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 and the Urban Studies sections. Participants share a curiosity about the changing role of Urbanism that results from increasingly complex spatial and societal circumstances and internationalisation.


Planning Complex Cities graduations build upon the expertise in spatial development, spatial planning and territorial governance, present at the Department of Urbanism. In their use of this knowledge from fields they seek for an integral approach. Basic starting points in graduations are observations of disparities and conflicts concerning the distribution of spatial resources across territories. Central propositions on how these spatial manifestations of inequality are related to institutional practices are formulated first. Propositions 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. Propositions may also concern informal institutions, e.g. the voluntary participation of communities and non-governmental organisations in planning processes, invisible power distributions, planning and governance cultures and traditions, or even ideologies. During graduations 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.

Planning Complex Cities graduations investigate planning and governance schemes in regions and areas, how these influence the transformation of spatial structures and how they can be improved to achieve more sustainable spatial outcomes. A more detailed scope of graduation projects stems from a focus on substantive issues (a particular interest in, for instance, energy, water, housing or economic structures), and normative values (a particular wish to improve, for instance, environmental sustainability, social equality, or economic competitiveness). A more detailed scope is also derived from placing graduation projects in particular focus areas, each with distinct patterns of urbanisation and planning conditions.

Focus areas

Building upon present research capacities – the expertise of researchers, ongoing research projects and strategic alliances with partners in regions – Planning Complex Cities graduations focus on urbanisation 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 Complex Cities of the Global South explore the above mentioned theme in the context of rapid modernisation and urban growth, often inadequate governance and weak institutional capacity in developing countries. Graduations investigating (European) Complex Cities 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 Chinese Complex Cities consider rapid urbanisation, migration, internationalisation and demographic change in China. The scale of development within focus areas that graduations consider is not predefined. Students may pursue a particular interest in regional or local spatial development or, preferably, dependencies among these.


  • 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.
  • Comparative planning research: An important methodological approach in Planning Complex Cities graduations is comparative planning research. The Department of Urbanism holds an internationally recognised 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, characterised 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 focus on the analysis of actors’ perceptions of spatial development.

Graduation results

  • Integrating knowledge: 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.
  • Appreciating plurality: 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.
  • Understanding 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 design: 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.

2 thoughts on “About Us

  1. Pingback: Complex Cities – Planning for Change |

  2. Pingback: Next round! | Planning Complex Cities TU Delft

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