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MUDD 21 - City Visions II

Processes and Categories of Urban Design Jon Lang

Urban design is a term that has different meanings for different architects, landscape architects, city planners and lay people. Many design professionals are happy with this profusion of interpretations of the term. As George Orwell recognised eighty years ago this ambiguity serves a useful purpose; we can talk about urban design and agree or disagree with each other without understanding what we are talking about. For a field to make progress, however, it has to define the domain of its concern. It is important to distinguish between what urban design is and what the goals of various designs are. The former defines the field and the latter the aspirations of individual designers and/or their clients working within financial and political constraints. These aspirations are very much shaped by contemporary beliefs about what makes a good world. Urban design, itself, is the design of images of the future city, or more likely a precinct within it or, even more likely a coordinated project of a number of blocks and, as importantly, the mechanisms for achieving those visions. The shelves and computer files of planning departments of cities around the world are full of urban designs produced without consideration of how they will be implemented. Thinking of urban design as part of the overall political and economic development processes shaping cities is thus vital to an understanding of the field and its endeavours. There are many ways of considering the domain of urban design. At one level it is possible to distinguish among total urban design, all-of-a-piece urban design, plug-in urban design and piece-by-piece urban design, or urban design as public policy. Total urban design occurs when one development team carries a project through from initiation to completion. Such designs are, in essence, large scale architectural schemes. All-of-a-piece design involves the creation of a conceptual design that is divided into manageable parcels which are then built by individual developers and their architects within the guidelines developed to attain the objectives of the conceptual design. In this case one of the questions that urban designers have to address is: How detailed should the guidelines be? Another is: Should the guidelines be prescriptive, performance-based or advisory in nature? Plug-in urban design focuses on the creation and implementation of projects that will act as catalysts for further investment. Usually the investment is made by a public sector agency in the hope of spurring private sector investment. Piece-by-piece urban design is urban design where, as a public policy, legislation is decreed to encourage particular types of development in specific precincts, or districts, of cities without any preconceived image of what it will look like but an image of how it will perform.

Emeritus Professor Jon Lang


Mudd folio final 02 mar 2016  

City Visions: Method & Design Chicago | Berlin | Sydney International Studio workshops from the Masters of Urban Development & Design degree...