MA Sustainable Cities - University of Portsmouth

Sustainable Cities

Part Time2yrs

Full Time 1yr

Develop specialist skills in sustainable architectural design

Course Overview

Why take this course?

This course aims to form professionals capable of responding to the needs of planning and designing sustainable communities and cities. There is a growing need for more urbanised areas, better places for the human existence and a diminished ecological footprint. It is expected that nearly 70% of the world's population will be living in cities by 2050, while cities are now responsible for 80% of our CO2 emissions.

This leads us to an apparent paradox; the need for more urban environments and, on the other hand, the need to reduce our demands on nature. In this context, the role that cities, and those involved in their planning, will play in the future of mankind is absolutely crucial. Building on our university-wide Cluster for Sustainable Cities, the MA Sustainable Cities draws from the expertise of leading experts in a variety of disciplines.

You will explore new systemic and integrated solutions for cities, leading towards greener, healthier, more inclusive and resilient environments.

What will I experience?

The course has a strong focus on ensuring that you apply the theoretical knowledge gained in the development of design proposals at a range of scales, from the city to the neighbourhood level. You will develop the skills required to tackle the challenges of designing our contemporary environment. MA Sustainable Cities will offer you a series of opportunities to engage in live projects and to work in interdisciplinary groups. An optional field trip to an international location will be offered to allow you to learn from the most current thinking and practice of sustainable communities.

On this course you will undertake a blend of theory units and studio-based design projects, with opportunities to:

  • engage with leading research into sustainable cities 
  • experience an exciting postgraduate environment 
  • develop collaborative projects with external partners, including practitioners and academic institutions in the UK and other countries 
  • work on live-projects, with real clients 
  • opt to undertake an international field trip to learn from world-leading experiences in urban sustainability 
  • visit our facebook page to find out more


What opportunities might it lead to?

This course provides a firm grounding for employment in a range of jobs. Green jobs is one of the fastest growing industries in the field of construction. Here are some routes our graduates have pursued:

  • consultancy 
  • urban planning and urban design offices 
  • NGOs and environmental organisations 
  • local authorities 
  • Doctoral degree, leading to an academic career


Robert Leslie, architecture and property student

I've really enjoyed the excellent sessions by visiting lecturers from different areas of the industry which have brought the real world into the classroom.

Robert Leslie, architecture and property student

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Structure & Teaching

This course uses the experience and skills of teaching staff with a proven track record in the research and practice of sustainable cities. You will also benefit from a multi-disciplinary learning environment where more than 100 postgraduate students in architecture, interior design, urban design and historic building conservation can meet and work. Here are the units you will study:

  • Theory: This unit presents the challenges and key theoretical frameworks of planning and designing for sustainability. It will also analyse selected themes in the history and theory of planning and urban design relevant to contemporary debates. Topics to be covered may include urban systems, nature in cities, sustainable planning models, environmental and climate sensitive design, resilience for adaptation, environmental policies, radical theories and criticism, sustainable conservation and sustainable buildings. The unit will foster your reflection on the social, cultural and physical processes involved in the production of sustainable communities; allowing you to recognise the most significant past experiences, to engage with contemporary theoretical discussions and to critically reflect upon your own practice. Governance, management and policy relating to sustainable development will also be covered in this unit. The coursework will be a series of critical mini reports for each session and an essay.
  • Practice: The main aim of this unit is to present you with the opportunity to integrate your knowledge and skills in a project for a sustainable city or community. Today, major environmental and economic challenges require new models for the built environment that are resource efficient, adaptable to environmental modifications and designed to facilitate placemaking. This unit asks you to investigate such models, thus prefiguring ‘future cities’ and exploring how new frameworks can contribute to a higher quality of life, resilience and sustainability. Climate sensitive design will be an essential means to rethink the urban fabric in order to transform the cities in resilient systems capable to positively adapt to climate change and respond to events such as sea level rise, desertification, earthquakes and tornados. Moreover, the transformation of the built environment from energy intensive to an energy generator will be a further opportunity to develop design skills through the use of advanced digital tools and smart technologies.
  • Research Methods: This unit will introduce you to key research methods and approaches in the built environment. Here you will develop your research skills, which will aid you throughout your course and particularly in producing your thesis. You will be encouraged to explore methods of investigation that are responsive to, as well as inquisitive of, the conditions presented and which therefore speculate around possible critical scenarios. Implicit within these explorations is the need to investigate diverse means of data representation and depiction through a variety of possible media and discourse.
  • Integration: This unit allows you to work in a multi-disciplinary context in a practice-base environment. You will need to work collectively on given projects or problems, which explore a range of themes related to sustainable cities. There will be a group-based activity that is both subject specific and that spans different dimensions of your topic of study.
  • Work-Based Learning: This optional unit can be taken instead of the Integration unit. Work-based learning requires you to engage in critical and reflective learning in the workplace. This will be developed through a learning contract, negotiated by you, your employer and the School. The work undertaken in practice will be appraised through critical reflective writing that engages with the practice of the particular subject discipline and this will form the assessment artefacts.
  • Thesis: Your thesis is a substantial research-based or practice-based project that enables you to carry out an in-depth investigation into a subject area within the theme of sustainable cities. An initial seminar programme will help you develop your research proposal, define a research question and locate suitable primary and secondary sources. You will be allocated an appropriate supervisor on the basis of this proposal, who will work with you toward the final submission. Tutorial guidance will be provided by the allocated supervisor.

We use the best and most current research and professional practice, alongside feedback from our students, to make sure course content is relevant to your future career or further studies.

Therefore, some course content may change over time to reflect changes in the discipline or industry and some optional units may not run every year. If a unit doesn’t run, we’ll let you know as soon as possible and help you choose an alternative unit.

Teaching and Assessment

This course is lecture, seminar and studio-based, culminating in a written or design-led thesis project. It will involve case study investigations, group work, discussion and planning of sustainable environments, as well as independent study to develop design or research-based responses to urban problems.

On top of learning from the experts at the University of Portsmouth, the program may include the participation of international leading figures in the field of Environmental Design such as Thomas Auer (Transsolar), Antonino Di Raimo (Polis University), Marco Poletto (Ecologic Studio), Rahul Girish (BIG Architects), Emanuele Lisci and Liam Stumbles (University of Auckland).

How are you assessed?

Design assessment is through studio review as work progresses and final report assessment at the end of the academic year. ‘Taught’ courses are assessed through various forms of illustrated written coursework – both individual and group. Various forms of formative feedback are provided at a number of key points for all units.

Tutor's view


Dr Fabiano Lemes de Oliveira

Planning and designing sustainable cities has never been so important and yet there are few professionals properly prepared to deal with the changing nature of our urban environment and stand up for sustainable design. We offer an exciting interdisciplinary environment where theory and practice are brought together to support your development as a ‘game-changer’ in the definition of visions for the future of our cities.

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Facilities & Features

Design Studios

You’ll have access to superb facilities to help prepare you for professional practice. Our dynamic studios house advanced architectural computer facilities, with Macs and PCs offering the latest design software. Other facilities include:

  • CNC milling machine for building three-dimensional models
  • laser cutting machines which automate the production of complex models
  • life drawing studios and a virtual reality suite
  • professional printers as well as extensive computing, film and video facilities

Project Office

Offering a range of consultancy services to clients, the Project Office gives you access to real clients and live projects. This is a great means to gain real hands-on experience in order to support your design development and professional capacity. In the past we have overseen or managed major building or design works in the city including the Hilsea Lido, the Isle of Wight Zoo, the University’s own 3rd Space and the Bursledon Brickworks.

University Library

Modern, comfortable and a great learning environment, our library offers a wealth of information including 400,000 books, DVDs, maps and thousands of online ejournals and newspapers. Many electronic resources are available anywhere, 24/7 and our friendly staff are always on hand to help.

Budgeting for your studies

There may be extra costs arising from your studies which you will need to consider when planning your expenditure.

Some are common costs to all courses of study. These may include the cost of study texts, reference books, photocopying and computer supplies. Others relate to specific courses and may include field trips, materials and specialist equipment.

Other costs to consider

There are costs relating to the purchase of drawing equipment, model making, stationery, reprographic requirements and the production of a portfolio. This may be in the region of £100 - £300 each year. We support digital review of some project assessment work to reduce costs.

If you choose to complete a project not supported by existing University resources, you may wish to purchase extra materials or software. These costs will depend on the nature of the project.

For optional study trips you will be expected to pay full costs. Optional study trips to Europe will cost in the region of £300 - £500.

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Careers & Opportunities

Career prospects

This course enables you to specialise in sustainable architecture and build upon your passion for the design of the twenty-first century urban environment.

On graduating, you will be adept in spatial practice and able to work within design practices, architectural firms and cross-disciplinary environments, engaging in issues from the design of details to the exploration of the urban environment.

The creative skills, professional competencies and expansive learning environment that we provide could also lead to a range of careers in disciplines such as marketing, advertising, journalism, virtual design and modelling, through to people-centred careers such as project management.

Career planning

One of the benefits of studying at Portsmouth is the support that we provide to our Master's and Research Degree students in career planning. Our careers and recruitment service can assist you in career research and finding employment opportunities. Help is also available if you wish to find a part-time job while studying your degree.

We offer our postgraduate students and alumni one-to-one appointments with a careers adviser, or an online service for those not able to travel back to the University. Our alumni can call on our career services for five years after graduation.

In addition, regular employability events offer you the chance to meet employers, find out about different career sectors and improve your applications or CV. The Graduate Summer Programme provides a range of guidance and employability seminars and workshops.

Benefits of Postgraduate Study

Regardless of whether you are seeking to build on your studies, further your career or pursue a career change, a postgraduate qualification adds to your achievement record.

  • Postgraduate study may greatly improve your chances of getting that first break.
  • Many graduate employers prefer the higher intellectual rigour displayed in postgraduate students.
  • Recruiters for roles requiring specialist knowledge or research particularly target those with higher level qualifications.
  • Postgraduate study shows you can take the challenge of in-depth study; acquiring transferable skills in team working and problem solving techniques.
  • If you have a passion for a particular subject, postgraduate study can also be something undertaken as part of your own development at an appropriate time in your life.
Video Description

Discover the benefits of studying a postgraduate course in the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries. This CCi TV video features lecturers from the faculty and a current Masters student.

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Apply now or visit us

Online application form

Apply direct using our online form

Your application will be received by the University Admissions Centre for consideration.

Postgraduate Open Evenings

Our Postgraduate Open Evenings are taking place between February and April. Lecturers and support staff will be available to discuss your options. You'll also find out more about your chosen course and subjects that interest you.

Booking will open soon but in the meantime, watch our Postgrad Live series to hear from our staff and students about what it's like studying at Portsmouth. 

Other opportunities to visit

Download our free walking tour PDF for a self-guided tour of the University.

We have an open-door policy so you will be able to take a look in our buildings, speak to some of our support services and get a feel for the campus.

Find out more about our self-guided walking tours.

Can't get to Portsmouth?

If you can’t make it to Portsmouth, come and see us at one of the events we attend around the UK.

If you would like to speak with a member of staff about any courses you are interested in, please email and we will arrange this for you.

Staff from the University of Portsmouth Global office also regularly attend overseas exhibitions. To find out more about these and our visits to your region see our exhibitions page.

Fees and Funding

Find out more about fees and funding available to you at Portsmouth.

Admissions terms and conditions

When you accept an offer to study at the University of Portsmouth, you also agree to our terms and conditions as well as the University’s policies, rules and regulations. You should read and consider these before you apply.

University of Portsmouth
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Winston Churchill Avenue
Portsmouth PO1 2UP

T: +44 (0)23 9284 8484