Urban Design

The Australian Urban Design Awards are an activity of the Urban Design Chapter in conjunction with the Royal Australian Institute of Architects and Australian Institute of Landscape Architects. The images are of the two Australian Urban Design Winners for 2006. Balaclava Walk, Melbourne and North Terrace, Adelaide.

What is Urban Design, and what does an urban designer do?

Urban design aims at the creation of useful, attractive, safe, environmentally sustainable, economically successful and socially equitable places. Good urban design pursues local identity and sense of place, cultural responsiveness and purposeful environmental innovation. It achieves a high level of quality, comfort, safety, equity, beauty and cohesion in the overall, physical outcome of all the development, planning, engineering, architectural and landscape design decisions that contribute to urban change.

Leading urban designers have particular skills in any or all of:

  • definition and analysis of urban design tasks;
  • development of urban design concepts, programs, policies and plans;
  • development of successful implementation strategies;
  • performance evaluation of urban design projects, policies and processes;
  • interaction with communities and public and private planning institutions; and
  • teaching, research and innovation and development of knowledge in the field

Key design competency areas

Public domain design

The overall and detail design of the shared realm of cities and towns - their public domain - by managing the disposition of space defining elements, space and its elements in accordance with clearly defined aims and needs: this is the central competency of an urban designer.

Urban development project design

The strategic physical design of significant urban development projects and initiatives, manifest in proposals, competition entries and executed plans.

Urban architectural design

The definition and design of architectural projects in particular, carefully considered and successful relation to their urban context.

Adaptive reuse and urban infill design

The modification and change of existing structures and spaces, and the development of new structures and spaces, designed in ways that take special account of nature and requirements of urban surroundings.

Open space design

The general as well as detailed design of squares, sidewalks, promenades, courtyards and other open spaces. This may include spatially significant forms of public or environmental art.

Urban landscape design

The general as well as detailed design of parks, urban gardens, waterscapes, biologically active and landscaped water retention, reticulation and recycling systems.

Public infrastructure design

The design of streets, roads and other transport facilities that considers the needs of all modes of movement, particularly those of pedestrians.

Development control plan preparation

The design and specification of urban design informed and outcome-geared physical development controls for urban areas.

Master planning

The study, development and documentation of comprehensive urban design plans for particular and larger urban areas, in coordinating the performance and requirements of multiple individual development parcels, access, public infrastructure installations and public domain provisions. Master plans may pertain to special areas, development precincts, waterfront areas, town centre precincts and others. They typically define open spaces, building envelopes, access systems and staging provisions, along with more detailed performance dimensions of well-designed urban areas.

Structure planning

The study, development and documentation of comprehensive regional, sub-regional and urban-scale design plans, covering areas larger than those of master plans. Structure plans incorporate a number of regional and precinct design layers and dimensions, including geological and hydrological conditions, microclimate, water systems and aquifers, green space systems, street networks, building blocks and parcels, and public support amenities.

Teaching and research

Substantial and sustained, well-documented teaching and research in the above areas also qualify as relevant activities here.

Design associated competencies

Urban context analysis

The ability to methodically investigate, digest, understand and communicate the key features and characteristics of urban settings, as well as the opportunities and constraints to be considered for urban designs.

User needs, use pattern and other forms of urban design program analysis

The methodical and targeted development, investigation and corroboration of the aims and assumptions underlying urban design tasks. This may involve use patterns studies, space use analyses, user needs investigations, interviews, environmental and spatial behaviour observation and/or the mapping of community perceptions.

Design brief preparation

The intelligent and comprehensive development of a written and graphically illustrated brief to designers and design teams, in ways that endures critical investigation and allows interaction and change. Design briefs will spell out programs, aims, performance criteria and success measures - as well as other means by which the design is to be judged.

Strategic planning and stakeholder goal finding processes

Urban design is typically informed by clear outcome expectations. The development of a precise and inclusive set of visions is therefore essential. Urban designers are often engaged in stakeholder processes that investigate the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that pertain to a particular situation, define analytically sound outcomes and design strategies to pursue these.

Teaching and research

Substantial and sustained, well-documented teaching and research in the above areas also qualify as relevant activities here.

Other, closely related practice areas

Sustainable development

The incorporation and use of a wide range of essential sustainable design approaches relevant to the urban environment. This includes principles and techniques of energy efficiency and conservation, urban heat island mitigation, renewable energy generation, water sensitive urban design and the avoidance of toxicity and other forms of damage to human health.

Accessibility and mobility

The systematic and principled enabling of equitable access to services, facilities, employment, training and recreation, including through a choice of safe and efficient transport modes (eg public transport, private vehicle, bicycle, walking and wheelchair). Provision of convenient and dignified access to private and public spaces for people with impaired mobility.

Community development

Applying techniques and principles of enhancing identity and cohesion within communities through design, by building their capacity to organise and take part in community life, and to participate in decisions about local urban change, improvements and development.

Cultural heritage

Applying techniques and principles of respecting and reflecting the traditions and valuable patterns of an urban area and its context.

Culturally sensitive design

Assessment and incorporation of cultural resources and characteristics and the development of programs that assist communities in enacting their cultural identities and interests, reinforcing and enabling cultural values, meanings, practice and beliefs of the community in urban design, considering both Indigenous and non-indigenous cultures

Safety by design

Analysis, understanding and integration of personal and community security and public safety issues into urban design choices.

Traffic and transport planning

All physical planning and design aspects of local area access, circulation and traffic design as well as sub/regional transport planning: broad access, mobility and proximity are important urban design concerns, especially in close integration in core urban design decisions.

Property development and finance

Principles of urban property development and development finance; public and private means of financing of good design; urban design as means of enhancing community and developer project dividends.

Equity through economic development

Promoting opportunities for participation in urban development specifically, or more broadly the local economy through the strengthening of local industry, employment and training, made especially accessible to the local labour force.

Teaching and research

Substantial and sustained, well-documented teaching and research in the above areas also qualify as relevant activities here.