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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.


Future cities will need to be re-organized to be an integral part of the resource, energy, and biological supply systems. How cities are designed will be of crucial importance to the sustainability and resilience of human societies. New concepts such as compact cities, urban agriculture, urban mines, and eco-cities will change the shape of cities and the use of materials within cities, as well as the well-being and sustainability of city-dwellers.
In the course The Material City, you will learn about urban metabolism, which largely determines the sustainability of cities and city-dwellers. The material infrastructure of cities is now sometimes referred to as the “above-ground mine”: this is because the stocks of materials within the infrastructure of our cities are, for many materials, as big as the stocks “below ground” (i.e. the mineral reserves). This means that for future cities we need to move towards a circular city, in which materials are reused and recycled. Cities will also need to be much more self-sufficient when it comes to the supply of materials, energy, and water. Rooftop solar panels, heat pumps and zero-energy buildings, smart grids, and car-as-powerplant concepts will all contribute to this aim. 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, greywater recycling, and parks as biodiversity spots and retention basins contribute to sustainable water management, climate control, air quality regulation, and biodiversity preservation.
The development and re-organization of more sustainable cities will change the way cities operate and thereby also how city-dwellers live and interact. In this course, we will look at sustainability in the city from both the material side of the city’s built environment and the natural, ecological-side of a city. We will introduce and discuss with students concepts such as urban metabolism, materials stocks and flows in cities, circularity, urban mines; but also urban ecosystem services and their assessment, urban biodiversity, and ecological footprint of cities. Students will also be introduced to the tools that are used to analyze sustainability problems at the city scale (e.g. material flow analysis) and the metrics that are used to measure ecological sustainability (e.g. ecological footprints, ecosystem services, biodiversity assessments, material flow indicators). These and more topics will be discussed through a series of lectures, interactive tutorials, excursions, and group assignments.

Course objectives

After taking this course, the student is able to:

1) describe the main material elements of cities and the concepts and definitions of urban metabolism

2) discuss and interpret material and resource use at the urban scale, and the related potential strategies to stimulate circular ans sustainable urban systems

3) describe the main environmental impacts related to urban metabolism, also in relationship to other urban challenges

4) describe and interpret concepts of biodiversity and ecosystem services applied to the urban environment

5) sketch and assess scenarios of future sustainable cities building on the interactions between material and natural resources used at the urban scale


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.

  • Group work

  • Two excursions (compulsory attendance)

Assessment method


  • Midterm exam
    Written examination

  • Final exam
    Written examination

  • One written assignment (Pass/Fail)

  • Group assignment


Partial grade Weighing
Midterm Exam 35
Final Exam 35
Group work and other written assignments 30

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 paper grade needs to be 5.50 or higher.


If the end grade is insufficient (lower than a 5.5), or one or both of the exam grades is lower than 5.50, there is a possibility of retaking the written examination(s), replacing the previous exam grade(s).

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 relevant literature will be made available on Brightspace.


  • Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

  • Students will be enrolled for Exams by the Administration Office, as long as they have a valid Tutorial enrolment.

  • General information about uSis is available on the website


  • 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