Origins of Urban Design

February 15, 2011 at 7:15 am Leave a comment

Witold Rybczynski, in his latest book – Makeshift Metropolis – explains:

A watershed event in the history of American city planning occurred in 1956 when the University of Pennsylvania inaugurated a joint degree program in city planning and architecture. The goal was to educate professionals who could bridge the gap that had grown up between city planners, who were increasingly concerned with large-scale urban policy, and architects, who tended to focus on individual buildings. 

Henry Wright, the former partner of Clarence Stein and the codesigner of Radburn, helped draft the proposal: “The need, the urgent need, now exists for a designer with a broad vision, with understanding of the life of the city and these times, and above all with unusual skill in composing buildings in relation to each other and to their natural setting and to the activities of the city.”

The new discipline came to be known as urban design. 

Urban designers deal with collections of buildings, such as downtown business districts, residential neighbourhoods, planned communities, town centers, and college campuses.  While they are often architects, urban designers don’t design individual buildings.  Instead, they plan the public spaces between buildings – avenues, streets, squares, promenades, and parks – and establish general guidelines, such as setbacks, heights, and other rules that govern how buildings relate to one another.


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