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The Material City


Admission requirements

This course is available for students in the BA Urban Studies programme and to a limited amount of external students.


When thinking of a city, its material components may not be the first things that come to mind. Yet, these materials are crucial to consider. For one, the physical aspects of cities are closely linked to behaviour of its inhabitants and the way they interact. Moreover, the metabolism of the city (Urban Metabolism) largely determines the sustainability of cities and city-dwellers.

For many materials, the stocks of materials within our cities’ infrastructures are in the same order of magnitude as those of known mineral reserves. This creates a challenge as well as an opportunity: some are already referring to cities as ‘above ground mines’. Changes are needed to efficiently use these resources, though: for future cities, we need to move towards a circular city which reuses and recycles materials, and is much more self-sufficient for energy and water supplies. Rooftop solar panels, heat pumps and zero-energy buildings, smart grids and car-as-powerplant concepts will all contribute to this. New urban planning concepts like compact cities, urban agriculture (including vertical farming), and eco-cities will change the use of materials within cities themselves as well as the the well-being and sustainability of city-dwellers.

Likewise, cities have a huge impact on biodiversity, directly through their land-use, emissions, light pollution and noise, while biodiversity as well affects the life of city inhabitants. Solutions such as green rooftops, gray water recycling, and parks as biodiversity spots and retention basins contribute to sustainable water management, climate control, air quality regulation, and biodiversity preservation. Hence, future cities will be an integral part of the biological, energy and resources supply systems and the way in which they are organised will be of crucial importance to the total ecological footprint of humanity.

The development of more sustainable cities will change the way cities operate and thereby also the way of living and interaction of its inhabitants. In this course we will introduce the concepts given above and discuss show these developments will change city-life as well as the ecological footprint of cities, through a series of lectures and assignments. Students will also be introduced to the tools that are used to analyse sustainability problems (Material Flow Analysis, and Life Cycle Assessment) and the metrics that are used to measure the sustainability (e.g. ecological footprints, ecosystem services, biodiversity assessments, material flow indicators).

Course objectives

The student is able to:

1) Describe the main material elements of cities
2) Discuss and interpret material and resource use at the city scale in relationship to other urban issues
3) Describe the main environmental impacts of cities
4) Interpret metrics like ecological footprint and material flow indicators on the level of cities
5) Describe and discuss urban sustainability solutions such as circular economy and urban farming


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture

  • Tutorial (compulsory attendance)
    This means that students have to attend every tutorial session of the course. If a student is unable to attend a tutorial or lecture, they should inform the lecturer in advance, providing a valid reason for absence. The teacher will determine if and how the missed session can be compensated by an additional assignment. If they are absent from a tutorial without a valid reason, they can be excluded from the final exam in the course.

  • (Virtual) Excursion

Assessment method


  • Exam
    Written examination

  • Final Group Project

  • Midterm Project


Partial grade Weighing
Exam 40%
Final Group Project 40%
Midterm Project 20%

End grade

To successfully complete the course, please take note of the following:

  • The end grade of the course is established by determining the weighted average of all assessment components.

  • The weighted average of the midterm exam grade and group project needs to be 5.50 or higher.


If the end grade is insufficient (lower than a 6.0), or if the exam grade is lower than 5.50, there is a possibility of retaking the written examination material, replacing the previous exam grade(s). No resit for the project grades is possible.

Faculty regulations concerning participation in resits are listed in article 4.1 of the Faculty Course and Examination Regulations.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organised.

Reading list

  • The course uses a selection of scientific articles and video material.


General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website.

Registration Exchange

For the registration of exchange students contact Humanities International Office.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Student Affairs Office for BA Urban Studies


A limited amount of external students can follow this course as an elective course. To enroll, send an email to the Education Administration Office: