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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 make a significant contribution to sustainability problems, in terms of resource management, including energy use and generation, material extraction and reuse/recycling, 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 key themes in urban areas which significantly influence the sustainability performance of urban areas: energy, water, construction materials and household waste. 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:

  • analysing urban areas as composites of multiple subsystems that can be distinguished at multiple spatial levels;

  • modelling these subsystems in terms of input, throughput and output;

  • integrating these models into an urban design.

    1. To evaluate urban areas and infrastructures for their sustainability performance, by:
  • judging whether state of the art knowledge and technologies of the focal subsystems in this course (energy, water, materials and waste) have been used;

  • identifying the trade-offs and synergies between and within subsystems and spatial scales and judging how these trade-offs and synergies have been accommodated;

  • arguing how the design of urban areas and their infrastructures can be improved/optimized;

  • 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 will be introduced by specialized teachers to the theoretical concepts and technologies with regards to the key topics. In the second part of the course you will apply this knowledge in the redevelopment of a real urban area. Contact moments will be planned according to the IE schedule. See blackboard TU Delft.

Mode of instruction

Lectures, assignments, workshop, excursion .
The course will make use of lectures to introduce the theory. The lectures invite student to reflectively observe (watch) and conceptualize (think). The students will be tested on the theoretical knowledge in an individual exam. In the second part of the course, students will work on an assignment in which they can 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 a simple physical working model to develop the integrated design. At the end of the course, students present their integrated design, the choices made and a reflection on the decision-making challenges faced when realizing their design.

Assessment method

The lectures in the first part of the semester will be assessed during an exam, which will take place at the end of period 3. The exam is an open book exam – the book and lecture materials may be consulted.
The design assignment in the second part of the semester will consist of group work. This results in a report, in which the students explain their design, including the different measurements and strategies for energy, water and material/waste management. In the report, the students also reflect on the role of different stakeholders in the implementation of the design as well as on the expected synergies and trade-offs between the proposed measurements and strategies. Based on peer review, individual grades of the report can differ 0.5-1.0 from the group grade.
In case of failure, there is a scheduled resit of the individual exam, the group report can be resubmitted once each course year in consultation with the course coordinators.
The individual exam and the group report each account for 50% of the final grade. Students have to pass the individual exam and the group report to pass the course. Compensation between the exam and the group report is not allowed.


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.


Because this course is part of a programme of Leiden University and TU Delft, all students have to be enrolled to both universities.

All students have to enroll for course and exam at the start of the course via uSis, Leiden University. For classnumbers see here.

Students who are not enrolled to the master’s programme Industrial Ecology 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.

Exchange students can only enroll for this course if their home university has an Exchange agreement with both Leiden University and TU Delft. Exchange students have to ask permission from the studyadvisor of Industrial Ecology as soon as possible, preferably six months before the start of the course.

Contact information

Mrs. prof. dr. E. M. van Bueren
Dipl. ing. U.D. Hackauf


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