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Urban Design, Sustainability and Conservation

"The cities of the 21st century are where human destiny will be played out, and where the future of the biosphere will be determined." - Herbert Girardet

Documentation of the historic town of Bidar


An evident shift is taking place in the study of settlements especially in the Global South. As global forces and elite-driven visions have been (mis)shaping major cities, a consciousness of local, culturally rooted urban reality is emerging in the smaller settlements. It is the complex lived realities of people, their socio-cultural relationship with the landscape and the varied governing systems (state-driven or cultural-driven) that provide an opportunity to learn from and inform current spatial design, planning and management practices. A vision to generate an alternative practice informed by creative methods & experimental approaches is at heart of this program

A UNESCO Chair Signature Program

This is a signature program in Planning offered by the UNESCO Chair in Culture, Habitat and Sustainable Development at Srishti. It shares the vision of the chair - ‘to conceive and engage with innovative, inclusive and sustainable strategies that strengthen creative practices, community development and cultural landscape.’

The course in Urban Design, Sustainability and Conservation lays emphasis on inquiry-led place-based learning. The learning is driven by the following essential questions that offer space for critical and reflective practice -

How can the cultural understanding of a place and its history be integrated into urban development processes and policies?

How can one introduce more humanistic and sensitive concepts of development in creating a sustainable city?

How can art and design practices act as a catalyst and mediator to sense, shape and shift developmental paradigms?

The Chair has identified focus regions –

  • Bengaluru metropolitan (Bangalore City)
  • Deccani region (region that includes the historic towns of Bidar, Gulbarga, Badami, and Bijapur that are on India's Tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage)
  • The Western Ghats (this includes natural heritage already inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List as well as the settlements in and around it)

Place based explorations to interpret the layers and complexities of urban spaces

Settlements situated within these regions are recognised as ‘Living Labs’ that are the learning environments for student to engage with collaborative networks, communities and on-going projects of the Chair.

The living labs allow for locative practice where engagement with communities, landscapes, systems and processes enables a deep understanding of the diverse contexts like the Bangalore megacity, the cultural hubs of Deccani region or the ecologically rich regions of Western Ghats. The wide spectrum of scales, contexts and practices enriches the design enquiries such that planning approach is holistic and driven by culture, creativity and sustainability. The focus is to build capacity towards collaborative and co-creative approaches to increasing resilience and restructure development plans and policies towards more sustainable and resilient pathways. This becomes imminent in post disaster situations. Disruption in the form of disasters presents a tipping point to introduce key structural changes in the institutional, economic, cultural systems. Through experiencing the issues and potentials of such live contexts, the student develop an informed and critical position on urban transitions.

Urban Design, Sustainability and Conservation is an innovative, trans-disciplinary post-graduate course that blends current research and practices from the fields of Human Geography, Cultural Anthropology, Critical Heritage Studies, Development Planning & Design, Urbanism and other fields from the Social Sciences. It offers a generative learning environment to students through place-based studios, trans-disciplinary projects, and ongoing community-engaged collaborative projects at Srishti. It will prepare the students to build an alternative research, planning and design praxis gained from an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary orientation.

Key Values

The course is designed to support and encourage students to imbibe values and worldviews through an inquiry-led learning

  • Sustainability
  • Empathy
  • Adaptability
  • Responsibility

Engaging with local community to co-create narratives of place

Course Structure

  • Disciplinary Studies
  • Trans-disciplinary Projects
  • Theory and Understanding Units
  • Practice
  • Self-Directed Inquiry/Research
  • Knowledge Enhancement (Ability or Skills)

Learning Approach

The course will review the current methods and theories of planning and policy-making to enable students to examine, evaluate and generate innovative methods. The students will critically appreciate the need and an opportunity to understand settlements through a grounded approach, learning from inhabitants and their everyday practices from both historic perspective and in its present evolutionary state.

The emphasis is on generating insights from methodological experimentation to appreciate plural perspectives embedded in these settlements to inform policies and actions. The aim is to provide and generate a learning environment for students to appreciate the regional networks, experiment through inquiry-led locative practice and recognize the global implications.

The course fosters collaborations at multiple scales. The UNESCO chair, Design+Environment+Law Laboratory (DEL Laboratory) and LeNS LAB – Learning Network for Sustainability at Srishti are the centres that reinforce the course through research and projects. An extended network of partners from local communities, non-governmental organisations, government institutions, universities and industry supports the place based learning


On successful completion of the course, graduates will have a specialization in urban design and planning that is culturally and environmentally sustainable, Further students would acquire the following capabilities:

Knowledge and Understanding:

  • Conceptual clarity around the inter-relation between emergence of a settlement and everyday  practices
  • An understanding of the approaches to evaluate the implications of policies and systems governing human settlements

Communication Skills:

  • Familiarity with professional writing such as grants proposals and reports
  • Spatial representation and analytical methods and approaches
  • Specific skills related to understand the cultural landscape of a place or region such as inventorying, mapping, and community study

Practitioner Skills:

  • Understanding of how to experiment with design and plan places at different spatial  scale using everyday practices.
  • Ability to plan and design in a participatory manner, as part of a multidisciplinary group and with local community.

Documenting and sharing work in a studio setting


This course provides an opportunity for students interested in pursuing careers in Non-governmental Organisations, Advocacy firms & Institutions, Research organisations, Academic Institutions and Practice-based studios at the helm of re-envisioning transformational aspects of settlements, both Urban & Rural and everything in-between.

Disciplinary Intersections

The program in Urban Design, Sustainability, and Conservation is informed by the following learning disciplines: