Find out about our profession

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 requires knowledge and skill in decision-making techniques and structures. The art of urban design 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, landscape architecture, and civil engineering is essential for the practice of urban design.

What Do 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
  • Visual impact assessments;
  • Conservation, heritage, and special place assessments;
  • Site, precinct, and area analysis and assessment.
Spatial frameworks at a variety of scales
  • 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.
Policy and guidelines
  • 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;
The specialist areas of work
  • Housing, including layouts, housing typologies, and design guidelines
  • Transport planning, particularly in relation to the 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
  • Developing implementation processes, techniques, and programmes
  • Providing design control and guidance during on-site construction, sometimes as the principal-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.

How to become an Urban Designer

Academic Qualifications

In South Africa urban designers follow an education path starting with an undergraduate and honours degree in a design field and finishing with a Master’s degree of Urban Design. Currently only two universities offer a Master of Urban Design, the University of Cape Town and the University of the Witwatersrand. Typically an honours degree in architecture, city planning or landscape architecture is undertaken before studying a Master of Urban Design

Professional Registration

Urban design is not a registered profession in terms of the NQF Act, no 67 of 2008. To differentiate and recognise practiced and educated urban designers, UDISA offers a professional registration category giving recognition to those members that are competent to provided urban design services independently of oversight by another urban designer.

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