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Building design

A Comprehensive Guide to Urban Design

The primary objective of a good urban design is to ensure there is an integrated design of buildings, public facilities, open spaces, and infrastructure that are balanced to guarantee results that are healthy, responsive, resilient, and equitable. 

Camiel Weijenberg
July 13, 2021
Building design

A Comprehensive Guide to Urban Design

Our cities and urban areas grow and develop over time to accommodating the changing populations and their demands. The primary objective of a good urban design is to ensure there is an integrated design of buildings, public facilities, open spaces, and infrastructure that are balanced to guarantee results that are healthy, responsive, resilient, and equitable. 

The field of urban design provides people passionate about cities, towns, and other public spaces with opportunities to assist making the environments the best. So, are you interested in the field? Here is all that you need to know: 

What is Urban Planning?

If you take a closer look at the history of the field of building and construction, you will realize that it has gone through major evolutions. In most cases, people used to live in urban areas where they could easily meet and trade. However, the term architectural urban design was only coined in the 20th century, and it is used to describe a combination of landscape design, city planning, and architecture. Simply put – urban design projects entails sustainable planning for every aspect of an urban area, including streets, landscaping, public parks, buildings, and transportation system

So, what does urban designer do? Part of the duties of an urban designer is ensuring that the urban areas under him/her look and feel pleasing. This is done through tasks such as updating/ adding public parks and giving special attention to details such as landscaping furniture. The term "furniture" is used figuratively in urban planning and development, and it encompasses a number of items, such as street lights, street signs benches and trash cans, placed for pedestrian comfort and convenience. 

Another crucial task done by the urban designers is ensuring that the different elements needed for an urban area allow for its functionality. For example, how easy is it to navigate from a public park to the main public transport terminus? What about travelling from the residential area located on the eastern side of the city to the industrial workplace on the east? To make this easy, designers carefully plan for the road network and also use signage. 

Is there a Difference between Urban Design and Architect’s Job?

Another common question that people interested in urban design always ask is, “What is the difference with architect’s job?” Urban designers are responsible for deciding where and how the city will look like. They create the actual design or layout of the city. Therefore, they look at the bigger picture, especially the community needs and the anticipated implications on the environment. 

On the other hand, architects are specifically focused on their client’s needs. If an architect wants to become an urban designer, he/she might need to add some credentials for urban planning. However, both architects and urban designers are required to comply with different policies on land use limitations, building codes, and other applicable regulations. 

The Typical Job of an Urban Designer 

While it is true that most professionals in urban design do not help create entirely new cities, they come in handy to help improve the existing ones. For example, city managers often call the designers to help when the population increases and resources appear limited. When the population of an urban city starts growing rapidly, it is likely to cause the following issues: 

  • High congestion in the pedestrian pathways. 
  • Congestion in urban roads
  • Housing shortage. 
  • Challenges dealing with an increase in waste generation. 
  • Inadequate public parks. 

To address such a problem, the urban designer would need to take a look at the current plan to understand what he/she is working with. The next thing is meeting the city management officials to discuss the problem and propose possible sustainable architectural projects to remedy the situation. A new area might be suggested to host more residential buildings and a more elaborate system of waste management adopted. 

Once the method of addressing the problem is agreed upon, the city management will go to the next step and budget for it. Note that for changes to be implemented, all stakeholders need to be involved. This means that you will need to meet with landscape designers, policymakers, investors and community representatives to get their views. 

Finally, you will need to create the right sketches using appropriate urban planning software. A good example is CAD, which allows you to plan every detail, from street lights to plants for the street. This plan will form the basis for changing your city. 

Education Requirements for Urban Designers 

If you look forward to becoming an urban design professional, it is important to get a Bachelor's degree in city planning or urban design. Indeed, this is considered the starting point or entry-level position, but most urban designers further their training to or beyond the master's level. In addition to getting their degrees, you will also need to take courses in the following areas: 

  • Real estate law. 
  • Ecology
  • Landscape architecture. 
  • Architecture. 

Because you will be working with teams of development and planning professionals and urban managers, it is prudent to also develop good specific soft skills, especially collaboration, time management, and problem-solving ability. For example, you will need to work with the city management to understand the focus on promoting the image of the urban area internationally. What issues might arise with their proposals? How do you address them? 

Use the Right Urban Design Software 

Now that you know the requirements for becoming a great urban design professional, you will need one more thing: the right software. Well, there are many tools that you can turn to as a design professional, and it all depends on personal preference. The most commonly used tool is GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP), which makes it pretty easy to add texts and images, edit images, and overlay graphics on urban maps. Other options include SketchUp, Inkscape, and QGIS. 

If you want to work as an urban design professional, it can be a highly rewarding and satisfying career. However, it is never easy because you have to deal with multiple stakeholders and be innovative in crafting solutions for real problems. So, start by getting the right qualifications and progressively get the required experience in urban design to become the professional of your dreams.

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