Course Syllabus

The European Urban Experience:   

Why Cities Matter 

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Semester & Location:

Fall 2021 - DIS Copenhagen

Type & Credits:

Core Course - 3 credits

Core Course Study Tours:


Vienna & Budapest

Major Disciplines:

Urban Studies, Urban Policy, Urban Design

Faculty Members:

Regitze Marianne Hess - 

Program Director:

Neringa B. Vendelbo -

Time & Place:

Thursday, 14:50-17:45 


Description of Course

Cities are both creative and destructive friction machines, full of contradictory tensions, goals, and visions about what constitutes the good life. This course is an introduction to the driving forces of this friction within a European context, including social, economic, environmental, technical, cultural, historical, and spatial influences. The main goal of the course is to provide a connection between theory and practice, between thinking and making. The texts we will read provide our theoretical framework. The sites we will visit, mainly from Copenhagen, Aalborg, Vienna and Budapest, will be our case studies serving as points of departure for reflections on criteria and indicators of urban quality and what makes for cities good and bad.

Learning Objectives

This course aims to offer an understanding of:

  • the fields and paradigms of European urban configuration, design and planning
  • main drivers of historical and contemporary European urban development
  • the role of culture, infrastructure, urban governance and the built environment in shaping a city
  • the complex relationship between the various scales of the urban experience
  • the relationship between theory and practice in urban development through the application of critical thinking


Faculty: Regitze Marianne Hess

Regitze Marianne Hess, Architect MAA, Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture, Copenhagen (1993). B.Eng. – Civil, McGill University, Montreal (1985). A career of working with and advocating for better cities and built environments through the world of philanthropy, non-profits, academia & private practice; as conference organizer; curator; publisher, editor & writer; teacher and critic. Currently Cumulus Green - Design Competition consultant. Design Declaration Summit, Steering Committee. Director: International Affairs with International Federation for Housing and Planning [IFHP], working with IFHP in various capacities since 2005. Positions of trust include: Gehl Institute Board Member; Arkitekter Uden Grænser [Architects without Borders] member; UIA 2023 Copenhagen Advisory Committee; Scale Denmark Advisory; CoUrban Advisory. Affiliated with DIS since 2002.


There is no physical book to be picked up during arrival workshop.

Key sources include:

  • Atlas of the Copenhagens. Ruby Press 2018.
  • Blau, Eva, The Architecture of Red Vienna 1919-1934, MIT Press
  • Citiscope: Spreading Innovation on Cities
  • City of Copenhagen,  A Metropolis for People: Visions and Goals for Urban Life in Copenhagen 2015, 2009.
    • City of Copenhagen. Copenhagen Climate Adaptation Plan: Copenhagen Carbon Neutral by 2025, Oct. 2011
    • City of Copenhagen. Copenhagen Climate Projects, Annual Report, 2015
  • COBE. Our Urban Living Room: Learning from Copenhagen.
  • Gehl Institute. Mayors Guide to Public Life
  • Gehl, Jan. Cities for People
  • Global Utmaning, Nordic Urban Ways: Local Leadership, Governance and Management for Sustainable Development, October 2016.
  • Hess, Regitze Marianne. #1 City to Live In Copenhagen, Metropolis Magazine, Sept. 2016.
  • Fabrik: Industrial Architecture in Aalborg. B Architectural Publisher 2002
  • Katz, Bruce. Copenhagen Model: Regenerating Cities. Brookings Institute
  • LSE, Shaping Cities in an Urban Age 2018.
  • Mortensen, Peder Duelund. Homes Ensembles Cities: Housing and Welfare in Copenhagen. 
  • Next City
  • Exploring Copenhagen. Scale Denmark, 2018. 
  • UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals
  • UN Habitat III
  • Urban Age
    • Governing Urban Futures
      • Frug, Gerald, “Who Decides, Who Decides”
      • Clos, Joan. "Towards a New Urban Agenda
  • WEF: World Economic Forum
    • Auken, Ida. Welcome to 2030. I own nothing, have no privacy, and life has never been better.

Field Studies and Study Tours

Field studies and study tours, together with site visits, form an integral part of the course to support our understanding of the qualities of cities and how they have come about, how they be improved and how the can be sustained. 

While in Copenhagen, we will be going on a half-day field study around the city: 

Field Studies

During the course of the semester, there are 2 half-day field studies to somewhere in Greater Copenhagen: 

  • Wednesday morning, 25th September 2019 [8:30 am -12:30 noon] 
  • Wednesday afternoon, 4th Dec 2019 [13:00 – 17:00] 

Core Course Week and Study Tours

Core Course week and study tours are an integral part of the core course as we take the classroom on the road and see how theory presented in the classroom is translated into practice in the field. You will travel with your classmates and DIS faculty/staff on two study tours; a short study tour during Core Course Week to Aalborg and a long study tour to Vienna & Budapest.  

CCW: Core Course Week = 9th - 14th September 2019

- 9th - 10th September 2019= day tours of Copenhagen harbourscape

- 12th - 14th September 2019 = Short Study Tour to Aalborg

The focus of the CCW is cities and their Harbours, touring Aalborg and Copenhagen

CCW will commence with a short study tour to Aalborg, offering an experience of a second tier European city. As such Aalborg represents the urban scale common to the majority of urban inhabitants. Aalborg is a Nordic port and industry city in northern Jutland, with a strong industrial history and cultural identity, highlights including Utzon Center and Musikkens House. The municipality is especially noteworthy in its pro-active, innovative and dynamic approach to transforming from an industrial to a post-industrial city of higher learning.

The latter part of CWW will be back in Copenhagen, for explorations of harbourscape transformations currently underway. 

LST: Long Study Tour - Vienna & Budapest

The long study tour is to Vienna and Budapest. Exploring these cities opens up the exciting and complex past and present of Central European urbanity. Metropolises in their own right, they both became crystallization points for the clash of imperial and ethnic-national identities, and served as the platform for defining the urban modernity of the 20th century, be it in architecture, art, literature, music, psychology, or politics. Furthermore, these cities also allow us to reflect on the differences between the Western and Eastern urban experience in European history and in present time.

Expectations for study tours:

  • Participate in all activities
  • Engage in discussions, ask questions, and contribute to achieving the learning objectives
  • Respect the destination, the speakers, DIS staff, and your fellow classmates
  • Represent yourself, your home university and DIS in a positive light

While on a program study tour DIS will provide hostel/hotel accommodation, transportation to/from the destination(s), approx. 2 meals per day and entrances, guides, and visits relevant to your area of study or the destination. You will receive a more detailed itinerary prior to departure.

Travel policies: You are required to travel with your group to the destination. If you have to deviate from the group travel plans, you need approval from the program director and the study tours office.   


Approach to Teaching

The class meets 18 sessions (as back-to-back double sessions) during the semester.

Talks, tours, readings and other references, dialogue and student observations and presentations form the basis of an investigation of European urban experiences and how these can inform us on urban qualities, and their impact. Readings and references underpin the understanding of urban observations and experiences. References are to be reviewed in advance of the class. Students are encouraged to draw on and share own experiences of cities. 

Copenhagen will serve as a living classroom and will be discussed in juxtaposition with various European cities. Cities are a collective effort. And the class will also include group work in the analysis and understanding features of European cities and urban criteria which indicate and account for urban quality.

Expectations of the Students

This is not a traditional lecture course. Classes will be conducted both in the classroom and out on-site in the context of the city. It relies on

- experiencing the European city full on, together as a class, and on your own,

- recording and reporting your urban observations and experiences 

- critical reading and analysis

- in class discussions - sharing your urban experiences and observations 

- reflections and recommendations 

You are expected to engage and participate actively in class discussions. Students are expected to come to class prepared with questions with points of departure in the readings or references. Each student is expected to keep a notebook or journal recording your observations, experiences, and critical analysis of readings and references. You may be required to turn excerps of recorded observations and reflections. Overall grades depend on an engaged, informed, and highly active participation in class discussion.



Travel Log: Recording  European Urban Experiences - 30%

Consists of recorded & written documentation of observations from the field, on site visits, field studies and/or study tours, in the the form or notebook excerps, either submitted at direct notebook scanning and/or as one pagers, registering learning points from the site visits, field studies and study tours, specifying urban features and urban challenges and solutions experienced in the field, referencing pertinent course readings. Documentation may include illustrations in the form of photos, images or sketches.

Workshops: Sharing European Urban Experiences - 20%

Group work in a workshop format - sharing urban experiences and identifying, defining criteria and gauging urban qualites, specifying and pinpointing why cities matter and why. 

Final - Reporting on Urban European Experiences: Why Cities Matter - 30%

The final is a kind of travel piece, where you are to make a case for cities and sites seen and observed, why they are worth worth visiting, why they matter, what kind of lessons can be learned. 

An article, essay, or personal journal of between 2500 -5000 words, including: a catchy headline; overall theme of what to explore and visit; recommendation of 3-5 specific sites worth visiting, including details location, address and access; recommendation of when to go and who to share the experience with. To be accompanied with illustrations: maps, charts, photos and/or sketches.




Participation - individual participation, preparation of questions, in-class presentations


Travel Logs - Recording European Urban Experiences


Workshops - Sharing European Urban Experiences


Final - Reporting on European Urban Experiences


Academic Regulations  

Please make sure to read the Academic Regulations on the DIS website. There you will find regulations on:


DIS - Study Abroad in Scandinavia -

Course Summary:

Date Details Due