The basic starting points of Planning Complex Cities graduation projects are observations of disparities and conflicts arising from the distribution of spatial resources across communities and territories. In a typical graduation trajectory, central propositions on the institutional causes and drivers of these spatial manifestations of inequity are first formulated. Those propositions may concern formal institutions embodied in, for example, legal and regulatory planning frameworks, policy delivery mechanisms, obligatory cooperation between governments, or formal distributions of power. Propositions may also concern informal institutions, e.g. the voluntary engagement of communities in planning processes, invisible power distributions, planning and governance cultures, traditionalised norms guiding spatial practices, dominant discourses, or even ideologies. During Planning Complex Cities graduations, the interrelations between spatial and institutional factors are explored in depth. Conclusions from projects typically target institutional change and demonstrate how this change can lead to new, more sustainable and just spatial development, by means of design.

The intensive ‘On Planning Theory & Practice’ aims at supporting students in the laying of conceptual foundations for Planning Complex Cities graduations. Students sketch problem definitions, propositions, research aims, questions, and outcomes concerning the above described interrelations. Lectures will introduce them to theories from the fields of design, planning, the political sciences, and geography, thus allowing for the positioning of initial project proposals in these fields. Discussions on spatial planning and design practice will support this positioning. Workshops and self-study exercises will enhance the application of knowledge to the cases students intend to investigate, and thus the building of a thesis plan. The intensive course will also touch on methods used to assess the performances of spatial planning and enable initial thoughts on an appropriate research methodology in this way.


Tutored activities will cover 25% of the course hours. Activities will include lectures on particularly planning and design theory, discussion rounds on planning and design practice, and workshops on applying the acquired knowledge to cases. Students will use input gained during tutored hours for the development of their thesis plan during self-study time. Related assignments are shaped to respond to required elements of such a plan. The programme also foresees consultation hours with the teaching staff and experts, and peer review.

The programme of the class is designed to support an iterative approach to the building of a thesis plan. Students will firstly sketch a problem field and envision an outline solution, and secondly develop a more detailed problem definition and proposition on how spatial planning can lead to more sustainable and just spatial outcomes. The program of the class foresees four themed blocks:

#1 Why spatial planning? – This block first discusses the wide array of socio-spatial developments that can trigger a demand for spatial planning. Through reflecting on notions about public goods, spatial justice, and democracy, it then introduces central (at times contested) definitions of and arguments for and against planning. Centrally the block elaborates the subjects of spatial planning: territory, space, and place. It is shown how different perceptions of these subjects have influenced the evolution of planning fashions over time. Students will use input for the initial positioning of their research in scientific debate, and the outlining of a problem field.

#2 Performances of spatial planning – By distinguishing planning principles, scopes, processes, and performances this block first provides a simple glossary for navigating spatial planning literature. The block’s main concern is an understanding of the context of critical spatial planning endeavours: institutions. A distinction of kinds of institutions will help students to detail the context they address by their research and design. They will use input for conceptualising a ‘solution space’: the kind of change they aim to investigate during their graduation.

#3 Ingredients of spatial planning: This block first elaborates determinants of spatial planning systems: the ways institutions help or hinder intended spatial planning outcome. It then discusses planning approaches that have emerged as a response to challenges and crisis recently. A distinction of these approaches and related instruments is intended to help students determine the problem field and aim of their graduation projects in more detail. Students will use input for drafting research questions too.

#4 Design & spatial planning: This block discusses the roles and performances of spatial design in the realms of spatial planning, governance, and civic participation. The block first introduces design and planning theory that explains these performances. It then discusses the impacts of kinds of designs on kinds of planning processes. The block will help students to formulate intended design outcomes of their graduation projects, and to anticipate on their critical engagement using these results.

Learning objectives

After completion the student is able to

  1. demonstrate an understanding of the aims and impacts of spatial planning practice;
  2. distinguish spatial planning approaches conceptually and theoretically, and identify the relevance of approaches for distinct spatial and institutional circumstances;
  3. distinguish design approaches by their performances in the realms of planning, governance, and civic participation;
  4. use acquired knowledge for the building of a thesis plan.

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