Courses I manage

Mind Map Urbanism
Mind-mapping on URBANISM, unfolding five main aspects: VALUES, QUALITIES, SKILLS, TOOLS and KNOWLEDGE. Mind map designed by students of the course AR2U090 Methodology for Urbanism (2014)

My philosophy

(i)  Planning Theory

I have over 18 years practice teaching and researching issues of spatial planning.  This includes:

(ii) Urban and Regional Planning tools and practice-based, design-led studios

(iii) Governance

(iv) Spatial Justice or socio-spatial justice

(v) Sustainability (with a focus on environmental and social sustainability, including issues of democracy, citizenship, political economy)

(vi) Informal Urbanisation and issues of sustainable urban development in the Global South


At TU DELFT, we always work on problem-led, real-world-issues, most often in a studio setting, where students are confronted with real world problems.

My vision on education includes building up new knowledge from people’s own knowledge. Inspired by Paulo Freire’s ideas on education, I believe knowledge is more effectively built when using people’s own lexicon and world views in conversation with other kinds of knowledge. In other words, teaching is more effective if you build upon people’s own knowledge first, using people’s own words and practices.  This is a way to respond to the need to incorporate different kinds of knowledge into the planning discourse, not only expert knowledge, in order to foster diversity and go beyond established technocratic canons of planning. This is based on Foucault’s ideas on knowledge: knowledge that is considered “non-expert”  by established institutions is commonly ignored. This means that the knowledge of vulnerable groups is invisible, and their voices ignored. This is a big problem for groups like: women, children, the elderly, people with physical disabilities, people who are struggling with mental issues, people with special needs and so on. This is a huge issue for planners and designers: how are they supposed to plan and design healthy, fair and inclusive cities for all if they don’t have access to the correct information and knowledge? Likewise, we have to deal with two other “silent stakeholders”: future generations and the planet. The planet “talks” to us with a very strong voice, but policy-makers seem unable to hear it. Future generations are not here, so how to make their voices heard?

Moreover, like in other areas of knowledge, everybody agrees that Urbanism is a trans-disciplinary activity. However, I have noticed that professionals feel threatened when new disciplines are included in the discussion. This is not only a problem for spatial planing but a threat to the sustainability and the justice of solutions.

In practice, this means that I try to refrain from “lecturing” students too much, but prefer instead to work on interactive activities where knowledge is co-produced. I only give “lectures” once students’ knowledge has been explored, revealed and somehow organised. This has lots of implications to the way my teaching is organised.

I have guided more than 80 graduation projects at Master level and two PhD dissertations. HERE you can read a complete list of the graduation research and design projects I was involved with.

In the course of the years, I have developed several courses and special lecrures for the Department of Urbanism of the Delft University of Technology. These are the main ones:

Amsterdam Metropolitan Solutions Institute, MADE.


Course coordinators: Clemens Driessen (WUR) and Dr. Roberto Rocco (TUD)

Lecturers / Instructors: Clemens Driessen (WUR), Dr. Roberto Rocco (TUD), Prof.dr. E.M. van Bueren (TU Delft), Aksel Ersoy (TU Delft); and guests.

Contemporary metropolitan regions face a variety of complex challenges that concern large numbers of stakeholders with often competing claims originating from different world views.  One of the major challenges faced by advanced metropolitan regions like the AMA (Amsterdam Metropolitan Area) is how to manage transitions towards sustainability, in face of the high costs to break free from path dependency lock-ins.   This transition towards sustainability is something the Dutch government has been pursuing since its first Environmental Action Plan (1989), which focused on closing production and consumption loops, preventing degradation and exhaustion of resources and harmful emissions. The plan also emphasized the responsibility of different groups in society (public, private, and civic), to meet environmental targets. This transition is characterised by a systems change, which means that whole chains of production, consumption and behaviour must change over a long period of time, thus involving a large number of stakeholders with multiple worldviews and competing claims over those systems. This course enables Metropolitan Innovators to identify and evaluate these claims from three main perspectives: socio technical, ecosystems and spatial justice.

Overlapping themes

This course complements and supports the Metropolitan Challenges Course, which is given in the first quarter of the programme, and provides a solid ground for the Metropolitan Solutions Course, given later.  It introduces and discusses tools and theoretical frameworks for unravelling complex metropolitan challenges and presents approaches from different areas of knowledge dealing with metropolitan innovation challenges. 

These areas of knowledge are primarily design (broadly conceived), planning, engineering and urban studies. In short, those are disciplines that deal with the three main objects of a metropolitan innovator: space, society and technology.  It does so by promoting a discussion on metropolitan transition to sustainability and the theoretical and practical frameworks and tools being used by different disciplines via interactive lectures and student workshops evaluating and acting upon the issues being treated in the Metropolitan Challenges Course.

Motivations for the course

The management of systems transition to sustainability have several dimensions: cultural, political, technical and aesthetic, to cite but a few. This is because we assume sustainability can only happen when its three crucial dimensions (social, economic and environmental) happen simultaneously (Larsen, 2012). Hence, this transition cannot be addressed by planners, engineers and designers alone, as they require engagement with a multiplicity of actors holding different perspectives necessary to understand and tackle all the dimensions involved.

The various disciplines that contribute to AMS bring particular approaches to innovations towards sustainability: from engineering to entrepreneurship, from urban design to human geography, from environmental sciences to sociology of innovation. Combining these into interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary ways of working are required to deal with urban development and innovation.

For any actor working to contribute to advanced metropolitan solutions towards sustainability, it becomes crucial to be able to translate metropolitan challenges into researchable questions and to be able to understand, communicate and to co-operate with other actors in order to integrate their knowledge about issues at hand and to understand different (and often conflicting) objectives. 

Awareness of the socio-economic context, as well as the implicit and explicit values and cultural norms operating in a specific place are essential to achieve suitable solutions.

This course enables students to use, contrast, discuss and integrate those various approaches to engage with metropolitan innovations and potential solutions in a meaningful way suing three main perspectives: socio-technical, ecosystems and spatial justice. These perspectives contain different normative and theoretical dimensions that trigger different questions for metropolitan innovators. These different questions require the use of different methods of research. These perspectives, their questions and methods will be explored in the course.

Socio technical: in this perspective, students understand metropolitan innovation and transition towards sustainability from the point of view of debates on the relations between technology and society, as well as competing ideas on the role of science and knowledge for sociotechnical innovation.

Ecosystems: in this perspective, students understand metropolitan innovation and transition towards sustainability from an ecosystems perspective. Framing urban areas as ecosystems makes it possible to model urban areas and distinguish the different subsystems from which they are made.

Spatial Justice: in this perspective, students understand metropolitan innovation and transition towards sustainability from a political point of view, in which the governance and the social sustainability of systems is highlighted. This allows students to reflect and situate their actions within ideas of democracy and participation, for instance. 

All three perspectives examine the ethical dimensions of their own assumptions and frameworks, and encourage students to consider, evaluate and discuss these ethical and moral dimensions

Learning outcomes

At the end of this course, students will be able to:

L1: Describe different logics of enquiry and the suitability of methods derived from them.  Logics of enquiry pertaining to the natural sciences (including environmental sciences), applied sciences (engineering), the social sciences and design activities [Skills: literature research, critical thinking, research design]

 L2: Describe and interpret a variety of knowledge claims in three main axes proposed (socio-technical/ eco-systemic / spatial justice).  By ‘knowledge claims’ we mean the connection between research question, methods employed, expected outcome and deliverables according to different research traditions. [Skills: research design, literature research, critical thinking]

L3: Describe the merits of various modes of organizing, governing and discussing metropolitan innovation: living labs, transition towns, system innovations. [Skills: groups dynamics, communication and collaboration skills]

L4:  Identify and critically discuss the implicit values of particular interventions in relation to the three frameworks presented, including what interests are at stake, what stakeholders are involved, what subjects are produced, groups configured, experiences generated and scripted behaviour promoted [Skills: mapping, story-telling, visioning, planning, sketching, communicating graphically and orally]

L5:  Identify and discuss strategies for transition towards sustainability from an ecosystems point of view, including the understanding of metropolitan systems in interaction with one another

L6:  Explain spatial justice as a framework and its implications for the governance of metropolitan systems and the management of these systems towards sustainability, including notions of governance, citizenship, participation and democracy

[This is a description of the final assignment:]

L7: Spell out values that support decisions and to reflect on ethical matters and professional roles connected to the research and design activities. In doing so, students must be able to reflect on and discuss how different worldviews impact problem identification, knowledge formation and design interventions [Skills: writing, sketching, drawing, story-telling, critical thinking]

Methodology for Urbanism (5 ECTS)

Students of the course “Methodology for Urbanism” discuss alternative definitions of “Urbanism” .

From 2008 to 2010, I joined a research group at the University of Hertfordshire in the UK as a research assistant. The Research into Practice cluster formerly led by Professor Michael Biggs is a centre of excellence investigating the fundamental nature of research in the creative and performing arts.

Following this, I have developed knowledge and skills concerning those issues in education in planning and design. This has resulted in the development of two methodology courses in the masters program of the department of Urbanism of the TU Delft.

These courses tackle education in planning and design, and seek to establish a meaningful connections between traditional academic research and practice or design oriented disciplines, such as urban design, landscape architecture and spatial planning. The aim of these courses is ultimately to raise the academic value of the education offered. For further information on these courses, please visit our website HERE. The philosophy of these courses is contained in this PRESENTATIONHERE you can read a text where I explain these ideas in detail.

Complex Cities Graduation Studio (45 ECTS)

Poster prepared to showcase student work at the Graduation Studio Complex Cities
Poster prepared to showcase student work at the Graduation Studio Complex Cities. Dena Kasraian is a former Master student, now a PhD candidate at OTB, who developed a comprehensive tool to evaluate area densification potentials. Poster designed by R. R.

Apart from methodology, I have developed content and managed a research and design studio called “Complex Cities” for 4 years (2008- 2011), where students of the Department of Urbanism (spatial planning, urban design and environmental technology) develop their graduation work.

The graduation studio Complex Cities and Regions in Transformation is currently led by Verena Balz and tackles strategic regional planning, with emphasis on regional development, governance and strategic planning. In this research and design programme, students are asked to develop a strategic plan for a region of their choice.

Because we have students from all over the world, the diversity of cases is enormous. However, we try to provide students with a strong methodological and theoretical framework, connected to regional planning and development.  Our approach  includes the production of an ample regional analysis of physical and demographic aspects, governance frameworks and socio-economic trends leading to the identification of regional development issues.

These are subsequently tackled through a regional strategic development plan, which includes a detailed map of the wishes and the roles of stakeholders, as well as a plan containing policies and physical interventions (projects or designs), by which students are supposed to test their assumptions and develop their visual, oral and written communication skills. Further information can be obtained HERE and a brochure can be downloaded HERE.

Other design and research studios led by me in partnership with other members of the department deal with mobility, infrastructure and planning and the ‘knowledge city’ (an idea we have been trying to unpack at TU Delft).

Summer School Planning and Design with Water

Since 2014, I organise and manage the Summer School Planning and Designing with Water, which focuses on the challenges and solutions to comply with contemporary water management and urban design and planning. Since 2022, the school has been joined by Caroline Newton as a co-manager and the title of the school changed to Summer School Planning and Design for the Just City.

The school invites students to understand the theories and practices that bring together sustainable urban development, spatial justice and the just transition to sustainability, and to apply the knowledge acquired in the elaboration of a vision and a spatial plan for a specific area in the Dutch city of The Hague. The aim of the Summer School is to explore the implications of SPATIAL JUSTICE for the just transition through an exploration of the Dutch tradition of planning and designing with water and the integration of water management with urban development in the Netherlands.

The summer school is led by the Delft University of Technology, as well as national and international partners.

This exercise includes site visits, talks with professionals and academics and a short studio-led exercise, where students and teachers will explore possibilities through the elaboration of spatial scenarios and the design of spatial strategy in case in the city of Den Haag, one of the most important urbanised delta regions of the world.

The Summer School takes place at the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment of the TU Delft every JULY (generally second and third weeks).

Visit our website HERE.


Sustainable infrastructures (elective)

Students of Smart infrastructure and mobility (IED) visit the Favela Paraisopolis in Sao Paulo. Photo: R.R.

In 2014, I helped develop and teach an elective course entitled Smart Infrastructure and Mobility (SIM), with Taneha Bacchin and Denise Piccinini. This course focuses on the interconnections between spatial planning, landscape design and regional design in a cross disciplinary way. There are three chairs of the Department of Urbanism involved: Environmental Technology and Design, Spatial Planning, Landscape Architecture), each catering for specific aspects of the project.

The main goal of the elective is to elaborate a critical analysis of metropolitan mobility issues. The aim is to understand and act on aspects of metropolitan mobility, water management and urban design in developing context, through research and the elaboration of a spatial design for a sub-system of the High Tietê river basin system in São Paulo, Brazil. This is done by critically analysing the issues at hand, understanding the governance arrangements and proposing spatial interventions.

This course builds on the theme of the Sao Paulo Infrastructural Traffic and Water Ring. Locally known as the ‘Rodoanel Mario Covas’- the Greater São Paulo Road Ring, and the ‘Hidro-Anel’, the Fluvial Waterway for the transport of goods of the Metropolitan Region of São Paulo.

The metropolitan area of São Paulo is comparable to the Randstad in terms of size and economic output, but has twice its population. The complexity of planning and designing for traffic and water resilience in a metropolis of a developing economy context poses important questions:

(a) how the planning and design of urban and landscape infrastructures could potentially improve the social, economic and ecological conditions of densely occupied areas;

(b) how mobility and water planning/governance could best support the transition towards liveable and resilient territories and

(c). how the understanding of metropolitan governance structures can help designers and planners act in a more sensitive and informed manner, by taking real stakeholders and their concerns and objectives into account.

European Master of Urbanism Planning & Design Studio (30 ECTS)

Students in the 2019 EMU cohort come from Italy, Mexico, Taiwan, China, Colombia, India, and Croatia.

One of the studios is a postgraduate research and design studio belonging to the European Masters in Urbanism (EMU), an accredited European consortium between the Urbanism departments of TU Delft, the Catholic University of Leuven, Università IUAV di Venezia and UPC Barcelona. This is a two-year, full-time postgraduate Master’s program (120 credits). The full-time program consists of three core semesters and one final semester for a written or design thesis. In each core semester, students take several cutting-edge courses, having the design studio as the backbone to develop projects and designs.

I have helped develop the content of the studio centred on regional planning and design.  The studio tackles the strategic design for the transformation of  complex polycentric regions where mobility and infrastructure play a major role.

I have taught at EMU since its inception, first in partnership with Remon Rooij, then with Daan Zandbelt , Alexander Wandl, and currently Luiz Carvalho.

You can download the course booklet from 2017 edition HERE.

You can download the course booklet from the 2019 edition HERE.

More information can be obtained at

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