urban map

Social-Ecological Urbanism

​ACEX35, Masters’ thesis direction, 2022/2023

"Research-based design is needed to guide cities towards trajectories of greater environmental and social sustainability"

Description and aim​

The master thesis direction Social-Ecological Urbanism is an urban design and planning direction engaged in the form and structure of cities and how their design can be used to create urban environments that promote citizens health and wellbeing, as well as societal processes such as social integration and sustainable markets, but also increase biodiversity and reduce climate change impact. The understanding of the intriguing relation between the city as we design and materialize it and the urban life that it affords, is central for this direction. Literature and seminars are provided to build a solid base and common ground of understanding. Besides understanding, the focus is on intervening through design (actions) where theories and methods in analytical urban morphology are used.

The thematic focus can differ across projects but what connects them is that the proposed design solutions simultaneously support social-economic processes and ecological processes. For example, projects that propose densification in support of walkability should also take into consideration the negative impact this might have on biodiversity. This will call for innovative spatial solution that combine densification with urban greening. What further connects the projects is the combined design-analysis approach where the role of architecture and urban design is made explicit. We believe that a research-based design is required to live up to the great expectations of cities to provide a more sustainable future.


Primarily, master thesis projects should be design-oriented and, in line with this direction, base design choices on research using spatial analysis and empirical research found in relevant studies. We also support more theoretical projects if they take a clear position in how this will affect the practice of urbanism. The scale of projects can range from a few urban blocks to whole cities. Thematically, the master thesis projects can be diverse, but of key importance is the integrated approach in this direction, both thematically (combining social and ecological performance) and spatially (looking at local and global performance).

Method and process

To support the design process with research, this direction provides support to develop a design proposal based on research. This is supported by, first, spatial analysis that allows you to evaluate design alternatives. Second, theories and empirical support for these theories that inform how the urban environment affects human health and wellbeing, ecosystem services, economic activities, etc. The teachers’ team for this direction is well equipped to support projects aiming at creating vital local markets, walkable neighborhoods, design that support health and well-being including decreasing social segregation, or projects focusing on ecosystem services. The use of analytic tools such as GIS (Geographic information system) will for many projects be important and tutorials are available for those with no prior knowledge.

Specific evaluation criteria

Independent of the type and scale of the project, the project plan will be evaluated based on a clear description of the problem you want to address, the knowledge gap, the research question related to that, the method you propose to help you find an answer and finally, the spatial solution. The thesis will be assessed by its design qualities, but especially the research base that are used for the design decisions or recommendations. This means that the thesis must give a well-argued answer to the problem described where both theoretical and analytical arguments can be used to support design decisions.

Specific submission requirements project plan

Besides a powerful title and catchy image, the choice for the type and scale of the project (see above), the project plan should discuss the following:

  • Problem description where especially the spatial dimension should be emphasized (what is the role of the architect/urban designer?)
  • Background where the larger context should be described including knowledge gaps and relevance for practice
  • General aim and specific purpose of the project (link to the ´problem description´ and ´background´) • Delimitations (that is, what will not be addressed in the thesis).
  • Theories, methods and tools that will be used (related to problem and purpose). 
  • Schematics drawings that provides an overview of your topic: spatial dimension of the problem and spatial strategies to address these problems based on theories or your own hypothesis
  • Project references to clarify what kind of final product you have in mind
  • Time schedule and students’ background and skills, relevant to the project (related to theories, methods and tools).

Exemplary thesis projects

RURBANITY. Exploring the integration of rural qualities with density and urban life by Hanna Kampers (2019). The world population is growing, and more and more people move to cities. Densification is discussed as one of the important strategies for sustainable urban development. On the other hand, the dream home for a large majority of people is still the one-family home on the countryside, in a calm environment and close to nature. This thesis takes these contradicting interests as a starting point and explores how experiences of nature, privacy and ownership can be combined with the ‘urban buzz’, high density and proximity to service.

The city-friendly car? Urban development in a new mobility age by Sophia Haas (2019). This thesis explores potential impacts of autonomous cars on greenery and walkability in cities. Implemented by the development and assessment of scenarios that translate current visions and trends of industry and policy into a tangible design of the future city, using the case of Gothenburg.

Direction faculty

This direction is led by the research group SMoG, part of the Urban Design and Planning division. See https://www.smog.chalmers.se.
Meta Berghauser Pont, Lars Marcus, Gianna Stavroulaki, Jorge Gil
Meta Berghauser Pont, Lars Marcs, Gianna Stavroulaki

Page manager Published: Fri 09 Sep 2022.