Master of advanced studies in urban design 2017

The Master of Advanced Studies in Urban Design ETH programme is a research and design laboratory to test new models for the pro-active development of urban territories of a globalized world.

As the making of the city is increasingly fractured by competing interests, the development of new modes of urban production becomes a prerequisite for well-considered action.

The MAS in Urban Design studio produces a new generation of design professionals — one equipped to deal with topics beyond the discipline.

The MAS in Urban Design is a one-year postgraduate master programme in research and design, structured around an investigation of urban conditions as they pertain to global phenomena and the development of practical tools for operating within such domains. As global economics rapidly reshape urban conditions and population movements caused by economical, ecological, or political crises—at a speed seemingly beyond the control of planning— the pace of urbanization has rendered the formal provision of habitation almost impossible. The MAS programme aims to link social, economic, and ecological circumstances to create new and resilient ways of shaping urban territories. The MAS works with strategies as much as with tactics to redefine today’s role of architects and planners in the making of a city and find new territories for design to be applied.

The MAS programme seeks design professionals interested in the investigation and development of tools for use in complex conditions. A culture of inquiry within the studio encourages the development of strong urban scenarios. Emphasis is put on method, incremental design, and tools of communication to prepare participants for interdisciplinary work within design offices, academic teams, or municipal agencies.

An excursion related to studio research is conducted midway through the first semester. On-site research for the studio project, visits to other relevant areas, and meetings with municipal and community organizations provide sufficient understanding of the context in which studio production will operate.

Thematic Focus

Inclusive Urbanism for an Inclusive World

Inclusive World

Within the last years, phenomena that have mostly been found in the context of the “global south” increasingly appear within what we call the “global north”. Crises such as political conflicts, the bankruptcy of cities and countries, and extreme environmental conditions have led to fundamental social and economic consequences that appear especially drastic within urban and semi-urban territories. Economic models that divide the world into south and north, first, second, and third worlds can no longer rely on an ordered value chain of guaranteed revenue.

Social Inclusivity

Social inclusivity is of growing interest in the context of globalization and growing mobility of people. The globally increasing number of refugees is only the tip of an evolution towards increasing population movements. Countries, cities, and neighbourhoods that have inclusive qualities, that are able to offer opportunities to those who arrive and thus profit from their abilities and goals, can benefit from this development and help prevent social frictions and economic inequality.

Functional Inclusivity

Functional Inclusivity of neighbourhoods and cities is a key impetus to solve both local and global challenges on the scale of urban territories. The inclusion of functions that have been separated and subtracted from the urban territory since the beginning industrialization of the last centuries, triggers and accelerates development towards more sustainable ways of production and refinement, and relieves the challenges posed by the transport of people and goods.

Inclusive Urbanism II: Tangier-Marseille

They must remember that they are constantly on the run, and that the world’s reality is actually expressed by their escape.

Hannah Arendt, «On Humanity in Dark Times: Thoughts about Lessing»

This town is made of many things/Just look at what the current brings
So high, it’s only promising/This place was made on you
Tell me, baby, what’s your story/Where you come from
And where you wanna go this time?

Red Hot Chili Peppers, «Tell me Baby». (2006). [CD] MoeBeToBlame.


Migration is not a new phenomenon. While our era is based on a mythology of geographical mobility and global migratory circulations, history reveals that migration is not a modern condition. In the quest for a better, safer life, people have always moved. But it has never been such a pressing topic than in the wake of Europe’s refugee crisis. These movements are unlikely to slow down in the near future, with enduring armed conflicts, economic hardships, and predicted climate change-induced mass migration. Crises have shed a dramatic light on the movements of people as a rapid, ubiquitous, complex, and eminently spatial phenomenon. Circulations of people, goods, and capital, as much as their resettlement, have a visible, transformative impact upon space, at various scales.

The territorial scale is contained in the physical act of going from one place to another: crossing legal borders and national frontiers, oceans and water bodies, mountain ranges and manmade obstacles. From one countryside to another, flows of people transiting through productive landscapes imprint the intermediary scale of hinterlands and peripheries. But as migrants overwhelmingly aim for urban areas as entry point into new destinies, it is at the urban scale that the most impact of flux is felt. The economic, political, and social influence of migration shaped cities in many ways and continues to do so, with visible effects on architecture and urban forms.

Within the framework of ‘Inclusive Urbanism,’ and after exploring the ‘Arrival City’ theme, the MAS program is tackling questions of migration and urban space. Arguing that urban design is an innovative, resilient, and politically powerful tool for architects and planners to address such complex matters, and moving away from emergency solutions (e.g. refugee camps, transit centers), we explore the notion of ‘staying’ somewhere.


Connecting the shores of Asia, Africa, and Europe, the Mediterranean Sea is the epicenter of constant, ongoing population movements, and was historically crucial to the development of global civilization.  Mare Nostrum, with its geography connecting a constellation of harbor-cities attached to their hinterlands, is a critical space of migration and trade. It is also a contested, brutally controlled region overburdened with past and present exploitation, colonization, and violence. Geographers, historians, and sociologists such as Fernand Braudel, Nicolas Purcell, Peregrine Horden, Henri Lefebvre, Ian Chambers, and Michael Herzfeld have analyzed it as such. In such a context, it appears logical to handle points of departure and destinations with equal importance, possibly to reverse established paradigms. Two harbor-cities of the Mediterranean Sea are our operative sites, from one shore to another: Tangier-Marseille. With a foot on each side of the Mediterranean Sea, equal importance is given to points of departure and destinations, to reverse established paradigms of movements.

Inspecting the political, economic, and social reasons behind migration and the spatial conditions attached to both departure and arrival sites; the question of the relevance of design will be addressed. How can urban designers tackle such as situation? What does moving for a longer period of time and settling down socially, economically and culturally entails spatially at urban, rural and peri-urban scales? What can be the response of design to the notion of ‘staying’, in the framework of an inclusive urbanism practice?

These questions are crucial and should not leave architects indifferent, at a time when the capacity of design to respond adequately to such political and social challenges is not evident.


Charlotte Malterre-Barthes, Program Director

Website MAS Urban Design