Urban design

Urban design

Urban design concerns the arrangement, appearance and functionality of towns and cities, and in particular the shaping and uses of urban public space. It has traditionally been regarded as a disciplinary subset of urban planning, landscape architecture, or architecture and in more recent times has been linked to emergent disciplines such as landscape urbanism. However, with its increasing prominence in the activities of these disciplines, it is better conceptualised as a design practice that operates at the intersection of all three, and requires a good understanding of a range of others besides, such as urban economics, political economy and social theory.

Urban design theory deals primarily with the design and management of public space (i.e. the 'public environment', 'public realm' or 'public domain'), and the way public places are experienced and used. Public space includes the totality of spaces used freely on a day-to-day basis by the general public, such as streets, plazas, parks and public infrastructure. Some aspects of privately owned spaces, such as building facades or domestic gardens, also contribute to public space and are therefore also considered by Urban design theory. Important writers on, and advocates for, urban design theory include Edmund Bacon, Gordon Cullen, Jane Jacobs, Christopher Alexander, William H. Whyte, Kevin Lynch, Aldo Rossi, Robert Venturi, Colin Rowe, Peter Calthorpe and Jan Gehl.

While the two fields are closely related, 'urban design' differs from 'urban planning' in its focus on physical improvement of the public environment, whereas the latter tends, in practice, to focus on the management of private development through planning schemes and other statutory development controls.

Urban Design Principles

Public spaces are frequently subject to overlapping management responsibilities of multiple public agencies or authorities and the interests of nearby property owners, as well as the requirements of multiple and sometimes competing users. The design, construction and management of public spaces therefore typically demands consultation and negotiation across a variety of spheres. Urban designers rarely have the degree of artistic liberty or control sometimes offered in design professions such as architecture. It also typically requires interdisciplinary input with balanced representation of multiple fields including engineering, ecology, local history, and transport planning.

The scale and degree of detail considered varies depending on context and needs. It ranges from the layout of entire cities, as with l'Enfant's plan for Washington DC, Griffin and Mahony's plan for Canberra and Doxiadis' plan for Islamabad (although such opportunities are obviously rare), through 'managing the sense of a region' as described by Kevin Lynch, to the design of street furniture.

Urban design may encompass the preparation of design guidelines and regulatory frameworks, or even legislation to control development, advertising, etc. and in this sense overlaps with urban planning. It may encompass the design of particular spaces and structures and in this sense overlaps with architecture, landscape architecture and industrial design. It may also deal with ‘place management’ to guide and assist the use and maintenance of urban areas.

Much urban design work is undertaken by urban planners, landscape architects and architects but there are professionals who identify themselves specifically as urban designers. Many architecture, landscape and planning programs incorporate urban design theory and design subjects into their curricula and there are an increasing number of university programs offering degrees in urban design, usually at post-graduate level.

Urban design considers:
* "Urban structure" – How a place is put together and how its parts relate to each other
* "Urban typology, density" and sustainability - spatial types and morphologies related to intensity of use, consumption of resources and production and maintenance of viable communities
* "Accessibility" – Providing for ease, safety and choice when moving to and through places
* "Legibility and wayfinding" – Helping people to find their way around and understand how a place works
* "Animation" – Designing places to stimulate public activity
* "Function and fit" – Shaping places to support their varied intended uses
* "Complementary mixed uses" – Locating activities to allow constructive interaction between them
* "Character and meaning" – Recognizing and valuing the differences between one place and another
* "Order and incident" – Balancing consistency and variety in the urban environment in the interests of appreciating both
* "Continuity and change" – Locating people in time and place, including respect for heritage and support for contemporary culture
* "Civil society" – Making places where people are free to encounter each other as civic equals, an important component in building social capital


Although contemporary professional use of the term dates from the mid-20th century, 'urban design' has been practiced throughout the history of cities. Ancient examples of carefully planned and designed cities exist in Asia, India, Africa, Europe and the Americas, and are particularly well-known within Classical Chinese, Roman and Greek cultures (see Hippodamus of Miletus). European Medieval cities are often regarded as exemplars of undesigned or 'organic' city development, but there are clear examples of considered urban design in the Middle Ages (e.g. see David Friedman, "Florentine New Towns: Urban Design in the Late Middle Ages", MIT 1988.)

A revival of urban design in Europe is associated with the Renaissance and, especially, the Age of Enlightenment. Spanish colonial cities were often planned, as were some towns settled by other imperial cultures. These sometimes embodied utopian ambitions as well as aims for functionality and good governance, as with James Oglethorpe's plan for Savannah, Georgia. In the Baroque period the design approaches developed in French formal gardens such as Versailles were extended into urban development and redevelopment. In this period, when modern professional specialisations did not exist, urban design was undertaken by people with skills in areas as diverse as sculpture, architecture, garden design, surveying, astronomy, and military engineering. In the 18th and 19th centuries, urban design was perhaps most closely linked with surveyors and architects. Much of Frederick Law Olmsted's work was concerned with urban design, and so the (then-new) profession of landscape architecture also began to play a significant role in the late 19th century.

Modern urban design can be considered as part of the wider discipline of Urban planning. Indeed, Urban planning began as a movement primarily occupied with matters of urban design. Works such as Camillo Sitte’s "City Planning According to Artistic Principles" (1889), and Robinson’s "The Improvement of Cities and Towns" (1901) and "Modern Civic Art" (1903), all primarily concern urban design as did the wider City Beautiful movement in general.

'Urban design' was first used as a distinctive term when Harvard University hosted a series of Urban Design Conferences from 1956 . These conferences provided a platform for the launching of Harvard's Urban Design program in 1959-60. The writings of Jane Jacobs, Kevin Lynch, Gordon Cullen and Christopher Alexander became authoritative works for the school of Urban Design.

Gordon Cullen's "The Concise Townscape", first published in 1961, also had a great influence on many urban designers. Cullen examined the traditional artistic approach to city design of theorists such as Camillo Sitte, Barry Parker and Raymond Unwin. He created the concept of 'serial vision', defining the urban landscape as a series of related spaces.

Jane Jacobs' "The Death and Life of Great American Cities", published in 1961, was also a catalyst for interest in ideas of Urban design. She critiqued the Modernism of CIAM, and asserted that the publicly unowned spaces created by the 'city in the park' notion of Modernists was one of the main reasons for the rising crime rate. She argued instead for an 'eyes on the street' approach to town planning, and the resurrection of main public space precedents, such as streets and squares, in the design of cities.

Kevin Lynch's "The Image of the City" of 1961 was also seminal to the movement, particularly with regards to the concept of legibility, and the reduction of urban design theory to five basic elements - paths, districts, edges, nodes, landmarks. He also made popular the use of mental maps to understanding the city, rather than the two-dimensional physical master plans of the previous 50 years.

Other notable works include Rossi's "Architecture of the City" (1966), Venturi’s "Learning from Las Vegas" (1972), Colin Rowe's "Collage City" (1978), and Peter Calthorpe's "The Next American Metropolis" (1993). Rossi introduced the concepts of 'historicism' and 'collective memory' to urban design, and proposed a 'collage metaphor' to understand the collage of new and older forms within the same urban space. Calthorpe, on the other hand, developed a manifesto for sustainable urban living via medium density living, as well as a design manual for building new settlements in accordance with his concept of Transit Oriented Development (TOD). The popularity of these works resulted in terms such as 'historicism', 'sustainability', 'livability', 'aesthetic', 'high quality of urban components', etc. become everyday language in the field of Urban planning.

Equality Issues in Urban Design


Until the 1970s, urban designers had taken little account of the needs of people with disabilities. At that time, disabled people began to form movements demanding recognition of their potential contribution if social obstacles were removed. Disabled people challenged the 'medical model' of disability which saw physical and mental problems as an individual 'tragedy' and people with disabilities as 'brave' for enduring them. They proposed instead a 'social model' which said that barriers to disabled people result from the design of the built environment and attitudes of able-bodied people. 'Access Groups' were established composed of people with disabilities who audited their local areas, checked planning applications and made representations for improvements. The new profession of 'access officer' was established around that time to produce guidelines based on the recommendations of access groups and to oversee adaptations to existing buildings as well as to check on the accessibility of new proposals. Many local authorities now employ access officers who are regulated by the [http://www.access-association.org.uk Access Association] . A new chapter of the Building Regulations (Part M) was introduced in 1992. Although it was beneficial to have legislation on this issue the requirements were fairly minimal but continue to be improved with ongoing amendments. The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 continues to raise awareness and enforce action on disability issues in the urban environment.


* Barnett, Jonathan, "An Introduction to Urban Design", Harper & Row, New York 1982, ISBN 0064303764
* Carmona, Matthew, and Tiesdell, Steve, editors, "Urban Design Reader", Architectural Press of Elsevier Press, Amstedam Boston other cities 2007, ISBN 0750665319
* Hardinghaus, Matthias, 'Learning Outcomes and Assessment Criteria in Urban Design: A Problematisation of Spatial Thinking', "Cebe Transaction, The Online Journal of the Centre for Education in the Built Environment", 2006, 3(2), 9-22
* Larice, Michael, and MacDonald, Elizabeth, editors, "The Urban Design Reader", Routledge, New York London 2007, ISBN 0415333865

ee also

*Activity centre
*Automobile dependency
*Behavioural sciences
*Building engineering
*Context theory
*Crime prevention through environmental design
*Environmental psychology
*Gordon Cullen
*Landscape architecture
*Landscape urbanism
*Neighbourhood character
*New Urbanism
*Principles of Intelligent Urbanism
*Regulatory Barriers Clearinghouse
*Space syntax
*Transit-oriented development
*Urban consolidation
*Urban density
*Urban economics
*Urban planning
*Urban village

External links

Industry resources

* [http://www.udf.org.au/about.php Urban Design Forum, Australia]
* [http://www.udal.org.au/ Urban Design Alliance, Queensland, Australia]
* [http://www.mfe.govt.nz/publications/urban New Zealand Ministry for the Environment publications, including Urban Design Protocol]
* [http://www.rudi.net Resource for Urban Design Information, UK]
* [http://www.cabe.org.uk Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, UK]
* [http://www.udal.org.uk The Urban Design Alliance, UK]
* [http://www.udg.org.uk/ The Urban Design Group, UK]
* [http://www.huduser.org/ U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's HUD USER]
* [http://www.huduser.org/rbc/ Regulatory Barriers Clearinghouse, USA]
* [http://www.urban-design-certification.org Urban Design Compliance Project, USA]
* [http://www.linkedin.com/e/gis/36697/67EAE4447924 Professional network for Landscape Urbansim]
* [http://www.urbandesigncompendium.co.uk/home The Urban Design Compendium (UK)]
* [http://www.cnu.org/ Congress for the New Urbanism (USA)]

Academic resources

* [http://www.sfu.ca/city/udc.htm Urban Design Certificate Program, courses and free public lectures from Simon Fraser University]
* [http://www.aaschool.ac.uk/lu Landscape Urbanism Program at the Architectural Association] and

Other resources

* [http://www.terreform.org Terreform: Nonprofit Urban Design Collaborative]
* [http://www.NewUrbanism.org NewUrbanism.org]
* [http://www.UrbanDesign.org UrbanDesign.org]

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