Design for Sustainable Development

120 credits (MSc, 2 years)

Human activities, not the least manifested in the built environment, are responsible for a large amount of the stress our societies put on the environment and there is a global challenge in meeting the need for sustainability while adapting to a local reality and situation. This programme focuses on methods and design approaches for understanding and analysing different local contexts in order to propose adequate solutions in designing for a sustainable future.

Programme description

Sustainable development is a political vision that entails huge challenges for social and technical innovation all over the world. It has consequences for all professions, not least for urban planning, architectural design and the full complexity of societal development can be addressed and managed through design for sustainable development.

This programme provides you with the skills and methods valid where design approaches are required. As a student, you are trained to find solutions that support sustainable development in a large variety of contexts and in dynamic situations. The perspective is holistic and systemic, comprising system levels and scales from urban structures, buildings and technical support systems to detailed construction elements. The programme is based on studios where real life situations and problems faced by society are handled in close contact with local stakeholders and actors.

The overall point of departure is the everyday life of people and the support of dignified lives and livelihoods in rapidly changing and sometimes extreme environments, through the development and implementation of aesthetic, affordable, socially and culturally appropriate, energy and material efficient, healthy and user friendly design solutions.

The programme offers a selection of courses and design studios from which the students can build upon in order to shape an individual profile during two years. Potential profiles are:

  • Sustainable building with a focus on building scale, building systems and sustainable solutions
  • Sustainable Urban planning & Design with a focus on urban (or regional) scale, planning processes, development and design of the built environment
  • Sustainable Conservation and Transformation with a focus on building or urban scale, relation to redevelopment within the existing built environment
  • Design for Sustainable Development in Local Contexts Internationally on multiple scales and with a socio-technical approach.

The Chalmers School of Architecture fosters a humanistic view of architecture and emphasises an explorative orientation and research by design approach in order to unfold the professional profile, skill and scope of the design professions. The ambition is to promote convincing joint future visions for the development of the built environment.

We also emphasis the integration of research in education, the respect for existing built structures as cultural, social and economic resources and interdisciplinary co-operation.

Educational methods

The pedagogical approach is to support you in developing your design skills through a series of design studios, dealing with complex design tasks in very different situations and contexts e.g., neighbourhoods and municipalities in Sweden, informal settlements in developing countries, and technical and social challenges of sustainable building and transformation.

This approach challenges and develops your ability to analyse and situate local situations in relation to broader contexts. Such design studios contain experience-based learning, fieldwork, tailored lectures, literature studies, seminars, workshops and exhibitions. A common thread through the studios is the use of a systems approach to design although both problems and potential solutions will vary significantly.

Research facilities

  • Studio spaces - all students have personal desks and storage areas in studio spaces with 24/7 access. Studio spaces are equipped with workstations, printers and large scale plotters, as well as Wi-Fi.
  • Architecture Library - has an extensive collection of printed volumes, journals and magazines within the fields of architecture and urban design.
  • CAD-lab - houses workstations with software for CAD-drawing, 3D-modelling, desktop publishing, video editing, and GIS.
  • A-Workshop - is a fully equipped architecture workshop with wood, plastics and metal working equipment. It also contains a number of computer controlled (CNC) machines for model building and rapid prototyping, including: Laser cutter, 3D-printers (2), CNC Mill and CNC Foam cutter.
  • Robot Lab - is a research facility that investigates robotic technology in architectural design. Equipment includes three robotic arms.
  • Centre for Healthcare Architecture - conducts research and graduate studies and encourage education and training within the field of physical environments for care.
  • Centre for Housing  - is a national platform for transfer of knowledge, debate, development and research in the field of residential housing.
  • Mistra Urban Futures - is a centre for sustainable urban development with the ambition to become a world leader in the field in the near future.
  • The Spatial Morphology Group - is engaged in urban research within the fields of urban morphology, space syntax and design theory.
Other Programmes that might interest you


Please note that the above schematic view corresponds to the academic year starting in autumn 2015. Minor changes may occur.

Programme content in detail


Each semester consists of a combination of courses and design studios.
- A course is mostly based on lectures, literature and seminars, but may also contain shorter assignments. 
- A design studio focuses on the development of a design project. It is normally case study based.
The programme offers a selection of courses and design studios, distributed over the fall and spring semesters. These courses and studios should be seen as options, from which the individual professional profile is shaped during two years.

Compulsory courses
  • Sustainable Development and the Design Professions
Elective courses
  • Design Systems
  • Architectural Conservation and Transformation
  • Building Design Lab
  • Academic writing (Master’s thesis preparation course)

You will find the programme content in detail, incl. syllabus and description of the courses for the current year in the Student Portal - the intranet for enrolled students at Chalmers.
Programme content in detail, incl. syllabus and description of the courses

Design studios

Planning and Design for Sustainable Development in a Local Context
The thematic of the studio is planning and design for sustainable development in a small or medium sized municipality in Sweden.

Design & Planning for Social Inclusion
Gives knowledge about the significance of the social dimension of sustainable development, focusing on urban development in suburban areas built in the 1960s and 70s in Sweden. Public participation of citizens is a central aspect.

Reality Studio
A real-life project in Sub-Saharan Africa, for students of different disciplines. Reality Studios are simultaneously student projects and real projects where the students act as consultants and researchers to improve the quality of daily life. (This studio is not offered every year).

Architectural Heritage and Urban Transformation
Aims at introducing you to the field of architectural and urban conservation and transformation in a historic and contemporary context and to test new knowledge in a critical and reflective way.

Sustainable Building
Introduces the concept of “sustainable building”, both as principles and as chosen elements in concrete design assignments. Integrates the environmental issues of sustainable building into an architectural project, combining functional and aesthetic qualities with low environmental impact. Cultivates a deeper understanding of selected issues of sustainable building and how to develop these issues into a thoroughly elaborated design proposal.

Sustainable Building Competition
The aim is to practice design for sustainable building, to introduce findings from design for energy and environmental efficiency, to promote cooperation between architects and engineers and to implement this knowledge in a competition.

Design for Extreme Environments
Basic human needs of everyday life become visible where life support systems are required. If resources are very scarce and one needs to sacrifice something, what are the basic requirements for physical and mental health? The studio focuses on how architecture and design affect us over time. (This studio is not offered every year).

Master's Thesis
The last semester is assigned for the Master’s thesis. The aim is to display knowledge and capability for independent work, and related to the students undergraduate profile, within the field of design for sustainable development.

Career opportunities

The education leads to a wide range of career opportunities within design and planning for sustainable development as a response to increasing awareness and commitment among both public and private actors. The global challenges of resource constraints and climate change open for new and extensive fields of professional practices.

Globally rapid urbanisation, poverty reduction and fair distribution of resources are key issues as manifested in the UN Millennium Development Goals. In Sweden the existing building stock, not least from the 1960s and 1970s, has to be reconstructed in ways that can address socio-economic segregation problems as well as deficient environmental performance in an integrated manner.

These challenges request a new generation of skilled design professionals that are able to work in cross-disciplinary expert teams and in close contact with local stakeholders.

Connections with research and the society 

Research and education in close cooperation with practice has a long tradition at Chalmers Architecture and is also distinctive for this master’s programme. This responds to an increasing societal demand for experts able to transform the global vision of sustainable development into concrete and local action.

The local partners in each design studio represent different spheres of the global society, providing students with an extended network of potential future employers and clients:

  • Swedish public authorities, municipalities and local communities
  • The Swedish construction industry, landlords and property developers
  • Local, National and International university partners
  • UN-HABITAT and their different partners, including UN-Habitat Partner universities
  • NGO’s and local communities
  • NASA, ESA and specific design industries

The programme is based on experience from the strong research environment at Chalmers, in the forefront for research on the Built Environment and Sustainable Urban Futures. Teachers of the programme are key researchers at Mistra Urban Futures and in research collaborations at the Area of Advance for the Built Environment.


Department of Architecture

Published: Fri 26 Nov 2010. Modified: Fri 21 Oct 2016