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Project Background

A Model Curriculum for an Age of Globalisation

The European School of Urbanism and Architecture started out as the development of a pilot curriculum for integrated urban and architectural study funded by the European Union’s Leonardo da Vinci programme in vocational education and training. Its thirteen partners in seven countries can use the elements of the curriculum as modular units of their own existing programmes within a cooperative network, or establish a quasi-independent full-degree programme. The programme features integrated study of urbanism with architecture, inter-disciplinary education, project-based learning, exchange studies across national boundaries, first-hand studies of local architectural and urban histories, 


One of the key motivations for the formation of the European Union was to secure the competitive advantage of the European states in an increasingly global trade environment. In that spirit, the Leonardo da Vinci programme was established to raise European standards for vocational education and training. As its website says, the programme “aims to establish and bolster the competitiveness of the European labour market by helping European citizens to acquire new skills, knowledge and qualifications and have them recognised across borders.”

A key gap has been the interdisciplinary education of professionals in the built environment. Henceforth education has been largely confined to isolated specialties of building design, landscape design, urban planning and the like. As a result of this separation of disciplines, practices developed over years of urban development are now incompatible with conventional engineering and planning standards. Terms and standards within various fields are not consistent, and are further compromised by national variations of language and practice. As a result, the competitiveness of European practitioners on a global stage has been compromised.

The Initial ESUA Project

The European School of Architecture and Urbanism is an initiative of thirteen partners in seven European countries, working to develop a pilot curriculum that integrates the disciplines of architecture and urban design. The ESUA project brings together existing initiatives in several European countries, to develop innovative measures and instruments to promote a recognised European qualification in urban design and architecture.

The project rests on the premise that urbanism and architecture should be taught as an integrated discipline that brings interdisciplinary technical expertise to the complex problems encountered in city and town design. Present European courses in architecture and urban design are divided into separate disciplines, with European urbanism as a topic mostly excluded from architecture and taught in specialised schools. Students and practitioners from the different fields have little contact with each other's ideas during education and professional life.

The ESUA project will reintroduce urban design as a main curriculum topic from first year, to form the basis for all design and architecture. Course modules will be developed to address areas that are particularly sought after by governments and the market. These include but are not limited to: community involvement in planning by the "Charrette" (or “Enquiry by Design”) process; spatial analysis using "Space Syntax"; design for walkable neighbourhoods; transport−oriented development; urban sustainability; building conservation; urban regeneration; adaptive re−use of abandoned buildings; transport planning; regional vernacular architectures of Europe; infill development in historic centres; redevelopment of social housing estates; traditional building crafts; and architectural design to enhance historic environments.

The project's university and lifelong learning partners will design, test and assess a develop a transnational curriculum of teaching modules for tertiary students, in a pilot programme by its 13 partners. Institutional partners can offer this curriculum as modular elements of a full degree programme through their institutional accreditation. The project will develop course modules able to be taken as units for Continuing Professional Development (CPD), as a Bachelor of Architecture, as components for a part-time Master of Arts (MA) in Urban Design, or as required precursors for Doctoral study.

The first target group is new students from the age around 19 who wish to educate themselves to become urbanists and/or architects. The secondary target group is in the field of post graduate education for planners, architects and various professionals related to community development, as well as for practising skilled artisans wanting to broaden their range of skills.

The ESUA project aims for these courses to become available as modular curricula for adoption by other universities, or as accredited units for students to take as part of other courses across Europe. To this end, we will encourage continuous training of teachers as well as practitioners. Modules will focus on specific issues relevant to each country, and the aim is to add more modules and more countries to the project in the future.

The project results are also transferable to others, such as town planners, politicians, and people interested in the future development of their cities and villages. The process will include dissemination of the course curriculum free to others worldwide. 

A New Concept

European planners and architects and urban designers, and those in the multiple professions that make up the sector that builds places for people to live, are currently educated in a system that has inherited a Fordian mind set of divided responsibilities and jealously guarded disciplines. No European schools exist that teach urbanism as an integrated discipline bringing together multiple technical expertise to apply to the complex problems encountered in city and town design.

The European School of Urbanism and Architecture program will be innovative, developing new measures and instruments to present and promote a recognised pan−European qualification in urban design and architecture. We will develop programs that are suited to those in formal education and also address the needs of those in outside education and training institutions. Our course modules will be able to be taken as units for Continuing Professional Development (CPD), as a Bachelor of Architecture, as components for a part−time Master of Arts (MA) in Urban Design, or as required precursors for Doctoral study.

The project partners experience in urbanism has taught us that good city−builders can be found in many walks of life. Accordingly, we will accept students from a wide variety of educational backgrounds. Teaching modules in countries around Europe will allow students to form a complete picture of the variety of cultures and traditions that distinguish European cities and buildings from their international counterparts, and will allow a wide flexibility in program and timing. Teaching will be both by conventional means and also by innovative means including distance learning (e−learning).

Key Elements of the Curriculum Structure

The curriculum offers a number of key innovations:
  1. Students work on actual projects, alongside practicing professionals and stakeholders. There they learn “meta-skills” such as collaboration, facilitation, leadership and on-the-job self-education.
  2. Students learn to collaborate with others across borders and with varying local conditions, languages and standards of practice.
  3. Students learn a range of subjects in addition to technical specialties, including urban subjects (sociology, economics, political science, et al).
  4. Students travel to varying locales and study local history and precedent. They learn to listen to local residents, research local conditions, and diagnose local needs and assets. They learn to analyze and compare the evolution of urban and architectural history in different cultural contexts.
  5. Students gain hands-on experience in the building process, through study of building trades and crafts, and through hands-on exercises.
  6. Students learn to develop and test design hypotheses through collaborative simulation processes, applying an evidence-based approach.

Development of the Programme

The ESUA curriculum is being developed through a two-year pilot phase that includes five test modules in five countries. The modules are workshops that bring pilot students from several partners together with professionals on actual projects, and test their ability to learn in this kind of dynamic on-the-job environment. The workshop programme is supplemented with lectures and student preparation modules.

In addition, the pilot phase includes curriculum development workshops which combine elements of existing partner curricula, research into new curriculum approaches, and new pilot curriculum concepts. The entire curriculum will be published and made available to the public on completion of the pilot phase, and presented in a final conference in Oslo, Norway on September 13, 2008. 

The curriculum will be further developed and disseminated through a second phase, the Education and Dissemination in Urbanism, Architecture and Craft (EDUAC). This phase will develop detailed curricular materials and additional programme elements.

The ESUA curriculum is aimed at European competitiveness in a global economy. It builds upon a strong foundation of leading curriculum documents from around the world:

Thanks to Matthew Hardy, Audun Engh, Claus Zapffe and others for original ESUA documentation material.