The course

Full-time, Part-time
Course type
Entry date


  • Contact

    Dr Harry Smith

  • Telephone

    +44 (0)131 451 4616

  • Email


The postgraduate programme 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 programme 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.

Programme duration

The Urban Strategies and Design programme can be studied full-time or part-time. The full-time mode consists of a 12-month programme, 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

Royal Academy of EngineeringThe 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.

Course content

   Detailed course guide

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
  • Urban Strategies and Design Case Studies
  • 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

Please find below the Heriot-Watt course descriptions. For more information on courses, please contact the Programme Leader.

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.

Urban Strategies and Design Case Studies

Semester 1 (mandatory)

This course aims to familiarize students with recent medium and large scale urban design projects in different geographic contexts and to evaluate the process and product from the perspective of the designer, developer, statutory authority and local community. The course uses the city of Edinburgh to examine a range of themes relevant to urban design practice through the study of medium and large scale urban developments. The themes that will be explored through these case studies include:

Strategic planning & urban design; Green space & open space; Transport; Planning law; Urban design policy & guidance; Public involvement; Strategies for specific urban fabrics such as waterfronts, Urban edge, etc.

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:

Programme leader

Dr Harry Smith

Additional information

Further details on this programme are available from ESALA.