Who we are
Planning Complex Cities is a graduation studio at the Department of Urbanism, Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, Delft University of Technology. As other graduation studios at this department, it is set up to align graduation students’ research with the research programme of the department. The studio involves MSc Urbanism graduation students and researchers at the Spatial Planning & Strategy section, and the OTB Research Institute for the Built Environment. Participants share a general curiosity about the changing role of Urbanism that results from increasingly complex spatial and societal circumstances and internationalization. Their shared more particular interest is described below.

Planning Complex Cities graduations build upon the expertise in regionalization, spatial planning and territorial governance, present at the Department of Urbanism. In their use of this knowledge from fields they seek for a trans-disciplinary and integral approach: they investigate what the planning and governance schemes are in regions and areas, how these schemes influence the transformation of spatial structures and how they can be improved to achieve more sustainable spatial outcomes.

Basic starting points in graduations are observations of disparities and conflicts concerning the distribution of spatial resources across territories. Central prepositions on how these spatial manifestations of inequality are related to institutional practices are formulated first. Prepositions may concern formal institutions embodied in e.g. legal and regulatory planning frameworks, policy delivery mechanisms, obligatory cooperation between governments, or formal distributions of power. Prepositions may also concern informal institutions, e.g. the voluntary participation of communities and non-governmental organizations in planning processes, invisible power distributions, planning and governance cultures and traditions, or even ideologies. During graduations these prepositions on interrelations between spatial and institutional circumstances are elaborated in depth. Conclusions of Planning Complex Cities graduations recommend institutional change and demonstrate how this can lead to new spatial development patterns, by means of design.

Focus areas
Building upon present (and ambitioned!) research capacities – the expertise of researchers, ongoing research projects and strategic alliances with partners in regions – Planning Complex Cities graduations focus on urbanization in three types of regions, spread across three parts of the world. These are described in detail on dedicated pages of this website. In very brief: graduations investigating Inclusive cities of the Global South explore the above mentioned theme, in the context of rapid modernization and urban growth, often inadequate governance and weak institutional capacity in developing countries. Particular attention goes to development in Africa. Graduations investigating the topic Imagining (European) Regions focus on increasing disparities within and across European regions, the political tensions that disparities cause and the multi-layered, and fragmented governance and planning responses that seek to mediate tensions. Graduations investigating Transforming Chinese Cities investigate the core theme of Planning Complex Cities by considering rapid urbanization, migration and demographic change in China. They may also pay attention to the spatial consequences of China’s recent initiatives for  transnational and cross-border development.

Linking institutional and spatial analysis: Urbanism is concerned with understanding the spatial organisation and dynamics of the built en­vironment and with inventing new ways to main­tain spatial quality and equality. The MSc Urban­ism education develops core knowledge and skills as a basis for innovative and trans-disciplinary practical and theoretical applications. As noted above, Planning Complex Cities graduations focus on the integration of knowledge from the fields of geography, the political and planning sciences. They rely on methods that allow to understand knowledge in conjunction.  Conceptual and analytical frameworks from the fields of spatial planning, territorial governance, and political geography are of particular importance.

Comparative planning research: An important methodological approach in Planning Complex Cities graduations is comparative planning research. The Department of Urbanism holds an internationally recognized expertise on spatial planning systems and cultures. Graduations use this expertise for an understanding of the relative advantages and disadvantages of planning and governance approaches at their attention. A comparative perspective is also used to facilitate peer-to-peer learning.

Design and research: Urbanism at the TU Delft is a scien­tific design education, characterized by interaction between thinking (analysis and reflection) and do­ing (the speculative/intuitive imagination of spatial interventions). As in other MSc Urbanism graduations, design-led approaches play an important role in explorations of the Planning Complex Cities research theme. A particular angle on design is taken though: it is seen as an approach to not only explore desirable spatial outcomes but also desirable institutional change. Relevant methodological approaches include e.g. performance research, discourse analysis and the analysis of spatial representation.

Graduation results
Trans-disciplinary approaches:
Planning Complex Cities graduations draw on knowledge from the fields of design, planning, the political sciences, and geography. They are trained to apply trans-disciplinary approaches.

Internationalisation: Planning Complex Cities graduations investigate Urbanism in regions around the globe. Through an orientation towards a variety of settings, students learn to systematically encounter and appreciate differences among spatial, cultural and political circumstances.

Planning systems, approaches, and tools: All Planning Complex Cities graduations involve knowledge about planning. They consider planning systems in place, as well as the approaches and tools that there are. Their ability to develop projects that have a procedural and strategic quality is enhanced.

Institutional practices: Planning Complex Cities graduations pay particular attention to the role of institutions in Urbanism projects and strategies. Students learn how to involve the interests, responsibilities and resources of actors. Their ability to position themselves in societal and political debate is enhanced.


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  1. Pingback: Complex Cities – Planning for Change |

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