The urban design process involves creating buildings, groups of buildings, spaces, and landscapes, as well as establishing frameworks and procedures that will ensure success for future generations. Town and city planning, street design, and public space design are all parts of urban design. In essence, it’s about composing the physical setting for life by bringing together multiple disciplines – the art of making places.
Urban design: why is it important?
The field of urban design is important because it strengthens in the planning and development of livable and workable surroundings. Urban designers are hired by governments and commercial businesses to improve public spaces such as homes and community centres. Urban design does have the potential to significantly improve the stature and value of space, so boosting the local economy, attracting tourists, and improving the quality of life for residents. Additionally, urban designers are significant because they encourage sustainability through ecologically sensitive building and technology. They can also have an impact on a community’s sociological and cultural makeup by fostering participation and communication between people.
Urban design can significantly influence the economic, environmental, social and cultural outcomes of a place:
- Urban design can influence the economic success and socio-economic composition of a locality—whether it encourages local businesses and entrepreneurship; whether it attracts people to live there; whether the costs of housing and travel are affordable; and whether access to job opportunities, facilities and services are equitable.
- Urban design determines the physical scale, space and ambience of a place and establishes the built and natural forms within which individual buildings and infrastructure are sited. As such, it affects the balance between natural ecosystems and built environments,and their sustainability outcomes.
- Urban design can influence health and the social and cultural impacts of a locality: how people interact with each other, how they move around, and how they use a place.
- Although urban design is often delivered as a specific ‘project’, it is in fact a long-term process that continues to evolve over time. It is this layering of building and infrastructure types, natural ecosystems, communities and cultures that gives places their unique characteristics and identities.
ELEMENTS OF URBAN DESIGN
The arrangement of land use in urban areas, or how a city’s land use is laid out, is known as urban structure. Several theories have been developed by urban planners, economists, and geographers to describe where different sorts of individuals and organisations tend to exist within the urban setting.
The balance of open space to built form, and the nature and extent of subdividing an area into smaller parcels or blocks. For example a ‘fine urban grain’ might constitute a network of small or detailed streetscapes. It takes into consideration the hierarchy of street types, the physical linkages and movement between locations, and modes of transport.
DENSITY + MIX
The intensity of development and the range of different uses (such as residential, commercial, institutional or recreational uses).
HEIGHT + MASSING
The scale of buildings in relation to height and floor area, and how they relate to surrounding land forms, buildings and streets. It also incorporates building envelope, site coverage and solar orientation. Height and massing create the sense of openness or enclosure, and affect the amenity of streets, spaces and other buildings.
STREETSCAPE + LANDSCAPE
The design of public spaces such as streets, open spaces and pathways, and includes landscaping, microclimate, shading and planting.
FACADE + INTERFACE
The relationship of buildings to the site, street and neighbouring buildings (alignment, setbacks, boundary treatment) and the architectural expression of their facades (projections, openings, patterns and materials).
DETAILS + MATERIALS
The close-up appearance of objects and surfaces and the selection of materials in terms of detail, craftsmanship, texture, colour, durability, sustainability and treatment. It includes street furniture, paving, lighting and signage. It contributes to human comfort, safety and enjoyment of the public domain.
Urban form generally encompasses a number of physical features and non- physical characteristics including size, shape, scale, density, land uses, building types, urban block layout and distribution of green space. It is the The arrangement of a built up area. This arrangement is made up of many components including how close buildings and uses are together; what uses are located where; and how much of the natural environment is a part of the built up area.
Why does Urban Design matter?
Over the last 30 years, there have been significant changes in how urban growth and development are managed. The emergence of a post-industrial economy, the rise of the environmental movement, and the critique of top-down government decision-making in Europe and North America have necessitated new approaches to the design and building of urban settings, both theoretically and methodologically. Traditional master plans are being phased out in favour of more strategic plans and ‘urban initiatives’ that develop critical locations in metropolitan areas. Cities’ politicians and civic leaders realise the need for high-quality urban and natural settings as they deal with the obsolescence of old industrial districts and face increased competition for knowledge workers. They are increasingly doing so in public-private partnerships with significant public engagement.
These economic and political transformations accelerated the rise of Urban Design in the fields of Architecture, Planning, and Landscape Architecture. Its growing prominence reflects a general recognition that human environments are inherently complex and diverse and the consequent need for design interventions to acknowledge local social, historical, and environmental contexts.
What sort of work does an Urban Designer do?
There really is no ‘typical’ Urban Design practitioner, nor is there a ‘standard’ set of skills that, once learned, can be mechanically applied for the rest of one’s career. There are, however, several tasks that are central to Urban Design in practice:
- Describing characteristics of and transformations in particular settlement patterns, including morphological and typological studies;
- Examining the operative relationships linking power, politics, and the form of cities and urban areas;
- Exploring, analysing, and drawing conclusions related to the images and meanings people have of different urban environments; and
- Describing, interpreting, and shaping the built and natural environment of cities and metropolitan regions, for other professionals, decision-makers, and ‘lay’ populations.
Who are Urban Designers?
Urban designers are typically architects, town planners or landscape architects. Their skill is to bring together ideas from developers, local communities, architects, planners, traffic engineers, landscape architects, transport planners and many others, to resolve problems and conflicts in order to create better places for everyone. Sometimes this will result in new places being built or a new appreciation of existing urban areas in cities, towns and villages. Urban designers can be employed by developers, local planning authorities or community groups, including neighbourhood planning groups.
Careers in urban design
There are many career paths you can pursue within the field of urban design, including the following careers:
Architecture is a common career in the field of urban design. Architects plan and design the structures necessary for constructing various forms of infrastructure. They frequently work alongside other urban designers, such as civil engineers and city planners, to ensure that projects are meeting proper standards.
Civil engineers develop plans for various types of infrastructure, including bridges, highways and buildings. They also help monitor the construction progress of projects and ensure that they adhere to regulations. The typical work environment of a civil engineer can include both office buildings and construction sites. Civil engineers typically require a state engineering license.
City planners are local government employees who frequently work alongside other specialists, including landscapers, architects, civil engineers, environmental specialists and health and safety experts. These professionals manage the development and upkeep of their assigned city zones. They typically conceptualize and plan infrastructure projects and coordinate with contractors who conduct most of the work.
- Urban Design Group
- Cover Image: https://www.arch.columbia.edu/student-work/9839
Urban Design Lab
About the Author
This is the admin account of Urban Design Lab. This account publishes articles written by team members, contributions from guest writers, and other occasional submissions. Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions or comments.