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Thread: Urban Design or planning as Career?

  1. #1

    Urban Design or planning as Career?

    Dear all,

    I'm interested in a career in urban design or planning. I currently have a BA in Geography, however I'm working in an unrelated field doing administrative work.
    I'm confused on the differences between the two fields and the processes to become an urban designer. I have the following questions:

    1) I'm interested in desiging the look, layout, of developments & urban/regional districts, and not just zoning or policy. Is Urban design the only way for me to go? Is there a creative aspect in planning, or is it just analytical?

    2) What is the best way to get into Urban Design? Should I first get a planning degree or an architectural degree, or both at once? Do I really need to have an architectural degree first?

    Are the design concentrations in the planning degrees enough to qualify one as an employable urban designer at an architectural firm?

    3) Does Urban design include any aspects of planning, and visa versa? Is it just architecture on a larger scale?

    Basically, i would like to be involved in some creative design aspects but also incorporate some planning areas like statistical analysis, etc.. I don't want to be just involved in policy and zoning without any creative design input. I hope you can
    I'm interested in Transport planning also, but thats a different thread.
    get a picture of what my interests are.

    Thanks for your help,

    Alan

  2. #2
    Corn Burning Fool giff57's avatar
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    Welcome Alan. Lots of questions there. I think you could do what you want to do with your Geography degree. It's all in the position you have. Some jobs have lots of design aspects and others have little. One thing you could do is get a MURP from a design heavy program. Iowa State would be one that I know of, but there are others.
    “As soon as public service ceases to be the chief business of the citizens, and they would rather serve with their money than with their persons, the State is not far from its fall”
    Jean-Jacques Rousseau

  3. #3
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    I kind of like being on the fence with this one. I earned a BS in planning and a minor in Art and Design. This background allows me to fully understand both sides of the discipline.

    Some of the differences is an Urban Designer has a bit more of a targeted aspect and more of a visual focus as opposed to a textual focus.

  4. #4
         
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    same questions

    Quote Originally posted by michaelskis
    I kind of like being on the fence with this one. I earned a BS in planning and a minor in Art and Design. This background allows me to fully understand both sides of the discipline.

    Some of the differences is an Urban Designer has a bit more of a targeted aspect and more of a visual focus as opposed to a textual focus.
    amazingly enough, i hhave been tackling with these same issues. I want to be involved in the visual and design aspects, as well as know the planning aspects. I already have gone to school for a BS in poly sci. Is a lengthy architecture degree a good thing to pick up or a planning education. I ask simply because I am interested in going back to school. I see that Georgia Tech has a design component in their city planning program. They also have a dual degree for both city planning and architecture. But this definitely would take much more time. Anyways, any advice would be sooooo greatly appreciated.

    I thank you in advance...

  5. #5
    Quote Originally posted by breeze
    amazingly enough, i hhave been tackling with these same issues. I want to be involved in the visual and design aspects, as well as know the planning aspects. I already have gone to school for a BS in poly sci. Is a lengthy architecture degree a good thing to pick up or a planning education. I ask simply because I am interested in going back to school. I see that Georgia Tech has a design component in their city planning program. They also have a dual degree for both city planning and architecture. But this definitely would take much more time. Anyways, any advice would be sooooo greatly appreciated.

    I thank you in advance...

    Thanks for all the help, however i'm still in need of more advice. I'm confused about just what Urban Design is. Does it have any elements of planning it it? Is it just design - like architecture on a grand scale?

    If i just did planning, is there any design/creative aspect to a planner's job?

    If I forgo architecture and just do a planning degree, will I be able to become an urban designer and be hired by private sector firms who do this work? Is architecture really necessary?

    Any thoughts on the dual urban planning / architecture degree -- is it extremely hard? I thought architecture would be hard enough as a degree.

    Do planners design airports -- what kind of direction would i go for that? I like the idea of desiging airport terminals, rail stations, etc..

    Thanks
    Alan

  6. #6
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    My experience (as an architect) is that architects would definitely be the ones doing transportation terminals (along with structural and civil engineers as consultants) - usually larger architecture firms. For sure, I would think if physical design of large buildings or small complexes is the main thing you are interested in, then architecture would prepare you best. (Well, a dual degree in planning and architecture might be best if that is an option.) However, I am comparing the analytic, more policy-based planning program I am currently in versus my design-oriented architecture experience. I have little knowledge of more design-oriented planning programs which may be the nexus and may be what you are looking for. I could imagine getting an urban design planning degree from a school that is part of an architecture and urban planning school (like Columbia) might also be one avenue - rather than going to a planning program that is in a geography or public policy school.

    One thing to consider is the long and difficult road of getting an architecture degree and license, and the relatively small economic return. And then getting dual degrees would be truly ponderous. I am not trying to dissuade you or curb your enthusiasm but just trying to be realistic.

    I have to confess that I would have difficultly more precisely defining urban design myself or exactly what jobs this degree would lead to. Maybe others can chime in? (I'd be interested, myself.)

    One approach might be examining some particular projects you are inspired by and reasearching who put them together in order to get an idea of the various roles. I've done this before and sometimes it leads one down an interesting path indeed!

    Good luck!

    Rob

  7. #7
    Thx Rob,


    Why did you leave architecture for planning?

    Is there any creative aspects to your planning degree? How much is dealing with government?

    Are there private sector jobs for planners that are not so government based?

    I found geography not so thrilling, and i don't want to repeat that. If this is the case, would you say planning is not for me?

    I like the design aspects better than policy, but architecture is hard for someone like me who doesn't come from a design background -- portfolio would be hard to prepare for entry to a school. Thats why i was hoping Urban Design would be an option.

    I'm not sure of planning because of my experience in geography -- it just didn't make my eyes light up.

    I'm interested in transportation also. Is trans-planning very math based... can you give me a brief overview?

    Thanks

    Alan

  8. #8
    If any body knows about Urban Design -- please let me know what kind of jobs or firms that a degree in urban design would lead to. Also, could you please let me know the best education route.

  9. #9
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    Well, I haven't yet left architecture for planning - I'm still working for a large Architecture & Engineering firm while attending classes in Urban and Regional Planning. Personally, I have't decided whether I am more into Housing/Community Development or Transportation - lately, I feel it is the latter.

    But to the point of your question - yes, I am moving toward planning and the reason is that I am interested in taking a broader view than individual buildings (often sited in terribly wrong places that the architect can do nothing about). I am imagining finding myself in transportation planning, transportation-land use planning, or transportation infrastructure architecture and planning.

    The creativity question is a hard one. I mean, there is creativity possible in so many endeavors, including tasks that outwardly might not sound so obviously creative (such as creating "trial balloon" projects or policies in order to get community feedback). There certainly has been a notion of creativity in my classes so far.

    However, if one is defining creativity in the more traditional way - dealing with, for example, the creative arts - then architecture is a field where there is a greater sense of making objects, drawing, imagining an aesthetic, etc. Are you an artist of any kind? It would be helpful if you at least draw so that, as you say, you have a portfolio for architecture school. If this is something you are not even comfortable with then architecture may not be for you. (I've drawn all my life, so it was a natural.) I can advise you more on matters of creating a portfolio if you go that route.

    On the issue of government versus private sector I think if you read this board you'll find a good mix (as I have). My program seems to land a lot of people in goverment probably because it is in the capital of New York, which is a huge seat of government. But more of my friends who are planners work in private sector. None of my planning friends have what I would characterize as 'creative' jobs, exactly. They are more administrative functions. But planning doesn't have to be that way (not that it is bad if it works out that way either) and I think it is a field, broadly speaking, that at least requires imagination.

    What exactly are you passionate about? You mention not being that into geography (which is probably OK), but what turns you on? Do you buy magazines and read books on certain things, are you excited by going into cities or into the country or taking drives or train rides or what? Part of my career re-direction is that I love to read about planning theory and housing policy, and my whole life I've loved train stations, trains, and even transit networks. (As a kid I used to look at subway maps and memorize names of stops!). These types of things are clues about which direction one should head. If you love buildings - particularly impressive, monumental stuff - go for architecture if you can afford to. Otherwise, it may be planning - but pinning down a direction in planning (which is a much broader field than architecture) will be the challenge. The more I think about your situation the more I am thinking it might be good to at least look into urban design programs based in architecture schools or architecture & planning schools.

    I still don't have a great definition of urban design for you but I'll think about it some more.

    Rob

  10. #10
    I've always liked aviation, airport terminals, buildings, urban development, resorts, trains & stations, cities layout in general, etc.. I wanted to be a pilot when I was growing up, but i have ruled that out for various reasons.

    housing didn't turn me on in my urban class in geography.

    I was thinking of transporation planning-but from my research it sounds too statistical/mathematical for my liking, and too involved in roads/traffic or forecasting demand. My math skills are average.

    I've always been interested in airport terminals, intermodal high-speed train stations, etc.. I like the design of individual buildings and the broader layout of an airport, or resort, large urban project.

    I took several drawing classes at a local art college and produced some OK stuff, nothing great. its not my greatest natural talent i don't think.

    However, do you need to be able to draw like an illustrator to be an architect/urban designer? Some architects can't draw figures, for example. Will college teach me to improve me drawing, or is one expected to be amazing going in.
    I prefer drawing geometric shapes, and i'm better at still lives -- figure are hard for me.

    Planning, in terms of design, only goes as far as zoning maps, layouts, etc.. Am i correct?

    Portfolio advice would be good. How about if I include photographs as well?

    Thanks
    Alan


    Quote Originally posted by RSW
    Well, I haven't yet left architecture for planning - I'm still working for a large Architecture & Engineering firm while attending classes in Urban and Regional Planning. Personally, I have't decided whether I am more into Housing/Community Development or Transportation - lately, I feel it is the latter.

    But to the point of your question - yes, I am moving toward planning and the reason is that I am interested in taking a broader view than individual buildings (often sited in terribly wrong places that the architect can do nothing about). I am imagining finding myself in transportation planning, transportation-land use planning, or transportation infrastructure architecture and planning.

    The creativity question is a hard one. I mean, there is creativity possible in so many endeavors, including tasks that outwardly might not sound so obviously creative (such as creating "trial balloon" projects or policies in order to get community feedback). There certainly has been a notion of creativity in my classes so far.

    However, if one is defining creativity in the more traditional way - dealing with, for example, the creative arts - then architecture is a field where there is a greater sense of making objects, drawing, imagining an aesthetic, etc. Are you an artist of any kind? It would be helpful if you at least draw so that, as you say, you have a portfolio for architecture school. If this is something you are not even comfortable with then architecture may not be for you. (I've drawn all my life, so it was a natural.) I can advise you more on matters of creating a portfolio if you go that route.

    On the issue of government versus private sector I think if you read this board you'll find a good mix (as I have). My program seems to land a lot of people in goverment probably because it is in the capital of New York, which is a huge seat of government. But more of my friends who are planners work in private sector. None of my planning friends have what I would characterize as 'creative' jobs, exactly. They are more administrative functions. But planning doesn't have to be that way (not that it is bad if it works out that way either) and I think it is a field, broadly speaking, that at least requires imagination.

    What exactly are you passionate about? You mention not being that into geography (which is probably OK), but what turns you on? Do you buy magazines and read books on certain things, are you excited by going into cities or into the country or taking drives or train rides or what? Part of my career re-direction is that I love to read about planning theory and housing policy, and my whole life I've loved train stations, trains, and even transit networks. (As a kid I used to look at subway maps and memorize names of stops!). These types of things are clues about which direction one should head. If you love buildings - particularly impressive, monumental stuff - go for architecture if you can afford to. Otherwise, it may be planning - but pinning down a direction in planning (which is a much broader field than architecture) will be the challenge. The more I think about your situation the more I am thinking it might be good to at least look into urban design programs based in architecture schools or architecture & planning schools.

    I still don't have a great definition of urban design for you but I'll think about it some more.

    Rob

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by aadoyle
    Planning, in terms of design, only goes as far as zoning maps, layouts, etc.. Am i correct?
    Not at all. While not all planners will use design skills, many will be in the position of writing/illustrating design codes, making design recommendations on public and private projects, and enforcing historic district regulations.

    I have designed parks and monuments, prepared landscaping plans for public buildings, prepared facade renderings for preservation work, and even designed a couple small buildings, all as a planner.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  12. #12
    Cyburbian munibulldog's avatar
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    Landscape Architecture folks, Civil Engineers and Architects seem to do most of the urban design work from what I see on the municipal side.

    City Managers try to tell them what to do, but the real design is done by somebody in a back room on CAD in some engineering/architectural firm.

    My impression of the Planning field is that it is more regulatory, you review plans and designs drawn by others. Running a good meeting, encouraging public input, plan review, zoning code rewrites, code enforcement and building inspection coordination are the typical municipal planning tasks.

  13. #13
         
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    To make my life story short . . . (urban design/arch/planning)

    Hey, I guess the good thing about lurking is that sooner or later, someone will ask your question for you. I'm kind of in the same boat as far as considering urban design. I went to a small liberal arts school, got a degree in Urban & Environmental Policy, and am now wondering where to go from here. I've pretty much looked into everything on the spectrum from law to architecture . . .

    As far as career training, I'd agree with previous posters about training for urban design. Just from what I've seen in researching the field, it seems to be done by folks with a design degree. I assume this is because of the years of honing graphic presentation skills and maybe the whole professional liability issue.

    Anyway, I sort of hit the jackpot in terms of exploring architecture. The Portland Community College campus near me has an architecture program, and I've been able to take both a theory/design course and architectural graphics course this semester. I'm still not sure if I'm ready to take the 3-3.5 year plunge into a master's program, but after designing five projects, drafting one of them, and building a lot of foamcore models, I have a much better feel for the process itself.

    Of course I've been pretty lucky in finding this program. To sum the whole thing up, I would say:

    1) I'm not totally sure what urban design is, but you need a design degree to do it
    2) I highly, highly recommend getting your feet wet in a design-related class beforehand.

    A question of my own . . . I'm noticing a trend towards schools offering dual degrees in MLA/MURP. If anyone is familiar with these, might they be the closest thing to a direct path in to urban design? One of the main things discouraging me from the design degree path is that its a lot of time to study things like building interiors or different plant types when my main interest is cityscapes.

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