Key information

Mode of delivery
Delivery type
Start date
1 year


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MSc Urban Strategies and Design will develop your consideration of strategies and engagement with urban spaces from a contemporary, socio-political, and economic context, with an emphasis on design. The programme is delivered jointly by Heriot-Watt University and the Edinburgh College of Art at the University of Edinburgh allowing you to benefit from teaching, research, and policy liaison expertise offered by two major institutions. Applications are processed by the University of Edinburgh and details on how to apply can be found on the University of Edinburgh’s programme page.

The programme is open to graduates from a range of disciplines, including geography, architecture, urban planning, and economics. You’ll experience a comprehensive teaching approach towards the delivery of socially sustainable urban transformations. You’ll study a wide and diverse range of social, economic, and political processes that determine the contemporary urban environment, and acquire the tools and skills to propose urban projects of diverse scales and specificities. 

This career-focused master’s programme will be of interest to you if you wish to pursue a career in urban design and development planning or other allied professions, and opportunities exist locally and internationally, in the formal, public and private voluntary, and international development sectors. 

As a graduate you’ll be able to:

  • Comprehend the multi-disciplinary nature of urban strategy and design
  • Have insight into the role of the built environment and other disciplines in the establishment of effective urban strategies and design
  • Gain knowledge of the social, economic, and legislative forces that drive contemporary urban agendas
  • Acquire expertise in the intelligent use of quantitative and qualitative data in formulating strategic urban interventions
  • Appreciate the contribution of imaginative and intelligent building proposals that respond proactively to sustainable agendas in urban design

Industry links

We work closely with industry and policy makers to ensure our course content is up-to-date and reflects the current and emerging needs of industry and employers. You’ll gain the right blend of knowledge, practical skills, and soft skills to set you up for life after graduation.

Our expertise

Your learning will be informed by the expertise of our research-active academics from The Urban Institute and the Institute for Social Policy, Housing, Equalities Research (I-SPHERE) which sit within the School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society (EGIS) at Heriot-Watt University. EGIS is one of the United Kingdom’s leading institutions for multidisciplinary research and teaching in areas critical to economic development and societal equity. Our teams work closely and have links with industry, and practitioners are regularly invited as guest lecturers in most courses. 

Delivered jointly by Heriot-Watt University and the Edinburgh College of Art at the University of Edinburgh, you’ll additionally benefit from teaching, facilities, research, and policy liaison expertise offered by two major institutions.

You'll also benefit from contact with the Global Urban Research Collaborative, who are a growing community of researchers working with communities, non-governmental organisations, government agencies, and other stakeholders to produce knowledge that seeks to improve living conditions in vulnerable settlements in the rapidly urbanising world.

Your learning environment

The MSc Urban Strategies and Design programme is taught though a combination of lectures, projects, and fieldwork at Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh. Learning is interactive, hands on and practical, combining analytical and project components. The city of Edinburgh offers an active urban laboratory for project and site visit exploration of current urban design issues. 

You will be assessed by coursework, exams, and your research dissertation, and will receive support and feedback throughout the programme. The dissertation assesses higher level research skills, critical thinking and writing capabilities. 

Outside of the classroom, you can get involved with the Heriot-Watt Student Union and there are lots of ways to do so including participating in student groups, becoming a student representative or a school officer, and joining student societies. Societies provide a great opportunity to meet likeminded people, get involved in regular social and networking events, and gain insights into career prospects.

Customise your learning

Semester one is taught at Heriot-Watt University and Semester two is taught at the University of Edinburgh.

You’ll undertake an extensive and specialised investigation through your research dissertation on a topical issue, supervised by academic staff with relevant expertise at either Heriot-Watt University or the University of Edinburgh. You’ll be required to demonstrate your advanced understanding of the discipline in which the dissertation topic is located through effective formulation of a hypothesis, and the planning and execution of appropriate research to address the problem. You’ll do this effectively within the resources and time available thus increasing your analytical and organisational skills.

Postgraduate Masterclass Series

We’re running a series of free online masterclasses throughout July to showcase our postgraduate taught study options. Take a look at the exciting topics our academic experts will be speaking about and book to attend.

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Course content

Year 1

Programme Leader: Dr Harry Smith

Students will study the courses below.

Semester 1

  • Spatial Planning
  • Urban Design Theory
  • Strategic Spatial Vision Project
  • Urban Design for Health and Wellbeing

Semester 2

  • Urban Project (core)
  • Students choose from a selection of elective courses on offer at the University of Edinburgh, including Emergent Cities, Cultural Landscapes and many others.

Semester 3

MSc students will complete a Masters dissertation

Course descriptions

You will find details below on what you will study in each course. For more information, please contact the Programme Leader, Dr Harry Smith.

Spatial Planning

This course aims to help students to develop a critical understanding of: spatial planning agendas; sectoral and spatial policy frameworks at national, strategic and local levels; legal and ethical frameworks; implementation mechanisms; development management issues; relationships between land and property and planning, including development rights and property rights. The syllabus includes the following subjects: 

Reasons for Planning; Development Planning; Urbanisation and Urban Development; Development and Property Rights; Development Management; Environmental Assessment; Conservation and Globalisation and Urban Transitions.

Urban Design Theory

This course aims to provide students with an in-depth understanding of the complexity of urban design principles and processes based on a general awareness of the range of theories which support the discipline of urban design.

The course is based on student reading and presentation of key texts on urban design covering socio-economic perspectives, ecological perspectives, spatial perspectives and imagery. This is complemented by exercises which allow students to develop a more detailed understanding of urban spatial structure and perception of urban space. Through these exercises students will explore the elements which make up the urban structure, and typologies of built form and open space; as well as ideas used in environmental perception including cognition, phenomenology, and spatial analysis techniques such as space syntax.

Strategic Spatial Vision Project

This course is designed to give you skills and knowledge of the complex factors that need to be evaluated when planning the strategic development of an area or region. You will be required to critically study a selected area in depth, to develop a vision for this area and put forward alternative development policies.

In the course you will learn about the meaning and scope of spatial visions and strategies, including their aims and rationale, and their form and content; the notion of the city region as a locus for spatial visions and strategies; the national and international policy context for spatial visions and strategies; the relationships between housing markets, local economies, the role of town centres, transport and accessibility issues, and urban form at city region level; and the development of policies to implement spatial strategies.

Urban Design for Health and Wellbeing

This course aims to provide students with an understanding of the range of social, economic and environmental issues that need to be considered by urban design in order to provide the basis for health and wellbeing. The course addresses issues which build an understanding of what constitutes health in urban environments and what urban design processes and approaches contribute to providing the conditions for health and wellbeing. It covers a range of issues related to socio-economic, community, psychological and physical health.

Go Global

Some of our Postgraduate Taught Masters Programmes are eligible for Inter-Campus Transfer. Please contact for further information.

Fees and funding

Tuition fees

Additional fee information

Fees for this course can be found through the University of Edinburgh website.

Scholarships and bursaries

There is a scholarship opportunity for this course open to students who (1) qualify for UK Home Fees, and (2) are domiciled or working in the South-East of Scotland, more specifically the councils areas of East Lothian, Mid Lothian, West Lothian, City of Edinburgh, Fife and Scottish Borders at least during their studies. Please visit the University of Edinburgh website to find out more.

Entry requirements


Applications to this programme are managed by the University of Edinburgh.

Get more information on entry requirements.

Why Heriot-Watt?

Ranking (Town & Country Planning and Landscape Design, The Times and Sunday Times Complete University Guide 2024)

We are ranked 2nd in Scotland and 4th in UK for Town & Country Planning and Landscape by The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2024.

Ranking (Town & Country Planning and Landscape Design, Complete University Guide 2023)

We are ranked 2nd in Scotland and 15th in the UK for Town and Country Planning and Landscape Design in the Complete University Guide 2023.

Clubs and activities

At Heriot-Watt we have an extensive programme of over 90 sports clubs and societies to get involved in. You can try as many as you like or start one of your own!

Edinburgh campus accommodation

Living on our beautiful Edinburgh campus is a great way to meet others from all over the world. Our student accommodation is within easy reach of the teaching buildings, sports facilities, catering venues and the Student Union

Edinburgh Campus facilities

At Heriot-Watt University, we offer a wide range of services to help you deal with all aspects of your life with us, whether these be academic, personal, technical, financial or just plain fun!

Health and wellbeing

Student Wellbeing Services aim to provide a range of support, guidance, activities and advice to help students to be their best, and get the most from their university experience. From counselling to coaching we'll sure you are fully supported.

Heriot-Watt Student Union

There's more to university life than simply getting your degree, and Heriot-Watt University Student Union is all about helping you to have the best possible experience while you study here.

Living in Edinburgh

Historic and beautiful, a cultural capital that fuels the senses whether you love the arts or nature, nightlife or study life, Edinburgh is stimulating and inspirational and never, ever boring.

Sport facilities

Oriam, Scotland Sports Performance Centre offers state-of-the-art sports facilities, for all levels of sport and ability

Your career

Employers around the world actively seek out our graduates because they are work-ready. All our degrees are career-focused and relevant to the needs of industry. Around 95% of our students are in employment or further study within six months of graduating.

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