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Interdisciplinary Design for the Built Environment

Part-time Master's and Postgraduate Certificate courses from the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership

Studying at Cambridge


What is unique about the IDBE?

Interdisciplinary Design for the Built Environment (IDBE) is unique in many ways. It is truly interdisciplinary, in the background of its staff and students, and in the areas it covers, but also most importantly in its approach to teaching and learning.

From its inception, IDBE has successfully encouraged and supported the integration of skills between specialists from different background disciplines to improve project design. This includes the collaboration between disciplines, as well as with clients and the supply side of the industry.

The focus of IDBE is on the design phases of a project where critical decisions are made about what to build and the business case for building it; and defining project objectives, aspirations and outcomes.

The principles that inform the course delivery mean that each individual is supported in developing their full potential in a field of interest to themselves. New ideas and concepts and even ways of thinking, can be applied to everyday working lives as an ongoing action learning exercise. 

IDBE is delivered through a combination of residential course weeks in Cambridge, and online learning modules (two residential course weeks for the postgraduate certificate and six for the master’s).

Residential workshop weeks

The IDBE is structured around five core modules which form the basis of the learning throughout the programme.  In the first residential workshop week, students are introduced to the core modules as well as exploring the diverse project contexts under which design teams are formed.  In the subsequent five weeks, the modules are explored in greater depth against a ‘spotlight’ element of the built environment.  These spotlight explorations allow students to investigate the variety of challenges and responses within the built environment in greater depth, with the overall objective of strengthening their individual skills.  Postgraduate certificate students attend the first two workshops with the master’s students. The master’s runs on a two-year cycle and students are brought together with the cohort above and below them to further expand their interdisciplinary network and student experience.

Workshop 1 

The first residential week of IDBE introduces these cross-cutting, core learning modules:

  • Sustainability and resilience
  • Innovation and technology
  • Leadership, professionalism and interdisciplinary practice
  • Design thinking
  • Research

The spotlight focus areas for subsequent workshops are:

  • Workshop 2/4: Living environments (how people live within the built environment)
  • Workshop 3/5: Heritage environments (how existing heritage built environments can be fit for now and the future)
  • Workshop 4/2: Working environments (how people work within the built environment)
  • Workshop 5/3: Moving environments (the movement of people and resources within the built environment)
  • Workshop 6: Future urban environments (preparing for an urban future in both the developed and developing world)

Module overview diagram


The course does not have written exams on the factual content of the lectures. Each student identifies specific areas of interest within the built environment that are used to produce the written assignments. Therefore, it is entirely up to you which areas you choose to study in more detail, store to use later in your careers, or just enjoy for the purpose of expanding your general knowledge. Along the way you will develop core skills in critical thinking and reflection, helping you to understand the multiple disciplines and complex structure of the construction industry and related professions.

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Residential workshop dates for IDBE Master’s (2020 intake)

Workshop 1: 06-12 September 2020
Workshop 2: 13-19 December 2020
Workshop 3: 28 March-03 April 2021
Workshop 4: TBC
Workshop 5: TBC
Workshop 6: TBC

Residential workshops dates for IDBE Postgraduate Certificate (2020 intake)

Workshop 1: 06 - 12 September 2020
Workshop 2: 13 - 19 December 2020

Residential workshop dates for IDBE MSt Cohort 25 (2019 intake)

Workshop 1: 8-14 September 2019
Workshop 2: 8-14 December 2019
Workshop 3: 15-21 March 2020
Workshop 4: 13-19 December 2020
Workshop 5: 28 March-03 April 2021
Workshop 6: 27 June-03 July 2021

Residential workshop dates for IDBE Postgraduate Certificate (2019 intake)

Workshop 1: 8-14 September 2019
Workshop 2: 8-14 December 2019

Residential workshop dates for Cohort 24 (2018 intake)

Workshop 1: 09-15 September 2018
Workshop 2: 09-15 December 2018
Workshop 3: 24-30 March 2019
Workshop 4: 08-14 December 2019
Workshop 5: 15-21 March 2020
Workshop 6: 21-27 June 2020


Becky Stanley, Senior Project Manager