M.S. Architecture and Urban Design

The Urban Design Program is focused on the city as an agent of resilient change and on the role of design in redefining the 21st century urban landscape. The program advances new paradigms of research, practice and pedagogy to meet the urgent challenges of rapid urbanization, the increasing threats of climate change and social inequality. Students and faculty in the Program aim to integrate the essential links between public space, social justice and ecological systems. We ask the venerable and necessarily shifting question: what is “the good city?”

Global shifts in the climate system require resetting the paradigms that have guided urban growth for centuries. The Program frames the city not as a fixed, delineated territory—a modernist fixation on boundaries—but instead as a gradient of varied landscapes supported by networks of food, energy, resources, culture, transportation and capital. In this light, the historical terms urban, rural or suburban are no longer sufficient to address the “wicked problem” of climate change. Program work stresses near and long term threats to local, regional and global ecosystems, framing urban design as both an inclusive, activist, tools-based project for specific sites and communities and as a critical project examining urban form, knowledge and research processes.

Students and faculty work together over a series of three intensive semesters to weave a multi-scalar analysis of urban-regional fabrics and infrastructures with on-the ground, detailed studies of places and lived conditions. New York City serves as a primary initial case study for a design methodology; the scope expands in the second semester to regional research about New York and other American city-regions and concludes in the final semester with investigations in emerging global capitals and agglomerations in Asia, Africa, and South America.


The curriculum exploits the pedagogic potential of the design studio as a site of research, visionary speculation and critical inquiry. The Urban Design curriculum broadly integrates a range of interdisciplinary expertise, internal to Columbia University—such as the School of Public Health, the Earth Institute, and the School of Engineering—and external to the school, through regular engagement with governmental and non-governmental agencies, institutions and organizations.

Across the three semesters of the program, work ranges from site formation and policy, to visualization, and documentation of lived spatial and social conditions. Research, assignments and deliverables seek forms of mediation and action to address the challenges of global and local change. The sequencing of three studios builds a shared understanding of urban theories and terms, design tools, and research methods essential to urban design thought and practice. The collaborative studio setting enables a synthetic approach to design that weaves together environment, systems, and planning.


Throughout the studio sequence, projects emphasize a multi-scalar approach to site and program, embracing local, regional, and global scales and advancing the role of the urban designer as a catalytic and thoughtful practitioner who can place herself among diverse actors, existing conditions, and imagined futures.

Studio I

The Summer Studio I is foundational, addressing experimental, representational and constructive aspects of urban design as a process. The studio frames the Five Boroughs of New York City as a learning lab, examining biophysical infrastructures, conflicting public and private interests, and ongoing socio-spatial change.

Studio II

The Fall Studio II expands in scope to consider the city-region, examining large scale interdependencies and interactions. Studio research addresses the particular conditions of American city-regions (currently, the Hudson Valley) in which shifting ecological, topographical, infrastructural, demographic and social conditions call for new strategies for systemic action.

Studio III

The final Spring Studio III takes on problems of global urbanization, extending previous work on variously-scaled physical and social infrastructures, programmatic interventions and community partnerships. The studio typically travels to two cities, working in close cooperation with local partners and organizations.

In this eleventh episode of GSAPP Conversations, Urban Design Director Kate Orff joins Dean Amale Andraos to discuss what it means to think across scales and connect our human life with the geological time scale, how traveling international studios allow students to better address challenges shared by otherwise very different cities, and teaching the reciprocity of physical design and social context.

Current Faculty

Summer 2017 Courses

Course Semester Title Student Work Instructor Syllabus Requirements & Sequence Location & Time Session & Points Call No.
A4528‑1 Summer 2017
Digital Techniques
Kyle Hovenkotter UD Required
114 Avery Hall
Tu 4 PM - 6 PM
Full Semester
3 Points
A4685‑1 Summer 2017
Urban Theory & Design In the Post-Industrial Age
Noah Chasin, Anthony Acciavatti UD Required
114 Avery Hall
Tu 10 AM - 12PM
Full Semester
3 Points
A6824‑1 Summer 2017
Reading NY Urbanism
Cassim Shepard UD Required
114 Avery Hall
W 10 AM - 12 PM
Full Semester
3 Points
A6849‑1 Summer 2017
Urban Design Studio
Kaja Kühl UD Required
M/W/Th 2 PM - 6 PM
Full Semester
9 Points