Urban Design Program Requirements


Course Sequence Summer Term Fall Term Spring Term
Studio Design Studio I, 9pts. Design Studio II, 9pts. Design Studio III, 9pts.
Seminar UD Seminar I, 3pts. UD Seminar IIA or IIB. 3pts. UD Seminar IIIA or IIIB, 3pts.
Other Courses Reading New York Urbanism, 3pts. Open Elective, 3pts. Open Elective, 3pts.
Total 15pts. 15pts. 15pts.

The curriculum exploits the pedagogic potential of the design studio as a form of research, visionary speculation and critical inquiry. The sequencing of three studios builds a shared understanding of theoretical language, practical tools, and methods essential to urban design thought and practice.

The Summer studio is foundational, addressing representational and constructive aspects of the experimental urban design process. It addresses the New York City environs as a learning lab, creatively interfacing with agencies, community groups, and contexts. The Fall studio expands to look at regional interdependencies and strategies for change, exploring and overlaying energy, economic and resilient systems thinking. The final Spring semester is a culmination and synthesis of the previous two, further exploring in an international context the operational and programmatic mechanisms for urban transformation, in tandem with site and material explorations.

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 practitioner and humanitarian that negotiates between diverse actors, existing conditions, and imagined futures. This collaborative studio setting enables a synthetic approach to design that weaves together environment, infrastructure, and planning. Therefore studios and seminars integrate a range of interdisciplinary expertise both internal to Columbia University — such as the Mailman School of Public Health, the Earth Institute, and the Fu School of Engineering — and external to the school with diverse governmental and non-governmental agencies providing valuable feedback and direct engagement with political and social realities.

Urban Design Studio I

Kaja Kühl, Coordinator
Ben Abelman, Brian Baldor, Tricia Martin, Michael Piper, Emily Weidenhof, James Khamsi

Three ambitions guide the first Urban Design Studio to nurture a design process specific to existing urban environments; to critically consider site and program and to interrogate the role of Urban Design in service to the public as a client. The studio provides a framework for students to expand their design thinking using New York City as a laboratory. Students are introduced to a post-industrial, built-out American city through its past, current and future layers of neighborhoods, public spaces and infrastructure. Designing for growth and change in the context of the built-out metropolis requires an array of emergent Urban Design tools for researching, mapping, investigating and hypothesizing the continuous transformation of the city. Over the course of the semester we explore methods of defining and representing urban sites and their multi-scalar, multivalent systemic linkages within the city and the region. The studio treats site and program as value-laden constructs that embody powerful intentionality with respect to the process and products of Urban Design. For Urban Design, “site” is not a given. Urban Designers must identify and investigate complex, layered contexts, operating at multiple scales, within which urban places are embedded. Similarly, the construction of “program” is essential to the Urban Designer’s purview; opportunities exist to extend and expand the field for human action and interaction. In this first Urban Design Studio, these explorations are framed by research into the redefinition of the concept of infrastructure, encouraging students to critically investigate and assess the many layers of public systems relevant for constructing trasnfromative urban environment. Understanding Urban Design’s primary concerns as serving a public clientele, students are asked to develop speculative hypotheses for new infrastructures that address the multiple needs of a variety  of stakeholders at different scales, embedding their hypothesis in a site-specific design for a particular neighborhood, while impacting the larger scale of the city.

Urban Design Studio II

Justin G. Moore & Skye Duncan, Coordinators
Lee Altman, Pippa Brashear, Christopher Kroner, Sandro Marpillero, and visiting critics

The second Urban Design Studio accepts the premise that the practice of Urban Design is interdisciplinary; and the result of a kinetic relationship between architecture, public policy, and the economy; operating at scales that often exceed the limits of a specific site, a city, or a region. The studio collectively examines the influence exerted by these factors, and the immense impact they have in the making of an urban environment – and by extension its public and private spaces and the perceived quality of life of urban situations. The studio’s topical emphasis considers the complex dynamic between “Energy, Economy, and Ecology” of New York State and its cities. Students focus on semester-long projects, address- ing the potential of both the cities and the State as a whole to successfully maintain viable communities with sustainable resources. The studio’s fundamental pedagogy advocates for simultaneous, collaborative research and development of design concepts as generative ingredients of new and alternative ways through which viable, vital urban environments are understood and conceived.

A fundamental aim is to challenge the default mode of approaching architecture, landscape and infrastructure as isolated disciplines, and to examine the opportunities for overlap such that all three are evolved in concert with one another and  to the best possible effect. The studio also recognizes the unique relationship of New York State to the waterways and other infrastructure that historically has supported its vitality and defined its character. therefore, the natural and manufactured armatures defined by the New York Harbor, the Hudson River, the Erie Canal and ultimately the State’s relationship with the Great Lakes Region, are the expanded site of the studio’s discourse. Through carefully developed and substantiated design proposals, the studio examines and challenges the ways in which the armature cities and the State’s various infrastructures, socio-cultural diversities and their political context can come together intelligently, responsibly and experientially.

Urban Design Studio III

Kate Orff, Coordinator
Petra Kempf, Geeta Mehta, and visiting critics

The emphasis of the final Urban Design Studio represents a synthesis of the previous semesters, from consideration of the overall organization and structure of an urban conurbation, to the detailed design resolution of particular fragments within this larger hierarchy. This latter component is related more to questions of fabric than monument, and to the comprehensive resolution of programmatic, spatial, and typological issues. The emphasis is more on neighborhood and daily life than on the unique or the ceremonial. The studio addresses these concerns within urban environments that are in transition with particular emphasis on the resulting spatial reconfigurations relative to new economic parameters.

This final studio moves the discursive field from New York context to other world cities. Political engagement of Urban Design exploration is intensifed such that the reconditioning of the urban site must be critically responsive to specified goals of the sponsoring urban agency or “client”. Public projection of the work is also an integral part of the design conception. Proposals must be complete in all aspects, including a well-articulated theoretical and operational premise and a building-scale design fragment that reflects and objectifies the overall strategy. Additionally, the work must be capable of engaging public discourse on several levels, including the body politic of the particular city involved. Frequently, the studio culminates in a return trip, the mounting of an exhibition, or preparation of a publication. Studio locations have included Istanbul, Brussels, Detroit, Caracas, London, Naples, Mostar, Mexico City, Prague, Belgrade, Tuscany, Bangkok, Brisbane, Bucharest, Rome, Seoul, Quito, Guayaquil, Vienna, Mumbai and Kingston, Jamaica.


Seminars work in tandem with studio work and encompass topics from site representation, to discourse of the past and future projections of the city, to the language of public engagement and emerging urban forms of public space, resiliency, and ecology. A series of required UD Seminars, one per semester, contribute to a shared understanding and of urban design theory and practice and comprise 9 points of student coursework. Open electives from the entire offering of GSAPP coursework are available, with an additional 9 points contributing to the MS. AUD degree requirements.

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