

Students and staff on the field trip to Sarajevo, May 2014

City 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.


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) to fund 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.

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