Master of Human Settlements (Leuven)


Read more about this program on the school's website

Program Description

The Master in Human Settlements addresses rapid urbanization in the developing world and contemporary urban transformations within the scope of sustainable development. The program aims to provide insight into the problems of human settlements as related to rapid change and to the interaction between modernity and tradition, formal and informal city-making.

What are the Human Settlements about?

Architecture, urbanism and spatial planning are the core disciplines of the program. Contributions from economics, geography, and anthropology, among others, complement this core.

The structure is organized around:

  • Introductory courses
  • Core courses
  • Design Studios
  • Optional courses
  • Master's thesis (research- or design-based)

Design studios form an important part of the program, a status reflected in their credit load. They are organized as two full days of work on Mondays and Tuesdays to provide an intensive and immersive working environment, as occurs in most professional practices. They also are courses where a balance between teamwork and individual contribution is developed since students are subdivided into small but mixed groups from inception.

Core courses are related to the studios themselves, whereas for students selecting a more research-oriented trajectory in line with the program's profile supporting courses are organized for the elaboration of a research Master's thesis.

For more detailed information about the program, admission requirements and application, check our website.


Study trips to various destinations are organized throughout the academic year as a compulsory part of the Ma.H.S. program. You will be able to observe and experience the area being studied and will have a unique opportunity to link your theoretical knowledge to daily practice and fieldwork. The trips include visits to sites, lectures by local experts and a range of assignments. Recent study trips in Europe have been made to:

  • Paris-Lyon (France)
  • Amsterdam-Rotterdam (the Netherlands)
  • Zürich-Frankfurt (Switzerland/ Germany)
  • London (UK)

In addition, one-day visits within Belgium (Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent) are organized to support courses and provide an understanding of current trends in Belgian urban transformation. Moreover, as a key feature of the Ma.H.S. program, a study trip, and studio-related fieldwork sessions are offered in a non-Western context. You will be given the opportunity to travel for a two-week period to a non-European studio context for fieldwork and visits to best practices sites and other relevant sites.


  • The program is taught by professors belonging to as well the Department of Architecture at the Faculty of Engineering Science. They cultivate research in the fields of architecture, urbanism and urban design, conservation, and spatial planning.
  • The Postgraduate Centre for Human Settlements renamed the Ma.H.S. MaUSP Centre in 2005, is known by specialists worldwide and has a remarkable history spanning over more than 40 years. Its activities have been broadened to coordinate both the Master of Science in Human Settlements and the Master of Science in Urbanism and Strategic Planning. Other activities include a doctoral program, capacity-building projects, and consultancy on human settlement policies and projects.
  • The program occupies a unique position within the educational landscape of Belgium and internationally, including a long tradition and 40-year jubilee.
  • It has a strong research basis, with an emphasis on the scientific underpinning of the discipline of human settlements, the central role given to space as a resource (in urban transformations) and as a medium of integration.
  • The Ma.H.S. knows a diversity of incoming students, both in terms of geographic origin, and in terms of professional/educational backgrounds.
  • There is a broad network of alumni and a sound reputation fostering an active system of collaborations supporting the selection of design studio topics, Master's thesis topics, etc. (examples: UNRWA; UN-Habitat Asia + Arcadis Shelter Program; etc.) and a credible reputation as an international research partner.
  • The quality and quantity of visiting faculty and international speakers as part of lecture series, studio jury's and showcase events such as World Urbanisms, provides one of the strengths of the program.
  • Synergy between Ma.H.S. - MaUSP - EMU.
  • Interdisciplinary collaborations with anthropology, geography, etc.

This is an Advanced Master's program and can be followed on a full-time or part-time basis.

Application deadline for 2018-2019

  • 1 March 2018 (for non-EEA citizens)
  • 1 June 2018 (for EEA citizens)

KU Leuven uses an online application system. You can download and submit your application form via Students with a Flemish degree can consult

Tuition Fee

For more information about our tuition fees, please visit

Is this the right program for me?

The program aims to provide insight into the problems of Human Settlements as related to rapid change and to the interaction between modernity and tradition, formal and informal city-making. It also aims to strengthen capacities to tackle the growth of spontaneous settlements and the design of large-scale projects in a complex urban context with up-to-date insights and techniques. Its graduates have a thorough understanding of the dynamic and multifunctional aspects of the built environment, they have the skills to devise interventions that are context-responsive and sustainable and are at ease in moving back-and-forth between academic theory and day-to-day professional practice.

Applicants with some years of relevant professional experience will be preferred. Students aim at preparing themselves for a possible international career in the field of human settlements.

Career Paths

The program produces interdisciplinary graduates capable of understanding and managing the complexity of urban development as well as promoting sustainable territorial transformations. Graduates of the Ma.H.S. program find employment in numerous and widespread areas. Many alumni work as civil servants in urban development agencies in cities or national governments. Others are independent professionals in the field of urban design, planning, and community development. Some join private architecture offices or take on in leadership and policymaking positions in regional, national, and international human settlements institutions, such as UNCHS or UEPP. A small number of graduates continue on to an academic career by obtaining a Ph.D., and some become professors.


The discipline of human settlements encompasses aspects of architecture, urban design and spatial planning and deals with the problems of the built environment in the context of dynamic change. It approaches the built environment from a perspective of sustainable development and emphasizes in that respect the resourcefulness of space. Historically, the discipline of human settlements mainly focuses on developing countries.

The 60 credits program in human settlements is taught by internationally respected specialists from both academic and professional spheres and targets experienced professionals and postgraduate students with an international, intercultural and interdisciplinary background. The program aims to give students a solid scientific basis and the necessary research skills in the various disciplines within the broad field of human settlements. The program is carried out in an intercultural and interdisciplinary environment and provides students with the capacity:

  • to operate independently and critically at a high level within the field of human settlements,
  • to contribute significantly to (sustainable) development by applying context-responsive approaches - including the cultural dimension of context - to construction and local development challenges. These core objectives can be translated into the following learning outcomes:
  1. Graduates have gained a deep understanding of the dynamic and multifunctional aspects of the built environment through critical analysis of scientific and design approaches to the professional field of urban design and spatial planning, complemented with approaches in architecture and construction, thereby transcending conventional professional boundaries, and accentuating concepts of sustainable development.
  2. Graduates understand the approaches and possibilities of related disciplines such as urban geography, social and cultural anthropology, material culture and urban sociology and can relate these disciplines to human settlements.
  3. Graduates have strengthened their capacity to deal professionally with problems of human settlements, particularly as they relate to modernization. Hence, graduates are familiar with specialized methods and skills for intervention that reflect context-responsive concepts of sustainable development and are able to deal with the different levels of the built environment (from individual buildings to entire cities) and use design as a medium to address the resourcefulness of space.
  4. 4Through exposure to stimulating exchanges and feedback between academic theory and day-to-day practice, graduates will have acquired the ability to operate as a 'reflective practitioner', meaning promoting approaches that include reflection (theory, history, critique), action (in the form of designerly research and strategy development) but also self-reflection (self-criticism and reorientation, personal development through communication and co-learning).
  5. Graduates will have acquired and deepened their scientific knowledge in human settlements and will have gained the experience necessary for mastering research methodologies and practices in the field of human settlements. Consequently, they have learned to use literature sources and approach problems in a scientific way and acknowledge the potential of design.
  6. Graduates are able to apply basic up-to-date techniques (e.g. GIS, cost control at different scale levels) required for relevant professional involvement in urban development.
  7. Graduates have experience in interdisciplinary research and studio work in a team in order to prepare them to act/work constructively in a multilevel, multi-sectoral environment.
  8. Graduates are able to operate both at the local level and at the international level in the field of human settlements, providing the necessary international and intercultural background.

A graduate of the Master of Human Settlements program will consequently be expected to have acquired the following:

Knowledge: A broad understanding of the relationship of complex phenomena related to the dynamics of human settlements, with a focus on its spatial materialization. This includes reflection on the following questions:

  • How have human settlements emerged, grown and changed particularly related to worldwide phenomena such as globalization, climate change, urbanization, changing rural-urban relationships, the formation of cities, etc.?
  • How do cultural identity, the dynamics of modernity and tradition, the search for new urbanities and urban citizenship, etc. find expression in the built environment of cities, towns, and villages embedded in a variety of place-space contexts, including those of the students in the program?
  • How have approaches to human settlements evolved both within the professional context of the students (architects, engineers, planners) and in relation to other selected professional disciplines (sociology, economy, geography, etc.)?
  • What is the relationship between the policies at various levels (worldwide, international, national, local) and the professional approaches applied in human settlements?

Skills: In the professional world, graduates:

  • Are able to scientifically define a human settlement problem and subsequently to propose a method for solving this problem and implementing the solution.
  • Are able to seek out, select and assess the best sources of information. This analytical capacity is complemented with an important synthetic skill to conceive, develop and express interventions on various scale levels.
  • Have mastered specific insights, methods, and techniques which are particular for the professional field of human settlements and belong to the following orientations: 1) architecture and urban studies, 2) rational design and construction, or 3) urbanism and strategic spatial planning.
  • Are capable of communicating acquired knowledge in a well-structured and clear manner, orally, textually and graphically, to the audiences with whom they engage professionally (experts and public authorities at different levels, etc.).


  • Graduates will have developed a critical and open attitude, enabling them to appreciate the value and contextual relevance of information and evaluate proposals of interventions in human settlements, taking into account specific contexts and day-to-day realities of rapidly growing towns and cities in a development context.
  • Graduates will have developed attitudes enabling them to learn from others and cooperate with professionals and other actors in society.

Further Studies

When allowed:

  • Master of Urbanism and Strategic Planning (Leuven)
Last updated Mar 2020

About the School

KU Leuven is an institution for research and education with international appeal. All programmes at this University are based on the innovative research of its scientists and professors and are ranked ... Read More

KU Leuven is an institution for research and education with international appeal. All programmes at this University are based on the innovative research of its scientists and professors and are ranked among the top 100 in the world. Read less
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