Urban Ecosystems: Structures, Functions and Designs

Course content

Cities are the global centers of economy and culture where more than half of the world’s population resides. At the same time cities put a massive pressure on global consumption of resources, produce huge amounts of waste, and are hot spots in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. To make cities resilient and sustainable their climate and environmental foot prints must be controlled, without losing their innovative power of influencing development.

In this course we explore how nature-based solutions (NbS) can be used to adapt cities to climate change and to enhance overall sustainability. The aim is to combine scientific knowledge with landscape design and transition theory. Thus, the theoretical approach is two-sided, including the biophysical mechanisms operating in the NbS and the societal context for facilitating the green transition.

How can knowledge on biophysical parameters such as vegetation, soil, water, and climate be used to design NbS for flood control, drought abatement, water supply, biodiversity support, urban heat island mitigation, and urban agriculture? And how can social-political knowledge on actors’ involvement, governance regulations and structures support the uptake and city-wide implementations of NbS through action plans and policy guidelines? Which theories and methods can be applied, and what is the role of environmental experts, landscape architects and urban planners in this context?

The teaching consists of lectures (in class, online, and recorded), group exercises, paper sessions, quizzes, study tours, and sketching and sizing of design solutions. The theory includes hydrology, environmental chemistry, agronomy, climatology, biology and social science. The course has a special focus on stormwater-NbS, including green roofs, vertical greenery systems, permeable pavements, rain gardens, and other elements used in blue-green infrastructures, sponge cities and water sensitive urban design. By means of innovative learning methods the theory is transferred to design criteria and specific design proposals, along with strategies for implementation.


MSc Programme in Landscape Architecture

Learning outcome

This course provides an understanding of structures, functions and dynamics of urban ecosystems, and how ecosystem services can be optimized, re-designed and managed to support a climate resilient and sustainable urban development. The course presents a multidisciplinary approach and combines urban planning, landscape architecture and theories of sustainability transition with soil hydrology, environmental chemistry, agronomy, climatology and biology. The aim is to have students, teachers and external actors that represent different disciplines to exchange, apply and evaluate concepts and methods for resilient and sustainable urban development.


To be familiar with theory and principles of urban ecosystem science

To understand causes and effects of climate change in urban areas

To be familiar with urban growth and dynamics in Denmark and globally

To know quantitative and qualitative components of the urban water cycle

To be familiar with major factors impacting biodiversity and habitat quality in cities

To understand relations between natural processes (e.g. urban climates, the water cycle, biodiversity, soils) and urban form and function

To  obtain an overview of case studies of sustainable urban water management and climate change adaptation, from city to site scale

To be familiar with theories of sustainability transition from multilevel perspective

To understand challenges involved in the green transition.

To be able to transfer ecosystem concepts and principles to problem oriented studies

To be able to apply knowledge and methods for the analysis and design of sustainable urban ecosystems.

To work in multidisciplinary groups and present results and knowledge to other students and external actors

To undertake a problem oriented study, suggest design solutions and make evaluations

To acquire in-depth knowledge on specific aspects of urban ecosystems structure and function in an independent manner

To reflect upon and discuss the value systems that underlie the structure and functioning of various urban ecosystems.

The course consists of approx. 20 lectures, approx. 10 in-class exercises, 20 quizzes, 3 paper sessions, 2-3 excursions in Copenhagen and Greater Copenhagen, and a group project.

Selected scientific papers, book chapters and reports.

Academic qualifications equivalent to a BSc degree is recommended, preferably within urban design/planning, agronomy, geography, engineering, biology, or similar.

Compulsory tasks (participation in paper presentations, participation in group project, completion of compulsory exercises and quizzes) must be successfully completed.

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment, 8 hours
Type of assessment details
The mark is based on the 8 hours written exam, which consists of a two-page report. The report is based on the group project and consists of a summary of the group product, followed by critical reflections. The written exam will take place in block week 9.
Exam registration requirements

Compulsory tasks completed, consisting of:

- participation in paper sessions

- hand-in of selected in-class exercises and quizzes

- participation in group project

- contribution to group product, which is a suggested urban ecosystem design, presented as a 2 min long video to teachers, examinor and an external audience. 


All aids allowed
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Internal examiner

Identical to ordinary exam.

If the exam registration requirement has not been met, the student has to do an individual task defined by the course responsible in order to attend the re-exam. The individual task is a 2000 words summary of emerging international examples of urban ecosystem designs targetting one of the issues covered in class. 

Criteria for exam assessment

Please see learning outcome.

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 20
  • Preparation
  • 70
  • Exercises
  • 70
  • Excursions
  • 16
  • Guidance
  • 30
  • English
  • 206


Course number
7,5 ECTS
Programme level
Full Degree Master

1 block

Block 1
The number of places might be reduced if you register in the late-registration period (BSc and MSc) or as a credit or single subject student.
Study Board of Geosciences and Management
Contracting department
  • Department of Geoscience and Natural Resource Management
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Science
Course Coordinator
  • Marina Bergen Jensen   (3-7c71794f78767d3d7a843d737a)

Mark Taylor Randall
Emilia Danuta Lausen
Patience Mguni
Jakob Magid

Saved on the 16-02-2024

Are you BA- or KA-student?

Are you bachelor- or kandidat-student, then find the course in the course catalog for students:

Courseinformation of students