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

Fall 2017 Courses

Course Semester Title Student Work Instructor Syllabus Requirements & Sequence Location & Time Session & Points Call No.
A6830‑1 Fall 2017
Urban Seminar 1: Activism and Engagement in UD
Damon Rich Urban Design Seminar
409 Avery
W 11 AM - 1 PM
Full Semester
3 Points
A6832‑1 Fall 2017
Urban Seminar 2: Ecological Infrastructure
Kate Orff Urban Design Seminar
115 Avery
TU 11 AM - 1 PM
Full Semester
3 Points
A6837‑1 Fall 2017
Urban Seminar 3: Fabrics and Typologies: NY/Global
Richard Plunz Urban Design Seminar, History - Urban
409 Avery
W 9 AM - 11 AM
Full Semester
3 Points
A6850‑1 Fall 2017
Urban Design Studio 2
Lee Altman, David Smiley, Michael Murphy M.S.AUD Only, Urban Design Studio
600 Studio
M & TH 1:30 PM - 6:30 PM; F 4 PM - 6 PM
Full Semester
9 Points
A4945‑1 Fall 2017
Farzin Lotfi-Jam Visual Studies
200 Buell
TU 5 PM - 7 PM
Full Semester
3 Points
A6761‑1 Fall 2017
Trans-Rural America
Andrés Jaque Elective Design Seminar
408 Avery
M 11 AM - 1 PM
Full Semester
3 Points
A4844‑1 Fall 2017
Urban Preservation
Erik Langdalen Elective
655 Schermerhorn
9 AM - 11 AM 10/13, 10/16, 10/19, 10/20 6 PM- 8 PM 10/17 + 10/18
Ses A
1.5 Points
A4122‑1 Fall 2017
Mapping For Architecture Urbanism and Humanities
Michelle McSweeney All GSAPP Interdisciplinary, GSAS, M.Arch - Visual Studies
408 Avery
F 9 AM - 11 AM
Full Semester
3 Points
A6776‑1 Fall 2017
Cultural Strategies & Production
Karen Wong All GSAPP Interdisciplinary, Elective Seminar
F 11 AM - 1 PM
Full Semester
3 Points
A6783‑1 Fall 2017
Narrative Urbanism: Strategic Storytelling For Designers and Planners
Cassim Shepard All GSAPP Interdisciplinary, M.Arch - Visual Studies
115 Avery
F 11 AM - 1 PM
Full Semester
3 Points
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