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The Master of Science in Design of Cities is a one-year, three-semester program during which students investigate the full depth and complexity of contemporary urban phenomena, propel design innovation, and advance conversations around how we build and inhabit cities in the twenty-first century.

Coordinator: Thom Mayne
Program faculty: Karen Lohrmann, Eui-Sung Yi


Thom Mayne Portrait

“I’m interested in expanding the limits of architectural design to address broader urban and infrastructural problems. As architectural problems have become increasingly complex, shifting to include those related more to connectivity and engagement with various aspects of the reified world, I’m interested in discussing at one level the radical pragmatism of the problem and at the next level the conceptual—a set of forces that organizes these problems within broader cultural terms. SCI-Arc is the perfect place for that.”

Thom Mayne, Coordinator

Reifying Urban Design as Architectural Practice

As the world’s rapidly expanding population has led to an astonishing and unprecedented process of urbanization, SCI-Arc’s Design of Cities program is driven by the understanding that one of the most immediate design problems of the twenty-first century is the organization and construction of cities. Under the direction of Pritzker Prize laureate Thom Mayne alongside Morphosis architects, Design of Cities implements an architectural research model wherein the clarity of complex problem solving shifts from individual to collective thinking to leverage the creative capital of a team-based studio environment.

The complexity of such a massive movement towards urbanization calls into question the validity of traditional urban design concepts and underscores the urgency for architects to think about how cities should be designed. In existing educational models, interrogations of urban design have been largely underdefined and methodologies remain in constant flux. In response, the Design of Cities program takes a highly experimental approach to questions of urbanism and encourages students to develop new conceptions of “the city” and its possibilities in an attempt to clarify the future of urbanized life.

A Model of Architectural Education Embedded in Problem Formation

Departing from the conventional wisdom that cities are hopelessly complex, informal networks beyond the reach of any existing design model, the Design of Cities curriculum promotes the power of the architectural imagination to create sustainable urban design for the twenty-first century and beyond.

The Design of Cities curriculum is structured to engage real-world scenarios and prepare students with the strategic skill sets necessary to creatively formulate an architectural problem within environmental, political, economic, and social terms.

Using conceptual and theoretical thinking, students will be challenged to address pervasive issues of urbanization that reconcile obligations and constraints endemic to the profession of architecture.

Design of Cities amplifies the traditional architectural view of the city beyond the boundaries of building. The program asks students to reintegrate the inherent complexity of urban systems, and employ design operations which identify and cultivate networks, correlations, dependencies, and interactions while simultaneously exploring multiple agents and avenues of transformation.

A Collective Research Model

Design of Cities studio courses are framed through different perspectives each semester. Studio prompts vary not only in design tasks but also in research and design methodologies, introducing students to a multitude of approaches to urban design, many of them originated, tested, and applied by Morphosis across three decades. Students are encouraged to develop a thorough conceptual framework through which they can respond to architectural challenges and an individual design language by amplifying techniques that enable interdisciplinary crossovers between media, theory, and adjacent fields.

Design Lab coursework introduces students to examples of influential urban developments informed by experimental and analytical studies in urban design, society, and culture. In their first two semesters, students critically examine a robust body of academic readings, discussions, and research. During their final semester of the Design Lab, students will produce an independent thesis that acknowledges and advances the interdisciplinary discussions around the realities and urgencies of cities in the twenty-first century.

Bolstering research opportunities, the required Advanced Architectural Studies seminar sequence provides a forum for SCI-Arc EDGE students to discuss the theoretical problems that impact design and the contemporary world. Students form interdisciplinary teams to produce and execute a fully-developed research project. The sequence culminates in a postgraduate colloquium at which students present their formalized proposals. Additionally, EDGE students select an elective course each semester from SCI-Arc curricula in Applied Studies, Visual Studies, History + Theory, or Liberal Arts.

architecture diagram
Project by Larissa Eteson, Spring 2020

Expanding the Practice of Urban Design

The Design of Cities program prepares students to engage the vast potential of design for the twenty-first century city. Students in the program learn to weigh issues of scale against questions of environmental impact, as well as to employ methodological design thinking within socioeconomic, political, and cultural contexts.

Building upon the experimental architectural landscapes characteristic of both SCI-Arc and Los Angeles, graduates confidently expand beyond the fringes of the discipline to pursue a diverse array of careers as design professionals, scholars, educators, and consultants, among many others. Design of Cities graduates have held positions at globally operative firms such as Morphosis, MVRDV, UNStudio, SOM, and government agencies such as SCAG (Southern California Association of Governments).

The program requires attendance in the fall, spring, and summer terms.

green architecture siteplan aerial

Final Siteplan, Spring 2020