Urban design is both a specialised and an integrating profession. Urban designers are specially trained in the discipline, usually after qualifying as architects and sometimes as planners or landscape architects.
The unique focus of urban design lies in the understanding of three-dimensional form and space in cities and settlements, and the relationship of this form to land, context, society and history. This understanding is firmly rooted in an awareness of nature, landscape and urbanism and consideration of the needs and dynamics of society, economy and space. Urban design is as much process as product and the implementation of urban design proposals require knowledge and skill in decision-making techniques and structures. The art of urban design, then, lies in shaping the interaction between people and places, environment and urban form, nature and built fabric and influencing processes that lead to the development of successful cities, towns and villages. Integration with the complementary fields of city planning, architecture and civil engineering is essential for the practice of urban design. The role of urban design in synthesising various fields also requires strong connections with other specialist fields in the natural and built environment.
WHAT URBAN DESIGNERS DO:
The urban designer operates across a wide range of scales, from regional and citywide to the level of individual buildings and can also specialise in many built and natural environment fields with activities ranging from research, analysis and policy to design and implementation.
Fields of research and analysis include:
- Visual impact assessments
- Conservation, heritage and special place assessments
- Site, precinct and area analysis and assessment
Working across the scales, the urban designer will produce or support the development of:
- Metropolitan and regional spatial frameworks and structure plans
- Local and district spatial frameworks and structure plans
- Local and precinct urban design frameworks
- Precinct and site layouts and subdivisions
- Individual sites, building complexes and buildings
Urban design is extensively involved in the preparation of a wide range of policy and guideline processes, producing:
- Urban design policies for a range of built environment components such as, housing, street design, landscape, cityscape and heritage
- Guidelines for various aspects of settlement design including housing, mixed use precincts, economic nodes, protected natural and heritage environments, etc
- Site development guidelines for greenfield sites and urban upgrading precincts
On the basis of an integrating and holistic perspective, the urban designer is well-placed to guide the development of more detailed work, formulating:
- Design briefs for development
- Architectural and landscape architecture briefs
Urban design is at it’s core an integrating activity and is involved with a various parts of the built environment sometimes focused upon a particular sector and at other times, the emphasis is on a holistic view of all sectors. The specialist areas of work include:
- Housing, including layouts, housing typologies and design guidelines
- Transport planning, particularly in relation to public transport network, transport corridor and streetscape design
- Design of non-motorised transport networks and facilities
- Open spaces, parks and conservation areas
- Retail precincts
- Leisure and recreation areas
- Public space
Without implementation, urban design cannot make a positive contribution to our settlements. Urban design is a key part of several different stages of implementation, such as:
- Developing implementation processes, techniques and programmes
- Providing design control and guidance during on site construction, sometimes as the principle agent and other times as a member of the professional team
- Carrying out or contributing to the various legislative processes involved in project preparation and implementation including Environmental Impact Assessments, visual impact and heritage assessments, rezoning, departure and subdivision processes.
- Coordination and integration of projects and programmes over extended periods
The urban designer is trained to contribute to the various allied built and natural environment fields and to understand them well enough to formulate urban design products that take these areas into account.
THE SPECIALIST SKILLS AND COMPETENCIES OF URBAN DESIGNERS:
In order to undertake this wide range of tasks, the urban designer must possess the following important competencies:
- The ability to evaluate natural environmental processes and related settlement pressures in order to determine and stipulate appropriate policies, processes, guidelines and land uses, land capacities and development impacts
- An understanding of social and economic urban systems and dynamics
- An understanding of urban structure, linkages and operations in order to fully assess urban efficiency, sustainability, convenience, comfort, identity and their impacts on urban form.
- The ability to synthesise the complexities of all aspects of urban design assessment, policy, proposals and processes and present these coherently to clients and stakeholders.
- Graphic and spatial analytic, presentation and communication skills.
- The ability to respect, understand and communicate effectively with a wide range of clients, communities and colleagues in order to ensure meaningful and relevant involvement in urban design processes and outcomes.
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