All Degrees + Certificates

Certificate in Urban Resilience

The Certificate in Urban Resilience is administered by Chair and Professor of Landscape Architecture Richard Weller and directed by Matthijs Bouw, Rockefeller Urban Resilience Fellow at the School of Design. This certificate draws on the resilience expertise within the different departments of the School, and builds upon a rich legacy at Penn rooted in Ian McHarg’s layered analysis methods of thinking holistically across systems and scales to offer a foundational program for "resilience by design." Additionally, the certificate includes a flexible set of courses offered at PennDesign, as well as at Wharton and the School of Engineering and Applied Science. The certificate is intended for professional graduate students enrolled at PennDesign interested in adding an understanding of urban resilience, and how to design within a risky and uncertain world, to their list of educational qualifications.

The term resilience has different meanings in different domains. Often it is defined simply as the ability to deal with specific shocks or stresses. Resilience, for example, is easily equated with flood risk management. In general, in the engineering world the term is used as the ability to withstand or bounce back from shocks or stresses. Such simple definitions not only run the risk of overlooking the distinctions between damage mitigation, resilience and adaptation, they also misrepresent the transformative potential of the concept. The use of the more complex definition of (urban) resilience, as the "capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, business, and systems within a city to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience" (100 Resilient Cities), challenges us to think in terms of our urban systems as complex and adaptive. Designing in these types of systems forces designers to work interdisciplinary, at different (time-)scales simultaneously, in both the social and the physical domain, and accept and embrace emergence and uncertainty. While the certificate wants to offer students understanding of challenges such as climate change and inequality, and offer concrete tools in analyzing, communicating, managing and strategizing about these challenges "by design," it also wants to re-think the position of the design disciplines in the face of fundamental uncertainty and lack of control, and show students how designers can have agency by participating in cities as "complex adaptive systems."


Matthijs Bouw, certificate director


Core Courses

LARP 780 Topics in Theory & Design: Design with Risk (Bouw) - 1 cu
ARCH/LARP 70X Urban Resilience Studio (Bouw)* - 2 cu
*or alternate studio approved by certificate director

Electives (select one from each category)

HSPV 621 Social Justice Seminar (Mason)
CPLN 531 Introduction to Environmental Planning (Daniels)
OID 761/BEPP 761/ESE 567 Risk Analysis & Environmental Management (Kunreuther)
LARP 740 Topics in Digital Media: Simulated Natures (VanDerSys)
ESE 520 Agent-Based Modeling & Simulation (Silverman)

ENMG 503 Policy and Design Seminar: Energy Port Cities (Hughes)
ARCH 751 Ecology Tech and Design (Braham)
CPLN 621 Water Policy & Planning (Lassiter)
ARCH 712 Architectures of Refusal: On Spatial Justice in the South Bronx (Rega)



Core Courses

LARP 780 Topics in Theory & Design: Designing with Risk
Instructor: Matthijs Bouw
This research seminar investigates designing with risk, particularly as it relates to the problem of climate adaptation and resilience. The role design can have in managing risk is to a large extent uncharted territory. Our aim is to explore potential roles and tools of design as a means of responding to risk in spatial, infrastructural and policy projects at a variety of scales. In collaboration with faculty and thinkers in other disciplines, we will develop a body of knowledge about risk and how it relates to streams of intellectual energy around resilience. We will use the research seminar to collectively scope the openings where design can have the greatest agency (in either reducing risk or leveraging the potential for change that risk and instability create). These will be opportunities for further research, design projects, studios, investment or other intervention.

We will look at multiple risk types—such as energy resilience and coastal adaptation—in greater depth and from many standpoints, mixing philosophy, policy, economics, science, regulation, engineering technique and design. Critical analysis of texts and case study projects will build a repertoire of ideas and operations that students can apply in their own design practice. Guest lectures will contribute varied perspectives on risk and opportunity at the climate and project levels. The desired outcome of the seminar is not only a better understanding the opportunities for design to exert influence, but also a well-visualized “toolbox” of instruments and strategies for engaging risk in a range of concrete resilience design projects. This research will help shape a larger effort at PennDesign to position architects, landscape architects and planners as crucial allies in risk management.

ARCH/LARP 70X Urban Resilience Studio
Instructor: Matthijs Bouw

The interdisciplinary resilience studio has a focus on the resilience challenges in the developed world, mostly those related to climate change and sea-level rise. In the studio, tools are taught for (data) analysis, mapping and scenario development. An important component of the studio is to develop an understanding of the different roles design can have in making and adapting buildings, landscapes, urban infrastructures and cities.


Electives: Tools (choose one)

HSPV 621 Social Justice Seminar
Instructor: Randall Mason

How do historic preservation and other design professionals contribute to more equitable and just societies? How can our work be organized to result in greater equity, access and social justice? This seminar will explore connections between historic preservation (and related design, planning and artistic practices) and the pursuit of social justice.

CPLN 531 Introduction to Environmental Planning
Instructor: Tom Daniels

This course will identify and evaluate the application of planning tools and strategies to enhance environmental conditions and promote the wise use of natural resources. Students will understand the causes and effects of air, water, and land pollution, and evaluate responses to pollution. Emphasis is on planning to create sustainable communities.

OID 761/BEPP 761/ESE 567 Risk Analysis & Environmental Management
Instructor: Howard Kunreuther

This course is designed to introduce students to the complexities of making decisions about threats to human health and the environment when people’s perceptions of risks and their decision-making processes differ from experts’ views. Recognizing the limitations of individuals in processing information, the course explores how techniques such as decision analysis and cost-benefit analysis can incorporate risk assessments and risk perception in structuring risk-management decisions. It will also examine policy tools such as risk communication, incentive systems, third party inspection, insurance, regulations and standards in different problem contexts.

LARP 740 Topics in Digital Media: Simulated Natures
Instructor: Keith VanderSys

This seminar will explore the value and potential of computer-aided analysis, simulation, and design in landscape architecture. Computation has greatly expanded the means by which designers can engage the temporal and relational qualities inherent to the dynamic medium of landscape. Students will engage in combining the computational capacities of geospatial analysis (GIS), computational fluid dynamics (Aquaveo SRH-2d, SLOSH, Ecotect, Ladybug), and parametric software (Grasshopper) to investigate new modes of defining, articulating, and reorganizing vacant sites along the banks of the Delaware River. Demonstrations of the essential tools and techniques will be presented and discussed throughout the semester, along with relevant project examples, readings, and guest lecturers.

ESE 520 AGENT-Based Modeling & Simulation: Artificial Life, Human Behavior, and Socio-Technical Systems
Instructor: Barry G. Silverman

Agents are a new technique for trying to model, simulate, and understand systems that are ill-structured and whose mathematics is initially unknown and possibly unknowable. This approach allows the analyst to assemble models of agents and components where micro-decision rules may be understood; to bring the agents and components together as a system where macro-behavior then emerges; and to use that to empirically probe and improve understanding of the whole, the interrelations of the components, and synergies. This approach helps one explore parametrics, causality, and what-ifs about socio-technical systems (technologies that must support people, groups, crowds, organizations, and societies). It is applicable when trying to model and understand human behavior – consumers, investors, passengers, plant operators, patients, voters, political leaders, terrorists, and so on. This course will allow students to investigate and compare increasingly complex agent based paradigms along three lines – math foundations, heuristic algorithms/knowledge representations, and empirical science. The student will gain a toolbox and methodology for attempting to represent and study complex socio-technical systems. Students taking this for graduate credit will also learn how to design agent-based tools. Prereqs: probability, Java or C programming, or equivalent.


Electives: Topics (choose one)

ENMG 503 Policy and Design Seminar: Energy Port Cities
Instructor: Hughes

This research seminar will explore the role played by port cities in the movement of energy resources around the world, the physical and economic impact of that role on these cities and regions, and the opportunities and challenges facing these cities in the complex and uncertain energy transition currently underway. The discovery and invention of more concentrated forms of energy during the modern era has generated infrastructures for transporting fuels and transmitting electricity over increasingly large distances. These infrastructures have created port cities characterized by land use patterns and inter-industries configurations that are massive, expensive, durable, and highly specific. They continue to generate great wealth and wages, while also generating externalized climate, environmental, and health costs that are better regulated in some place than in others. All of these conditions yield policy and design challenges for cities and nations, especially as the world slowly but steadily builds a policy regime for mitigating climate change. The global energy system is a key source of the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change. As policies are developed and enforced to reduce and eliminate those emissions, the role of energy port cities will change dramatically over the long transition of the next 50 years. How can cities guide that transition with policy and design choices that optimize future outcomes for port cities? How can nations use port cities to meet their global climate commitments? The seminar will discuss weekly assigned readings and students can expect to read approximately a book a week throughout the semester. Students will write three 5-page papers on weekly readings and lead part of the seminar discussion three times during the semester. They will submit a 10-page final project in the form of a research agenda that identifies a set of important questions that could help guide policy and design choices facing energy port cities and the industries and nations that influence them.      

ARCH 751 Ecology Tech and Design
Instructor: William Braham

This course will examine the ecological nature of design at a range of scales, from the most intimate aspects of product design to the largest infrastructures, from the use of water in bathroom to the flow of traffic on the highway. It is a first principle of ecological design that everything is connected, and that activities at one scale can have quite different effects at other scales, so the immediate goal of the course will be to identify useful and characteristic modes of analyzing the systematic, ecological nature of design work, from the concept of the ecological footprint to market share. The course will also draw on the history and philosophy of technology to understand the particular intensity of contemporary society, which is now characterized by the powerful concept of the complex, self-regulating system. The system has become both the dominant mode of explanation and the first principle of design and organization.

CPLN 621 Water Policy and Planning
Instructor: Allison Lassiter

Aging infrastructure, urbanization, climate change, and limited public funds are contributing to urban water management crises in cities around the globe. This course examines the systems and policies that comprise urban water. We begin with the infrastructures that underlie drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater services. Then, we review innovative management technologies and strategies, focusing on case studies of infrastructure shifts in Philadelphia and Melbourne. Finally, we undertake a global investigation of water management challenges and opportunities.

ARCH 712 Architectures of Refusal: On Spatial Justice in the South Bronx
Instructor: Eduardo Rega

A neighborhood with a remarkable history of struggle against inept municipal governments, neoliberalism and the forces of decay, the South Bronx is currently experiencing an aggressive wave of gentrification and policies that benefit small elites. Grassroots organizations are fighting back while practicing radical imaginations. Architectures of Refusal: On Spatial Justice in the South Bronx aims to reflect and develop collective architecture research on contemporary visionary architectural and urban activist practices in the South Bronx that refuse capitalist exploitation vis a vis New York City’s economic transformation: from top-down public disinvestment and privatization to bottom-up self-provisioning and organizing.