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Thread: Urban Design for the Non-Designer

  1. #1
    Nov 2005
    New York, NY

    Urban Design for the Non-Designer

    Let me say first that reading the various threads on Cyburbia has been very helpful in informing my decision to matriculate next fall and i'd like to thank some of the grizzled veterans that seem to be omnipresent on the site...you know who you are.

    My quandry is as such: I am currently a film editor. I have worked in fashion photography as an art director and I have designed and built several small but creative construction projects (artist studio, treehouses, small business, bar, etc.) In addition I was an art history major as an undergrad and I feel as though that while I do not possess a traditional design background, my aesthetic eye has developed holistically and via interdiscipilnary pursuits. That said I'm looking to get a masters in urban planning with a strong urban design emphasis. I've searched through many school curriculums and have found mostly post-professional urban design programs. I need a school that is willing to nurture the unpolished designer within me, without requiring a previously held design oriented masters. Where can this be accomlished? The university of Michigan seems to have the closet coupling of Urban Planning and Urban Design programs, but I spent 4 tremendous years in Ann Arbor as an undergrad and would prefer a new locale. My ultimate goal is to eventually add on some study in real estate development and finance and see what the world of sustainable/green construction/development has in store for me. That's me and I welcome any advice that can be imparted by those of you in the know. The question can be approached from a couple of angles: What schools/programs should I be looking at? Is there an alternate path to this ultimate goal of mine? My list if schools currently are: Cal Berkeley, MIT, UPENN, Harvard, University of Washington, and University of Michigan.

    When people ask me what i'd like to do with my life, I still hesitate to place "green" and "development" in the same utterance. Is it unrational to feel that the two seem antithetical to each other, or do they actually coincide more than I'm able to credit them for?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian The District's avatar
    Nov 2005
    New Hampshire Seacoast
    a lot of people have mentioned univ. of maryland as a good urban design school for non-architectural types, as well as uwm. i saw a thread on it here somewhere...


    this seems to be the best recent discussion on the topic. also, here in denver, CU has an urban design master's degree. http://www.cudenver.edu/Academics/Co...ban+Design.htm
    some people end up doing both a masters in planning and a masters in UD since there can be so much overlap, which might be good. i hear good things from the students of these programs.

    no, green and development are not oxymorons. it is possible to create developments that contribute, but you may have to go it on your own, since getting a job in that type of firm is often competitive and the market is relatively small. i'm sure others will disagree.

  3. #3

    Mar 2005
    Washington, D.C.
    All of the schools that you have listed are good schools for what you are interested. Most schools that house their urban planning programs in their architecture school are going to have a more design focus. I have a similiar situation as you in that I have no design background. I was a political science and history undergrad. I'm looking at the University of Maryland, Univ. of Michigan, and Georgia Tech. I'm leaning towards the University of Maryland because they allow you to concentrate in Urban Design without having a design background. I want to stay in the DC area so going to school at Maryland will hopefully help me get a job when I graduate. Maryland may be a good option for you because you could always take some real estate finance classes at their business school. It's one of the top MBA programs in the country. I actually work at a finance company that deals in real estate loans,and we recruit heavily from them.

    It looks like to take the amount of design you would probably want at Washington, you would have to have a design background. Michigan seems to be the other program that allows you to take some design classes without a background. But I'm not 100%. That's something I need to research myself. I would email the specific programs that you are interested in and find out the requirements. Then I would look at what the faculty are researching. If you come across a professor who is researching something you find interesting, shoot him an email. As for the ivy league schools, most have a strong emphasis in design and Penn has the top real estate finance program in the country. So that may be a good option. It totally depends on where you want to work after and how much debt you're willing to rack up. Good luck!

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Reductionist's avatar
    Nov 2005
    Swans, Fruits & Nuts
    Quote Originally posted by chupalohoney
    When people ask me what i'd like to do with my life, I still hesitate to place "green" and "development" in the same utterance. Is it unrational to feel that the two seem antithetical to each other, or do they actually coincide more than I'm able to credit them for?
    From the Pro-Urb listserv:

    LEED architecture without good urban design is like cutting down the rainforest using hybrid-powered bull dozers. - Dan Malouff

    I've long noticed the contradiction that many smart, well meaning people tend to believe that technological bells and whistles, a la hydrogen powered cars and "smart" houses are the only solution to our environmental woes. Basically it's a story of wanting to have your cake and eat it to. If only invest is those types of "holy grail" technologies, so the story goes, then we can continue to live our gluttonous, destructive suburban lifestyle guilt-free.

    I think once you get into a planning program you'll realize that there is ample foolishness on both sides. Indeed ignorant, well-meaning enviromentalists are often just as much as an obstacle to good urban design and sustainable development as are the free market libertarian types. Whenever I hear some SUV driving, yuppie enviromentalist say more "green space" is the solution to our urban woes I want to scream.

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