The course

Full-time, Part-time
Course type
Entry date



The postgraduate course in Urban Strategies and Design is delivered jointly by the Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (ESALA) of the University of Edinburgh and the Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Building Design at Heriot-Watt University.

This new course addresses the current need for interdisciplinary knowledge. It encourages the adoption of a comprehensive approach towards the delivery of socially-sustainable urban transformation, from local-specific to strategic metropolitan and regional interventions. Students study the 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.

The City of Edinburgh offers an urban laboratory for project- and site visit-based exploration of current urban design issues in the UK. Furthermore, the city’s historic 'Geddesian' planning links, and contemporary international links with urban-focused institutions and bodies provide a strong platform from which to support student-led, location-based research projects.

All applications for this course are processed by the University of Edinburgh. Details on how to apply are available through ESALA.

Programme duration

The Urban Strategies and Design course can be studied full-time or part-time. The full-time mode consists of a 12-month course, comprising two taught semesters, and a summer supervised dissertation period. The part-time mode comprises, four taught semesters, undertaken over 24 months, with a summer supervised dissertation period taking place after the fourth taught semester.

Industry links

The Royal Academy of Engineering Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Building Design has excellent industry links. Staff within the Institute are actively engaged in a variety of research projects relating to building design, specification, management and operation.

Detailed course information

Course content

Detailed course guide

Programme Leader:  Dr Harry Smith

Students will study the courses below. MSc students will complete a Masters dissertation in semester 3.

Semester 1 Semester 2
  • Sustainable Design and Development
  • Urban Design Theory
  • Strategic Spatial Vision Project
  • Urban Design for Health and Wellbeing
  • Urban Project (core)
  • Students choose three courses from a selection of elective courses:
    • African Cities
    • Latin American Cities
    • Planning Law and Development
    • Landscape Science: Ecology
    • History of Landscape Architecture
    • Urban Conservation
    • College of Humanities and Social Science Option (UoE)

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.

Sustainable Design and Development

Semester 1 (mandatory)

This course aims to help students develop a critical understanding of the complexity of urban and housing design and development, including the importance of people and process. The course will help students gain professional knowledge about urban design principles and practice, including sustainability issues. Subjects in the syllabus include:

Introduction to urban design and housing quality; Critical understanding of the development process including stages in the development process and appreciation of different stakeholder perspectives; Sustainable design, housing quality, place identity and character; Climate, aspect, safety, planting, management; Conservation areas and listed buildings; Market and needs analysis; Developer’s budget, cashflow and financial appraisal; Risk analysis.

Urban Design Theory

Semester 1 (mandatory)

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

Semester 1 (mandatory)

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

Semester 1 (mandatory)

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.

A series of two-week long sessions presenting key fundamental principles and examples of these issues, delivered by experts in each field illustrated with examples, will cover the following themes from the perspective of urban design:

Entry requirements

First Class, or Second Class Upper Degree from Undergraduate Course of Study.

We require with the application, a short, (two-page maximum) statement explaining what specific interests in the area of Urban Issues have lead you to apply for this course.

Get more information on entry requirements..

Recognition of Prior Learning

Heriot-Watt University is committed to providing opportunities to applicants who have a wide range of prior experiences through Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL). Prior learning at postgraduate level is normally recognised to gain exemption from individual courses within a course based on an existing academic qualification. Note that the prior learning must have been rated at the level of the courses for which RPL is sought, yet credits from an award already held by an applicant can only contribute to a higher award in the same discipline, e.g. from PG Diploma to MSc. If you believe that you qualify for RPL, please contact the Learning & Teaching Support Team via, who will guide you through the RPL application procedure.

The school will only consider students' requests for RPL at the time of application for their course of study.

English language requirements

If English is not the applicant’s first language a minimum of IELTS 6.5 or equivalent is required with all elements passed at 6.0 or above.

Applicants who have previously successfully completed courses delivered in the medium of English language may be considered and will be required to provide documentary evidence of this. Examples would be secondary school education or undergraduate degree course. A minimum of at least one year of full time study (or equivalent) in the medium of English language will be required.

We offer a range of English language courses to help you meet the English language requirement prior to starting your masters course:

  • 14 weeks English (for IELTS of 5.5 with no more than one skill at 4.5);
  • 10 weeks English (for IELTS of 5.5 with minimum of 5.0 in all skills);
  • 6 weeks English (for IELTS 5.5 with minimum of 5.5 in reading & writing and minimum of 5.0 in speaking & listening)


Fees for this course can be found on the tuition fees page.

Scholarships and bursaries

We aim to encourage well-qualified, ambitious students to study with us and we offer a wide variety of scholarships and bursaries to achieve this. Over £6 million worth of opportunities are available in fee and stipend scholarships, and more than 400 students benefit from this support.

View our full range of postgraduate scholarships.