The Doctor of Sustainable Urbanism (DrSU) is a post-professional applied research degree intended to prepare professionals and advanced urban design students for careers in multidisciplinary, evidence-based sustainable urban design and planning practice and teaching. The program is based on a close working relationship between doctoral students and their faculty advisers, who work together to develop a detailed course of study that takes full advantage of the resources available at Washington University and through our collaborative partners from around the country and world.

This individualized program allows each doctoral student to pursue their particular research interest while ensuring the development of the necessary research competencies and broadening of the student's knowledge in sustainable urbanism. Much of the program's course work and independent reading and study is focused on preparing students for their two-part general examination. The nature of this preparation varies widely depending upon the candidate's background and research interests. Overall, the exam is a platform for the student to demonstrate a broad knowledge of evidenced-based research methods and the multidisciplinary frameworks of sustainable urbanism, as well as the best practices for sustainable urbanism and the technical knowledge base and skills necessary for implementing sustainability at a multi-scalar level in the city.

Students learn a holistic and integrative methodological approach to sustainability thinking involving complex social, cultural, political, economic, and scientific issues as they are applied to a wide range of urban contexts and spatial patterns and conditions. Students use statistical and visual analytical tools, including quantitative and qualitative research methods, geographical information systems (GIS), and techniques to analyze data sets and construct holistic research models. They also learn to construct the research reports and performance measurement systems necessary to clearly demonstrate evidence of a more sustainable city. Leadership skills are developed to ensure students can engage an informed, involved citizenry in creative problem solving to achieve responsible individual and cooperative actions toward a society that is more sustainable and resilient. Finally, students are encouraged to develop their own refined ethical framework and set of values that shape sustainable cities, which at a minimum would include economic, social, and place equity; environmental and cultural justice; intergenerational equity; and management and stewardship of the urban environment.

Teaching is another important component of each doctoral student's course of study. Students often are given substantial teaching responsibilities, particularly in the introductory courses offered by the urban design faculty. Recently students have served as assistants in instruction and/or instructors in theory courses such as Metropolitan Development, Metropolitan Sustainability, Metropolitan Urbanism, Public Space and City Life, and Informal Cities, as well as a number of urban design studios, including the Global Urbanism Studio that has engaged cities such as Shanghai, Tokyo, Singapore, Mexico City, Johannesburg and Dubai. Students also have the opportunity to work as research associates with faculty to enrich their academic experience and develop research project experience.

The DrSU degree prepares graduates for research-oriented positions in nonprofit organizations, community design and research centers, and government agencies, as well as faculty positions at colleges and universities focused on applied research in sustainability and urban design.


Doctor of Sustainable Urbanism

To earn the Doctor of Sustainable Urbanism from the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, a student must complete 72 units of graduate work over at least three years. Students will typically complete the program in four years, but they may complete the program in as few as three years or as many as five years.

Of the total 72 units, 48 units represent course work to be completed in residence at Washington University, including required and approved elective seminars and courses. Thereafter, 24 units of dissertation research and writing may be completed at Washington University or off-site if approved by the program chair. In order to graduate, students must:

  1. Maintain satisfactory academic progress and standing
  2. Pass the General Examination
  3. Fulfill residency and enrollment requirements
  4. Demonstrate competency in teaching at the basic and advanced levels
  5. Write, submit and defend an acceptable dissertation in sustainable urbanism

Curricular Structure

The Doctor of Sustainable Urbanism consists of six academic semesters (three academic years) of required study:

Year One

Semester One: (12 units)

  1. Theories and Methods of Historical Research
  2. Advanced Seminar in Urban Sustainability I
  3. Directed Readings in Sustainable Urbanism I
  4. Elective

Semester Two: (12 units)

  1. Theories and Methods of Architecture, Landscape and Urbanism Research
  2. Advanced Seminar in Urban Sustainability II
  3. Directed Readings in Sustainable Urbanism II
  4. Elective

Year Two

Semester Three: (12 units)

  1. Methods of Sustainable Urbanism Research
  2. Directed Research in Sustainable Urbanism I
  3. Elective
  4. Elective

Semester Four: (12 units)

  1. Urban Morphology and Metabolism Research Methods
  2. Directed Research in Sustainable Urbanism II
  3. Elective
  4. Elective

General Examination (must be completed before student is admitted to doctoral candidacy)

Year Three

Semester Five: (12 units)

  1. Dissertation

Semester Six: (12 units)

  1. Dissertation

​Dissertation Defense*

*Students have a maximum of five (5) calendar years, dated from their first registration in the Doctor of Sustainable Urbanism program, to complete all degree requirements.

For a list of available courses, please refer to the Courses section of the Graduate School of Architecture & Urban Design in this Bulletin.