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Interdisciplinary Design for the Built Environment

A part-time Master's course from the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership

Studying at Cambridge


Course assignments and dissertation

The development of both written and verbal presentation skills is an essential element of the course, critical to professional success, and one which is widely appreciated by our alumni. Whatever your level of ability to start with, the unique learning style of the course will support your individual development and growth.

During each residential week you will be asked to work in small multidisciplinary groups. Together you will need to think, discuss, draw, write and persuade in order to come to a unified solution to the set problem. At the end of each week all teams present their solutions to their fellow students, and a review panel of studio leaders and stakeholders.  

During the first academic year of the IDBE, participants undertake two individual assignments and a group project. In the second academic year a research dissertation must be completed.

Individual assignments

Participants complete two individual assignments of relevance to their professional settings, namely:

Reflective case study

This 4,000-word essay reflects on the detail of a project you have personally been involved in. Students are asked to consider an element of interdisciplinary design within the project that went particularly well, or particularly poorly; why this may have happened, and what lessons can be learnt from the experience. This is considered against relevant conceptual frameworks and theories, supported by current thinking in the field and practical examples. This essay forms the basis for an individual presentation made during one of the residential weeks during the course.

Literature review essay

This 3,000-word essay is designed to support your developing research and writing skills, focusing on conducting a literature review using academic references.

Group project

In parallel with the individual assignments, participants work in small groups of 5–6 to develop an original piece of thinking on a topic of mutual interest. It can take the form of a research paper, or a proposed model/tool with recommendations for its use. With the help of an expert tutor, each group decides how to approach the project and then develops the ideas and content so that it draws on the collective experience of the group members. Participants must be willing to work collaboratively, share ideas generously and contribute to the fullest extent.


Research towards a dissertation is undertaken with support and guidance from an academic supervisor. The research must follow a recognised qualitative and/or quantitative methodology, but can also take the form of applied research (eg action research). The research can address a topic of relevance to a specific organisation, or focus more generally on a challenge or location.

Participants are encouraged to choose research topics that are: practically focused; cross traditional disciplinary boundaries; and/or address a key social, economic, or environmental challenge in the built environment. The dissertations are expected to be at the same level as would be required on a full-time Master's programme.

Potential areas for research include, but is not limited to, the following:

•    Sustainability
•    Design and design practice
•    Heritage and conservation
•    Innovation & technology
•    Policy and regulation
•    Retrofit
•    Urbanism and urban design

Read about recent supervisors and student dissertation topics.


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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
Workshops  5 & 6 (2020) dates to be confirmed

Residential workshop dates for Cohort 23 (2017 intake)

Workshop 1: 10–16 September 2017
Workshop 2: 3–9 December 2017
Workshop 3: 18–24 March 2018  
Workshop 4: 9–15 December 2018
Workshop 5: 24–30 March 2019
Workshop 6: 16–22 June 2019


Becky Stanley, IDBE Course Administrator