Risk & Resilience, a concentration area within the Master in Design Studies, sets out to support novel approaches to socio-spatial planning through design. Design as a discipline provides cities, communities, and individuals with tools to effectively prepare for, cope with, and anticipate rapid change within the spatial, social and economic vulnerabilities it produces. The program prepares students to identify, articulate and propose preemptive forms of practice. While the program is grounded in the physical and tectonic realities of location, it is the social and political conflicts that emerge as sites of investigation.


The world faces unpredictable challenges at increasing intensities–natural disasters, ecological uncertainty, public health crises, extreme social inequity, rising violence–and yet counters and absorbs risk through acts of resilience.

When faced with potentially catastrophic events that hold the potential to undermine the conditions of human life, the question of whether to leave or stay put looms large.  This holds as much for those facing chronic environmental risk as for those living in conditions of ongoing violence associated with conflict.  In fact, current literature does not differentiate between such risks, now that climate-based change is unsettling so much of the global population. In the contemporary era, we are seeing a dramatic increase in human movement both within and across borders as a result of such threats.  In this sense, migration has become both a central conceptual problematic and an increasingly common adaptive response of our times. This is evidenced by the claims of current crisis analysts that there are more displaced people on the planet than at any other time, and that intensifying sea level rise is threatening to force domestic migration at an unprecedented scale. Given this reality, any dialogue on environmentally-induced migration must consider de-growth, de-investment and retreat as viable spatial alternatives, putting additional pressure on the role of the designer to accommodate such possibilities.

Risk and Resilience will commit itself to exploring this issue by identifying environmental migration as its principal emphasis for the next two years.  As concepts, both “environment” and “migration” will be approached critically and expansively. That is, students will consider the built and the living environment equally, as well as their inter-relationships and differences. As a concentration, we will aim to define what constitutes migration and at what scales it is legible, meaningful, and desirable—and for whom. Together, we will reflect on how changes in both the human and non-human environment produce and are produced by migration, and we will frame this larger discourse through the lens of design theory and practice.




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This is a preliminary template of courses that have been taken by students in the past. Students may work individually with the Risk and Resilience Area Heads to craft a set of methodology courses specific to their research plans. Course Catalog can be found here.

The list of required and elective courses for Master in Design Studies: Risk and Resilience can also be found here.



For students entering Fall 2020

First Year

4 units          GSD 3348       The Idea of Environment (Required)
4 units          GSD 5291       Theories for Practice in Conflict, Crisis, and Recovery (Required)
24 units                                Electives or Distributional Electives* (Suggestions Below)

Second Year

Coursework Track:
16 units                                Electives or Distributional Electives* (Suggestions Below)


Thesis Track:
16 units                                Electives or Distributional Electives* (Suggestions Below)
8 units          GSD 9304       Independent Thesis for the Degree Master in Design Studies

*Students are required to fulfill the following distributional electives from approved lists of courses:
4 units of methodology
4 units of mapping or representation

Distributional Electives

Methodology Distributional Electives
SES-5215                             Analytic Methods of Urban Planning: Quantitative
SES-5216                             Analytic Methods: Qualitative
MIT 11.220                          Quantitative Reasoning and Statistical Methods for Planning I
MIT 11.328                          Urban Design Skills: Observing, Interpreting, and Representing the City
MIT 11.523                          Fundamentals of Spatial Database Management

Mapping and Representation Distributional Electives
VIS-2129                              Spatial Analysis and the Built Environment
SCI-6322                              Mapping: Geographic Representation and Speculation
MIT 11.205                          Introduction to Spatial Analysis
MIT 11.328                          Urban Design Skills: Observing, Interpreting, and Representing the City
MIT 11.523                          Fundamentals of Spatial Database Management

(Required courses for students who entered in Fall 2019.)
(Required courses for students who entered in Fall 2018.)
(Required courses for students who entered in Fall 2017.)

Students contemplating cross-registering for courses at another Harvard school must abide by the dates and policies of the school in which the course is offered. Priority for enrollment may be given to the other school’s students first before cross-registrations are accepted — enrollment is not guaranteed. See https://www.gsd.harvard.edu/resources/cross-registration-policies-procedures/