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Urban Environments and Infrastructures


Admission requirements

This course is obligatory for students of the master’s programme Industrial Ecology.
The course is an elective for the Sustainability Annotation of TU Delft and part of the Honours Program for the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment.


With half of the world population living in urban areas and with the building sector as the largest industrial sector in the US and Europe, urban environments and their infrastructures (for transport, energy generation and supply, drinking water provision, waste water collection and treatment, and green infrastructures for biodiversity and livability) make a significant contribution to sustainability problems, in terms of energy use, material extraction, waste production, land conversion, GHG emissions, etc.
In this course, urban environments and their infrastructures are approached 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. Students will learn about four themes in urban areas which significantly influence the sustainability performance of urban areas: transport, energy, water and construction materials. In addition, they will understand why technical solutions for sustainable urban areas are difficult to implement; the decision-making power is scattered over a multitude of actors which makes it difficult for actors, including governments, to influence the sustainability of urban areas.

This course offers you the unique opportunity to acquire knowledge of sustainable urban areas from an engineering, a design and an institutional point of view. You will acquire knowledge of important sustainability effects of urban areas and of leading methods and tools to assess and address these problems at various spatial scales: ranging from the building level to the urban plan. Also you will be acquainted with the specific institutional context of the built environment and its influence on the innovation and implementation of sustainable technologies.

Course objectives

At the end of the course students will be able:
1. To explain the importance of urban areas and infrastructures and how Industrial Ecology and the underlying ecosystem approach will help to analyse and improve urban design.
2. To apply the ecosystem approach to urban areas and infrastructures by:
o analysing urban areas as composites of multiple subsystems that can be distinguished at multiple spatial levels;
o modeling these subsystem in terms of input, throughput and output;
o integrating these models into an urban design.
3. To evaluate urban areas and infrastructures for their sustainability performance, by:
o judging whether state of the art knowledge and technologies of the focal subsystems in this course (energy, water, materials and transport) have been used;
o identifying the trade-offs and synergies between and within subsystems and spatial scales and judging how these trade-offs and synergies have been accommodated;
o arguing how the design of urban areas and their infrastructures can be improved/optimized;
o discuss how decision-making for urban areas influences the feasibility of the design.


Please always consult BB-course page for latest news on schedules. The schedules during the first part of the course – in which you have to develop a maximum design for one of the themes, will be provided by the teacher of that track. Contact moments will be planned according to the IE schedule. See schedules and blackboard TU Delft

Mode of instruction

Lectures, assignments, workshop, excursions
The course will make use of lectures to introduce the theory. The lectures invite student to reflectively observe (watch) and conceptualize (think). Throughout the course, students will work on an assignment in which they can immediately apply the theoretical concepts and lessons learned. The assignment is a real-life case (usually the mixed-use redevelopment of an industrial district) for which they have to develop a sustainable design. The case thus provides a play ground for students in which they have to apply the theory which was taught to them in the lectures and on which they have read in the book. It offers students opportunities for active experimentation (doing) and concrete experience (feeling), while the feedback of the teachers on their work challenges them to reflect and think again about the abstract concepts taught. In addition, the case makes the theoretical knowledge much more tangible.
The students will use the ‘Environment Maximization Method’ to develop their integrated design. This method roughly consists of 2 steps:
1. Diverge and maximize: Make an informed design that aims to maximize sustainability performance of the area in terms of transport/mobility, material use, water, and energy. This step is made during the course. Each student specializes in one of these themes.
2. Converge and integrate: Make an integrated design, aiming to combine and optimize the designs made during step 1. To develop an understanding of the complex social reality in which urban design takes place, students have to make an analysis of the multiple actors involved in the design and redevelopment of the area, and in the second and final assignment, in which they present their integrated design, they also have to reflect on the decision-making challenges faced when realizing their design.

Assessment method

The students will make two group assignments; one in which they present their maximum design, one in which they present and reflect on their integrated design. Each of the designs will account for 50% of the final grade. For each of the assignments, a minimum score of 6.0 is required to pass the course. Based on peer review, individual grades can differ 0.5-1.0 from the group grade.

The grade will be based on the average of two group papers (one maximization paper, one integration paper). No compensation between the grades is allowed; each paper has to has a minimum score of 6.0. See the course schedule on the BB course site for the dates of submission. In case of failure, each paper can be resubmitted once each course year.
h3. Blackboard

The lecturer communicates via blackboard TU Delft.

Reading list

Ellen van Bueren et al. (2012) Sustainable Urban Environments: an Ecosystem Approach, Dordrecht: Springer.
Additional readings may be provided during the course. These readings will be tuned to the specific topics discussed in the lectures, and will be of an empirical, applied character. They will be published on Blackboard TU Delft


All students (except non-Industrial Ecology students from TU Delft) have to enroll for course and exam at the start of the course via uSis, Leiden University. For classnumbers see here or here.

Students who are not enrolled to the master’s programme Industrial Ecology (except non-Industrial Ecology students from TU Delft) have to ask permission from the studyadvisor of Industrial Ecology at least one month before start of the course by use of this form.

If you are a non-Industrial Ecology student from TU Delft, please inform the course coordinator on your enrollment by email , stating the nature of your enrollment (sustainability annotation / I&M honours programme / elective), the name of your MSc-programme, name and student number.

Contact information

Mrs. prof. dr. E. M. van Bueren


More information and the description of the course is published in the e-studyguide of TU Delft.