What is Urban Design?

Updated: Jun 15

Urban design became a field of expertise to bridge the gap between Architecture and Town Planning where it has its own theories and principles that enable the urban designer to translate spatial and two dimensional planning policies into the design of urban spaces and form with the ultimate goal of creating the sense of place. It is not the physical aspect of town planning nor is it to be seen as architecture on a bigger scale. As a design based field of expertise, formal training in urban design at post graduate levels will give added value to the professionals related to the built environment. Although urban design as a subject is introduced in the training of a town planner, architect and landscape architect, it is just at introductory level and does not cover the whole scope of urban design knowledge as compared to having formal training in urban design either at post graduate diploma, masters or PhD level. The skills and knowledge in urban design by professionals in the built environment will ensure better design coordination and sense of unity to the urban form and spaces at the city level.


One of the most important tools in an urban design excercise is to study the figure ground of a city. The figure ground is based on the study of the relative land coverage of buildings as solid mass to open voids (ground). Each urban environment has an existing pattern of solid and voids that when used in a morphological study of a city will reveal the urban pattern that characterise a town and could influence its genius loci. The figure ground approach to spatial design is an attempt to manipulate these relationships by adding or subtracting from an existing urban pattern or changing the physical geometry of the pattern. The objective of these manipulations is to classify the structure of urban space in a city or district by establishing a hierarchy of spaces of different sizes that are individually enclosed but ordered directionally in relation to each other. This approach to urban design appears to be missing in this country, where new development in an existing city can just totally break away from the existing pattern and disrupts the sense of unity of the place. The effect is more detrimental to historical cities whose uniqueness could be due to its urban pattern.


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