Growth and Structure of Cities Major and Minor (Bryn Mawr)

The interdisciplinary major challenges students to understand the dynamic relationships connecting urban spacial organization and the built environment with politics, economics, cultures and societies worldwide.

Curriculum & Courses

Core introductory classes present analytic approaches that explore issues of changing forms of the city over time and explore the variety of ways through which women and men have re-created global urban life across history and across cultures.

With these foundations, students pursue their interests through classes in architecture, urban social and economic relations, urban history, studies of planning and the environmental conditions of urban life.

Opportunities for internships, volunteering, and study abroad also enrich the major. Advanced seminars further ground the course of study by focusing on specific cities and topics.

Complementing the major, students may also choose to do a minor or a second major that allows them to complement their work in Cities with more specialized knowledge, whether in environmental studies, economics, or studies of language and culture. Students also may apply for the 3+2 Program in City and Regional Planning in their junior year, offered in cooperation with the University of Pennsylvania.

  • Major Requirements

    A minimum of 15 courses (11 courses in Cities and four allied courses in other related fields) is required to complete the major. Two introductory courses (CITY B185, CITY B190) balance sociocultural and formal approaches to urban form and the built environment, and introduce cross-cultural and historical comparison of urban development. The introductory sequence should be completed with a broader architectural survey course (CITY B253, CITY B254, CITY B255) and a second social science course that entails extended analysis and writing (CITY B229). These courses should be completed as early as possible in the first and second years; at least two of them must be taken by the end of the first semester of the sophomore year.

    Writing across multiple disciplines is central to the major, drawing on sources as varied as architectural and visual materials, ethnographic fieldwork, archival and textual study, theoretical reflection and policy engagement. Students write and receive commentary on their arguments and expression from their introductory classes through their required capstone thesis. While most courses in the major have important writing components, at the moment CITY B229 acts as our primary writing-intensive course, asking students to draw upon the breadth of their interests to focus on researching, writing and rewriting within a comparative framework. In Fall 2018, we will explore other dimensions of writing in the humanities with CITY B377: Writing Architecture. At the same time, students are encouraged to use other classes within the major to develop a range of skills in methods, theory, presentations, oral and written.

    After these introductory courses, each student selects six elective courses within the Cities Department, including cross-listed courses. At least two classes must be at the 300 level in Cities or cross-listed courses. A strong foundation in our varied methods is also intrinsic to the Cities major. In the introductory classes, students will be exposed to architectural and spatial analyses, qualitative and quantitative methods, and comparative case studies, based in an awareness of local and global histories. More specialized methods classes include CITY B217 (Social Science Methods), CITY B201 (GIS) and our architectural studio sequence (CITY B226/CITY B228), which allows students to make informed choices about careers in architecture and design. The use of appropriate methods is honed in the senior thesis.

    In the senior year, a capstone course is required of all majors. Most students join together in a research seminar, CITY B398, in the fall of that year, writing a 40-60 page thesis on a topic of their choice, based on primary documents and original research and/or design. Occasionally, however, after consultation with the major advisors, the student may elect another 300-level course or a program for independent research. This is often the case with double majors who write a thesis in another field. 

    Finally, each student must also identify four courses outside Cities that represent expertise to complement her work in the major. These may include courses such as physics and calculus for architects, additional courses in economics, political science, sociology, or anthropology for students more focused on the social sciences and planning, or courses that build on language, design, or regional interests. Any minor, concentration, or second major fulfills this requirement. Cities courses that are cross-listed with other departments or originate in them can be counted only once in the course selection, although they may be either allied or elective courses.

    Both the Cities Department electives and the four or more allied courses must be chosen in close consultation with the major advisors in order to create a strongly coherent sequence and focus. This is especially true for students interested in architectural design, who will need to arrange studio courses (CITY B226, CITY B228) as well as accompanying courses in math, science and architectural history; they should contact the department chair or Daniela Voith in their first year. Students interested in a second major should consult with advisors early on.

    Students should also note that many courses in the department beyond the introductory sequence are not given every year; this is true as well with regard to cross-listed courses. Students should also note that courses may carry prerequisites in cities, art history, economics, history, sociology, or the natural sciences and have limited enrollments because of space and technology (Architecture Studio, GIS).

    Cities students should test their knowledge through engagement with cities worldwide beyond the classroom. Hence programs for study abroad or off campus are encouraged, within the limits of the Bryn Mawr and Haverford rules and practices. In general, a one-semester program is strongly preferred. The Cities Department regularly works with off-campus and study-abroad programs that are strong in architectural history, planning, and design, as well as those that allow students to pursue social and cultural interests and hone language skills. Students who would like to spend part or all of their junior year away must consult with the major advisors and appropriate deans early in their sophomore year. Internships are also an important component of the program either in the summer or for credit with faculty supervision.

    Over nearly five decades, Cities students have created major plans that have allowed them to develop their interests in cities with an eye toward future engagement with architecture, planning, ethnography, history, law, environmental studies, mass media, public health, the fine arts, and other fields. No matter the focus, though, each Cities student develops solid foundations in both the history of architectural and urban form and the analysis of urban culture, societies, and policy. Careful methodological choices, clear analytical writing, and critical visual readings constitute the hallmarks of the major. Strong interactions with faculty and other students and alums that will continue even after graduation also characterizes the department as a growing and creative social cohort beyond Bryn Mawr and Haverford as well.

  • Minor Requirements

    Students who wish to minor in the Cities Department must take at least two out of the four required courses and four cities electives, including two at the 300 level. Senior Seminar is not mandatory for fulfilling the cities minor.

Keep Exploring

More Programs

Check out our other academic offerings:

Get in Touch

Join the Mailing List or search for events in your area.

You can find detailed instructions and information on the Application Instructions page. If you need to contact us directly, please send an email to

Contact Us