URBAN DESIGN- Lecture Notes-

1. Urban Design: Some Definitions

1.1. Scope of Urban Design

Urban design has replaced the "civic design" which dealt primarily with city halls, museums, streets, boulevards, parks and other open spaces since 1960s. However there is not a consensus about the definition and boundaries of urban design.

Urban Design is,

§          The process of giving physical design direction to urban growth, conservation, and change

§          The design of cities - 'a grand design'

§          The interface between architecture, landscape and town planning

§          The complex relationships between all the elements of built and unbuilt space (DoE, 1996)

§          The architecture of public space

Some theoreticians rather not to describe urban design but to explain what it is not:

§          It is not land use policy, sign controls, and street lighting districts.

§          It is not strictly utopian or procedural.

§          It is not necessarily a plan for downtown, however architectonic, nor a subdivision regulation.

Descriptions explained above suggest that there is no easy, single, agreed definition of urban design. However we can determine the general framework of urban design.

The basis for a framework defining urban design can be grouped under six main headings according to The Institute for Urban Design (IUD)’s criteria:

1. Historic preservation and urban conservation

2. Design for pedestrians

3. Vitality and variety of use

4. The cultural environment

5. Environmental context

6. Architectural values

The jargon-free qualities, goals and principles describing urban design can be grouped under eight major headings:

§          Place,

§          Density,

§          Mixed and compatible uses,

§          Pedestrianization and human scale,

§          Human culture,

§          Public realm,

§          Built environment

§          Natural environment

1.2. Role of Urban Design

Urban design is generally considered neither a profession nor a discipline. There is a trend to formulate urban design as the interface between architecture and town planning, or the gap between them. For example, when Kevin Lynch saw urban design as a branch of architecture Michael Southworth on the other hand thought urban design as a branch of urban planning.

"It is easier to talk about urban design than to write about it… In between (planning and architecture), but belonging neither to one nor the other, lies the magic world of urban design. We can recognize it by its absence. It is inferred, suggested, felt."

Another commentator Jonathan Barnett also recognizes the crucial role of urban design between the urban planning and architecture:

"What is the difference between an urban designer and urban planner, or between an urban designer and an architect?

An urban planner was some one who was primarily concerned with the allocation of resources according to projections of future need. Planners tend to regard land use as an allocation of resources problem, parcelling out land, for zoning purposes, without much knowledge of its three-dimensional characteristics, or the nature of the building that may be placed on it in the future. The result is that most zoning ordinances and official land use plans produce stereotyped and unimaginative buildings.

Architect, on the other hand, designs buildings. A good architect will do all he can to relate the building he is designing to its surroundings, but he has no control over what happens off the property he has been hired to considered.

There is a substantial middle ground between these professions, and each has some claim to it, but neither fills it very well. Land use planning would clearly be improved if it involved someone who understands three-dimensional design. On the other hand, some one is needed to design the city, not just the buildings. Therefore, there was a need for someone who could be called an urban designer."

Undoubtedly urban design cannot stand alone between these three main professions. Urban design is an interdisciplinary concept and should be considered with the other disciplines and professions such as Real Estate Development, Economics, Civil Engineering, Law, Social Sciences and Natural Sciences.

2. Urban Design Theory

2.1. Urban Spatial Design Theories

1. Figure-Ground Theory

The figure-ground theory is founded on the study of the relative land coverage of

§          Solid masses à (“figure”) (buildings) to

§          Open voidsà (”ground”). (parks, streets, squares)

A predominant “field” of solids and voids creates the urban fabric.

[Remember the first lecture: Elements of Built Environment: masses (m) / spaces (s) / paths (p)]

The figure-ground approach to spatial design is an attempt to manipulate the solid-void relationships by adding to, subtracting from, or changing the physical geometry of the pattern.

The figure-ground drawing is a graphic tool for illustrating mass-void relationships; a two-dimensional abstraction in plan view that clarifies the structure and order of urban spaces.

Urban Solids:

§          [m] Public Monuments or institutions (Ziggurat, Pyramid, Gothic or Baroque Churches etc.)

§          [m] Urban Blocks (Krier’s mission is to reconstruct the traditional urban block as the definer of streets and square)

§          [m] Edge-defining Buildings -establish an edge of the district- (Berlage’s Housing district in Amsterdam, 1915)

Urban Voids:

§          [s] Entry foyer space –establishes the important transition from personal domain to common territory- (fore court, mews, niche, lobby, front yard)

§          [s] Inner block void –a semi private residential space for leisure or utility- (courtyard and covered passage)

§          [p] Network of streets and squares –places to spend time in and corridors through which to move-

§          [s] Public parks and gardens –nodes for the preservation of nature in the city, places for recreation-

§          [p] Linear open-space system commonly related to major water features such as rivers, waterfronts, and wetland zones.

2. Linkage Theory

Linkage theory is derived from “lines” connecting one element to another. These lines are formed by streets, pedestrian ways, linear open spaces, or other linking elements that psychically connect the parts of a city.

The designer applying the linkage theory tries to organize a system of connections, or a network, that establishes a structure for ordering spaces.  Emphasis is placed on circulation diagram rather than the spatial diagram of the figure-ground theory. Movement systems and the efficiency of infrastructure take precedence over patterns of defined outdoor space.

Three Types of Spatial Linkage according to Fumihiko Maki:

§          Compositional form: Individual buildings are composed on a two-dimensional plane. In this type of urban form, spatial linkage is indirect rather than obvious and is typical of Functionalist planning methods.  (Chandigarh Government Center, Brasilia)

§          Megaform: Structures are connected to a linear framework in a hierarchical, open ended system where linkage is physically imposed.  Experiments in megaform were especially popular in the 1950s and 1960s due to its administrative and engineering advantages.  (The works of Kenzo Tange, Peter Cook’s Plug in City-1964-)

§          Group Form: Group form results from an incremental accumulation of structures along armature of communal open space, and linkage is naturally and organically evolved. Historic towns and villages have tended to develop in this pattern. (Images of the Greek village and the linear Japanese agrarian village)

3. Place Theory

The place theory adds the components of human needs and cultural, historical, and natural contexts. Advocates of the place theory give physical space additional richness by incorporating unique forms and details indigenous to its setting. In place theory social and cultural values, visual perceptions, of users and an individual’s control over public environment are as important as principles of enclosure and linkage. 

Difference between space and place

[Yer-Mekan- Yer Olmayan, Ebru Yılmaz, http://www.geocities.com/nomaddesign2001/index.html ]

Space: is bounded or purposeful void with the potential of physically linking things. Space can be defined by categories or typologies based on physical properties.

Place: Çevre (milieu) / bir şeyin bulunduğu yer / mahal (locality); bir olayın geçtiği yer / ortam (locale) / komşuluk birimi (neigborhood) / bölge (region, territory). According to Norberg-Shulz a place is a space which has a distinct character. (Norberg-Schulz'un tanımında 'yer' kimlik, karakter, ruh gibi karşılıklar bulur ) Space only becomes a place when it is given a contextual meaning from cultural or regional content. Each place is unique and takes its character from its surroundings. This character consists both of concrete things having material substance, shape, texture and color, and of more intangible cultural associations, a certain patina given by human use over time.

Mass consumption of urban land through rapid urbanization did not allow creating “a sense of place” in newly built urban and suburban settings. In the case of new towns and urban renewal projects, they have often been completed absolutes (overdesigned) that do not allow user manipulation.

1960’s were reform years. Architecture should be more responsive to people and their needs.

Different Approaches in Place Theory:

§          Vernacularism, Regionalism: Ralph Erskine represents an attempt to respond vernacular, organic systems.

§          Neo-Classicists and Neo-Rationalists : After 1960’s New Rationalism headed by the architects Aldo Rossi of Italy, Leon and Rob Krier of Luxembourg. They look at formal devices to connect the new to existing. They are influenced by structuralist thoughts. The Neo Rationalists architects and theoreticians expressed city building in terms of typology (building forms) and morphology (city forms) and regarded buildings and cities as “theaters of memory.” (to build with memory)  Kriers’ defended the poetic content and aesthetic quality of space, idea of cities within a city, rediscovery of the primary elements of architecture such as column, the wall, and the roof. Neo Classicists architect Ricordo Bofill proposed monumental design via the megastructures of the 1960s and 1970s.

§          French Contextualists: create nostalgic collages to imitate the evolution of the city. (idea of nostalgia) “Le Groupe 7” à Christian de Portzamparc, Antoine Grumbach…[Contextualism: in which individual building is seen as part of a larger whole. The form, color, and scale of the new building may be closely related to that of any existing one]

§          Neo Empiricists: Kevin Lynch has studied the mental mapping process of individuals in the city, Donald Appleyard examines the perception of buildings, S. Anderson has studied the ecology of the street, Gordon Cullen explores the experience of sequence through space. (relationship between object and movement emphasizing the powerful effect of the third dimension)





Clean break with the past (clean slate)

Historicism, architecture of memory and monuments, return to the beauty of pre-industrial order of cities

Internationalism, neutrality, International Style

Contextualism, importance of site/place, regionalism, vernacular design, pluralism

Planners/architects as creative artists

Planners/architects as respectful provider, public servant

New building types for a new society

To a return to traditional building types

Rationality, functionalism, fordism, the machine metaphor

Use of symbolism, ornament, post-fordism, the metaphors of collage


2.2. Urban Design Paradigms

1. Urban Design Theory on the European Continent

§          Neo-Rationalism

§          Neo-Classicism

2. Urban Design Theory: The Anglo-American Axis

§          The Townscape Movement

§          Venturi and Contextualism

§          Historical Eclecticism

§          Neo-traditional Urbanism