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‘I Wanted a Programme Which Could Change My Way of Thinking And Open New Doors’

Master’s programme in Prototyping Future Cities offered by the HSE Vysokovsky Graduate School of Urbanism was launched in 2017 and has since become quite popular among international students. Students from all over the world come to Moscow to learn how to use technologies to deal with future challenges of urban development. Two of the first-year students have talked to HSE News Service about studying on the programme and the projects they have been working on.

Intikhab Ali
Mikhail Dmitriev/ Higher School of Economics

Intikhab Ali (Pakistan)

I have a background in architecture but during my fourth year of bachelor's studies I became interested in urban studies. One of the things that fascinated me the most was the sheer breadth of the subject and its interdisciplinary nature. Successful urban planning deals with a plethora of issues – political, managerial, and economic. In addition to these, future planning is essential. HSE’s programme in Prototyping Future Cities has courses dealing with all of these aspects. The programme is very innovative and I feel that the material I learn here is especially relevant to how one should understand the urban fabric of major cities, in general, and major Pakistani cities, in particular. When I look at cities back home, there are multiple challenges that include certain political issues, urban sprawl, and changing socio-economic and ecological trends. I believe that this Master’s programme will provide me with the knowledge to address these issues.

I should also mention that studying in Russia is quite attractive from the financial point of view - both the tuition fees and living costs are lower than at many of their European and American counterparts. For those considering Moscow to study, I would like to add that the city is beautiful and the facilities here are excellent

I find almost every course on the programme interesting but there are two that are especially fascinating. The first is ‘Readings on Urbanity’. It provides an in-depth knowledge of how major urban centres develop and the most effective ways to plan this development in various contexts. It also addresses issues such as the future development and expansion of such centres as well as the factors (such as the preservation of historical buildings and landmarks) that must be taken into account when considering such developments.

The second course is called ‘New Business Models’. As its name implies, this course focuses on the business side of things. One of the most important lessons that each and every person in the field of urban planning must learn is the following: a plan or project may look good on paper but it may not be feasible (financially or otherwise). The course examines in detail the many factors that determine the feasibility of a project and teaches us how to analyse and assign weights to these factors in various contexts.


In today's world, the role of technology in almost any sphere of life cannot be overestimated, urban planning being no exception. This brings me to one of the most interesting features of the programme – its emphasis on acquiring knowledge about technology. An excellent example of this would be the course ‘City Projects: Things’ which focuses on innovative applications of electronics in city planning.

For this course, I am currently working with my fellow students Julia Baystrukova и Renata Abdrafikova on the city project ‘Sandals 4.0 - Energy from Nature’. As we know, 60% of the world's population is living without electricity. They don't have access to basic necessities. Many developing countries are facing shortage of electric power while those cities and countries that do have electricity are using up natural resources to produce it.

When we looked at Moscow, we saw that a lot of people are walking on a daily basis. So we started thinking how to exploit this and came up with the idea of installing piezoelectric crystals in shoe soles so that a walking person would generate power which can be stored in a battery

The energy produced can then be used for various purposes, for instance to charge a mobile phone. If you walk one kilometer it can charge your cellphone up to 3 volts. The piezoelectric can be installed on highways, subways, airport runways, etc and help in creating a sustainable environment by producing clean energy.

Pablo Goldin Markovich
Mikhail Dmitriev/ Higher School of Economics

Pablo Goldin Markovich (Mexico) 

After I graduated from Architecture School in Mexico City, I worked in different architecture bureaus particularly, Estudio MMX, where I had the opportunity to collaborate in different projects from editorial design to housing projects and city scaled master planning. Through this experience I understood how wide the field of architecture practice can be. I wanted to complement my studies with other disciplines related to urban studies so that I have a larger understanding of the system in which architectural and urban design are embedded. The programme 'Prototyping Future Cities' appealed to me because of its interdisciplinary approach, the possibility to experiment and the strong research and economics focus of the HSE university.

The programme is focused on different aspects that complement each other in a very interesting way. ‘Recording Sociology’ and ‘Readings on Urbanity’ courses allow us to expand our concepts and incubate ideas that later on we can apply to our specific city projects with the tools we have learned in the technology class. New Business Models course gives us the panorama to understand the impact this proposals could have on the market. For instance, I want to create a data device or help people to navigate in the city – but who will finance that? How do I sell that idea? In ‘New Business Models’ course we learn how to go from a device or an object to real-life implementation. I think the most interesting part of the courses is how they all come together when you create your city project.

Prototyping Future Cities Master’s programme will allow me to create a bridge between the architectural practice and other fields that are crucial for urban development such as data science, management, political science, economics, as well as design and technology.

Mexico, as many other countries in the world, is facing challenges that require more complex and creative solutions. New technologies are appearing everyday but their application is still not completely defined. My plan is to come back to Mexico and apply what I’m learning in this Master’s programme. The opportunity to explore an enigmatic and influential country like Russia and study with Vicente Guallart were also instrumental in my decision since I wanted a Master’s programme which could change my way of thinking and open new doors. 

Russia is a very interesting place for studying since a lot of research into housing and urban design was first done here. In my point of view, Russia is a huge laboratory where you can understand how some of the big ideas from last centuries have evolved and can still be transformed.

During the last few months I have been exploring the role of light in the cities and its ability to change the way we experience the urban environment. With a team of two other students, Alexey Smirnov и Maxim Shurygin, we have developed a product that represents our ambition to transform light from a tool for navigation to a source of communication. Our project is called 'Social Pixels'.

We have been playing with the idea of pixels and the transfer of the digital communities into the physical world. We want to create a series of wearable devices that can allow people to communicate and interact with their environment by producing light. The more people with these devices are gathered, the stronger the message or the ambiance they can create. Digital technologies, especially in the field of communication, are creating a gap between the individuals and their environment that we want to close. In this case, the use of LED’s and digitally fabricated wearable vests is our vehicle to achieve it. The most interesting part of this project is the research we have carried out into linguistics, technology, design and fabrication processes to understand how a device is embedded in the society and the enormous impact that objects have in the cities. The product is simple - a series of interconnected LED’s that can be fabricated by every person and controlled via a cell phone application. Nevertheless the possibilities and the impact that can be achieved in the urban environment are enormous.  

Admissions for HSE’s Master’s programmes are already open. You can submit your application online. This year, Prototyping Future Cities programme is offering partial scholarships to early applicants. Find out more about the application process on the programme website

See also:

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Charlotte Rottiers is a master’s exchange student from Ghent University (Belgium). This semester she is taking courses at HSE University on urban planning in the ‘Prototyping Future Cities’ Master’s Programme as well as courses on Russian language and culture in the Faculty of Humanities. HSE News Service spoke with Charlotte about her courses, living in Moscow, and her extensive weekend travels.

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