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Thread: Masters in urban planning vs urban design

  1. #1
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    Masters in urban planning vs urban design

    I was hoping to get some advice about what kind of degree to pursue. I attended the career discovery program at Harvard in urban planning, and I was particularly interested by the design and physical planning aspects of it.

    I'm afraid that if I do a 2-year MA in urban planning, I will end up having to work in the police-related areas of planning. But as I understand it, to get an urban design degree, you first need to get an architecture degree and then do a 1-year urban design MA. (I have a BA in English and no previous design background.) Would it make sense to go through all that architectural training if my ultimate goal is urban design?

    Some additional considerations:
    - I want to study and ultimately work in the NYC area
    - I would prefer to work at a private firm
    - Because of the high living expenses in NYC, pay is important
    - I feel young enough to spend a bit longer in school if it will get me where I want to be
    - I'm afraid I will have trouble getting into an arch program with no design background

    Thanks in advance for any advice!

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    If you want to do design, go for an MArch or an MLA (you can do urban design and even planning with either degree). MUDs are not all the same, and I would stay away from them if you don't have a design degree. MUDs are degrees, but they really function more like certificates to other design degrees.

    If you want to do design work, you are going to have to put in the time in studio working towards a design degree (3-4 years for a non-design background). Search previous posts.

  3. #3
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    2 additional options?

    beatlebug9 / nrschmid -

    From the programs I've looked at, even MArch or MLA programs demand some previous design experience (not sure if this is the case universally). While the demands are minimal, it may prevent someone with no design background from meeting admission requirements.

    Alternatively, I have seen 2 options to pursuing a career in design:
    1. Do a MA in Urban Planning with a specialization/concentration in Urban Design (GIT, UPenn etc... offer this)
    2. Do a MA in Urban Planning and get an Urban Design Certificate (Portland State, UPenn, MIT etc... offer this)

    Of course, with just a specialization or certificate in design, I don't think you'd get the depth of a Masters degree. However, it might be a good way to break into the design world. Additionally, I don't think a specialization or certificate would qualify you for admission into a MUD program in the future.

    As I have little knowledge of the design/planning worlds, I'd be interested in hearing others' opinions on these options.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    You say urban planning, I say urban design

    Beatlebug9 / Milodesc

    I'm currently attending the MUP program at the GSD with eyes on the urban design concentration. You are absolutely right that a MArch or a MLA is a requirement for most if not all post-professional urban design programs. The MAUD program at Harvard for example requires intense prior preparation in design. Even a MUP with a design concentration/certificate won't prepare you sufficiently for these programs, let alone capital-D urban design jobs.

    So if you are set on urban design, then it's probably better that you explore MArch or MLA programs, with a possible concurrent MUP. It'll be a long and intense 4+ years, but since you said you didn't mind being in school a bit longer, you could consider it. Your non-design background will not jeopardize your whole application, but you should be able to demonstrate potential and "taste", for the lack of a better word. This is however not the forum to discuss this...

    On the other hand, if your interest lies on the larger urban scale, and you are not too keen on architecture itself, then a MUP with a design concentration could work for you. As a self-identified design-conscious person, I find policy-oriented work hugely rewarding as well. The design concentration won't qualify you for hardcore urban design work, of course, but the "designer's eye" you develop in these programs can make you (in the words of a practitioner-professor here) a valuable intermediary in a large multi-disciplinary firm such as Sasaki etc.

    Feel free to PM me if you wanna talk more about this.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    You don't need a design background in order to apply for an MArch or an MLA (that's why you are going back to school in the first place). Having a previous design degree and/or experience just means you may be elligble to (1) enter an MUD program without advanced standing in another degree and (2) complete the MArch or MLA in a shorter amount of time.

    Search previous posts-

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    You don't need a design background in order to apply for an MArch or an MLA (that's why you are going back to school in the first place).
    There are definitely plenty of 3-year MArch/MLA programs which don't require a previous degree in Arch or Larch.

    However, most schools I've looked at require a portfolio showing artistic or design ability to be submitted along with the application. Some don't require the portfolio, University of Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Georgia for example, but I feel they are in the minority.

    Would you agree with that assessment?

    ps. Thanks for the help clarifying all of this. It's definitely helpful.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    Are you SURE about portfoliios?


    http://www.landarch.uiuc.edu/admissi...d/howtoapply/+

    http://landarch.cdes.umn.edu/degree/...portfolio.html

    http://www.ced.uga.edu/index.php/adm..._requirements/

    Are you SURE about no portfolios? Michigan is very difficult to get into, either for an MUP, MUD, MArch, or MLA. I am pretty sure that they require a portfolio. I visited UGAs MLA program this year. Although the website doesnt say it is required, faculty DEFINETELY prefer it.

    Bottom line, you should have a portfolio that demonstrates your creativity. It doesn't necessarily need to be design or artistic (but it is DEFINETELY required). You are applying for a design degree, you can only skip out on the portfolio option for so long, and you won';t be able to find a job afterwords without one). If you don't have any design background I would say include art samples (paintings, drawings, sketches, renderings, even mapmaking). If you don't have that, then include samples of writings, published works, articles, or anything that shows your creative side.

    I would also recommend enrolling in a program that has a semester long course dedicated to portfolios (UGA has one). It is going to be a huge help for you down the road when you are competing for jobs against other graduates.

    Hope this helps-

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    Are you SURE about no portfolios?
    Only to the extent of what I've read on the websites of several programs:
    From the U of Illinois @ UC site:
    A portfolio must be submitted to the Department if the student's undergraduate or professional work is in a design field. Non-design students are exempt from this requirement.
    From the U of Minnesota site:
    Applicants to the MLA Path I program, without previous professional design degrees, may submit a dossier of written work such as papers or reports on environmental issues, or other writing samples. Submission of a portfolio is recommended but not required.
    From the U of Michigan site
    MLA applicants: Portfolio optional
    As I mentioned in my previous post, most schools do require a portfolio to be submitted when applying. However, it seems from the application guidelines quoted above, a portfolio isn't required for admission to all schools.

    Regardless, I think we can both agree that in applying for admission your are much better off if you send in a portfolio. This is true even if it means submitting non-design works, such as the art and writing samples you've mentioned.

  9. #9
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    Changing major to Urban Design/Planning

    My first question is: what are the main differences between urban planning and urban design? Is urban planning the big scope of things? (zoning, transportation layout, etc) Is urban design focused more on the urban aesthetics? (trees on the median of a boulevard, a mural on the side of a building) I honestly don't know.

    Secondly, I have completed two years of a Civil Engineering degree. I understand that if I were to finish my civil engineering degree I could become an urban planner; but I am having a discouraging struggle working through the courses. How 'hand-in-hand' do civil engineering and urban planning/design go (in schooling)? If I have a lot to catch up on, would physics 1&2, chemistry 1&2, statics, calc I, and a few other engineering courses be a benefit for transferring into another school or getting accepted for jobs?

    Which is/will be in higher need? Urban planners or Urban designers?

    I would like to move to Northern Europe, what is the job market like over there?

    Thank you for helping me with my problems. Please help me answer any or all of the above questions.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    Portfolios

    Don't be put off by programs that ask for some kind of portfolio. They're simply looking for some sort of expression of creativity. If you don't have a "design background" they have almost no bearing on admission decisions, except that they'll look to see that you've submitted something.

    I used one-page project summaries with a few graphics from my professional days. Worked great.

  11. #11
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    Don't be put off by programs that ask for some kind of portfolio. They're simply looking for some sort of expression of creativity. If you don't have a "design background" they have almost no bearing on admission decisions, except that they'll look to see that you've submitted something.

    I used one-page project summaries with a few graphics from my professional days. Worked great.
    + 1.

    talk to some of the admissions folks at the schools you're interested in--you will not be the first person to apply without a design background. it'd be great if you can do some freehand drawing classes, but ANYTHING that shows visual creativity is broadly accepted in a non-designer's portfolio content.

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    Degree Breakdown

    I feel like something needs to be cleared up.

    At most schools you need a to have obtained a professional degree in Architecture, Landscape Architecture, or City/Regional Planning prior to enrolling in a MUD program.

    Note in the architecture world, a professional degree is what allows you to become licensed in your respective field (after you completed the mandatory internship period)

    These degrees would be:

    5yr Bachelors of Architecture, obtained in undergrad. Requires a 3yr internship period in order to sit for the Architect Registration Examination (ARE)

    Master of Architecture - the length of this degree varies depending on what you have obtained your undergraduate degree in. If you've obtained the 4yr bachelors of arts in architecture or 4 year bachelor of Environmental Design in Architecture then you'd go in the 2yr M.Arch program. If you come from a different degree program, then you'd go in the 3-3.5yr M.Arch program.

    Landscape Architecture for the most part follows the same rules.

    Some MUD programs will admit you if you have obtained a 4yr non professional degree in Architecture or Landscape design. Just as long as you come from a design background.

    I'm currently in the 5yr Landscape Architecture program and intend on enrolling in a MUD program after 2 or so years of work experience for my portfolio.

    Some MUD programs will take applicants who don't come from design backgrounds, they just make it a requirement that you take a semester (usually summer) of Preparatory Studio/Introductory Design course(s) to get your feet wet so to speak.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally posted by xscobar View post
    I feel like something needs to be cleared up.

    At most schools you need a to have obtained a professional degree in Architecture, Landscape Architecture, or City/Regional Planning prior to enrolling in a MUD program.

    Note in the architecture world, a professional degree is what allows you to become licensed in your respective field (after you completed the mandatory internship period)

    These degrees would be:

    5yr Bachelors of Architecture, obtained in undergrad. Requires a 3yr internship period in order to sit for the Architect Registration Examination (ARE)

    Master of Architecture - the length of this degree varies depending on what you have obtained your undergraduate degree in. If you've obtained the 4yr bachelors of arts in architecture or 4 year bachelor of Environmental Design in Architecture then you'd go in the 2yr M.Arch program. If you come from a different degree program, then you'd go in the 3-3.5yr M.Arch program.

    Landscape Architecture for the most part follows the same rules.

    Some MUD programs will admit you if you have obtained a 4yr non professional degree in Architecture or Landscape design. Just as long as you come from a design background.

    I'm currently in the 5yr Landscape Architecture program and intend on enrolling in a MUD program after 2 or so years of work experience for my portfolio.

    Some MUD programs will take applicants who don't come from design backgrounds, they just make it a requirement that you take a semester (usually summer) of Preparatory Studio/Introductory Design course(s) to get your feet wet so to speak.

    I agree. My previous university in Australia took the same route and is now insisting for applicants without a design degree to complete at least a postgraduate diploma in urban design (where you undertake Design 101 courses) first before starting on the Masters.

    I would probably add that a policy-based urban planning programme may not even be adequate to prepare you for a design programme. This is due to the fact that urban planning has now taken on a much broader role than pure physical planning.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally posted by xscobar View post
    I feel like something needs to be cleared up.

    At most schools you need a to have obtained a professional degree in Architecture, Landscape Architecture, or City/Regional Planning prior to enrolling in a MUD program.

    Note in the architecture world, a professional degree is what allows you to become licensed in your respective field (after you completed the mandatory internship period)

    These degrees would be:

    5yr Bachelors of Architecture, obtained in undergrad. Requires a 3yr internship period in order to sit for the Architect Registration Examination (ARE)

    Master of Architecture - the length of this degree varies depending on what you have obtained your undergraduate degree in. If you've obtained the 4yr bachelors of arts in architecture or 4 year bachelor of Environmental Design in Architecture then you'd go in the 2yr M.Arch program. If you come from a different degree program, then you'd go in the 3-3.5yr M.Arch program.

    Landscape Architecture for the most part follows the same rules.

    Some MUD programs will admit you if you have obtained a 4yr non professional degree in Architecture or Landscape design. Just as long as you come from a design background.

    I'm currently in the 5yr Landscape Architecture program and intend on enrolling in a MUD program after 2 or so years of work experience for my portfolio.

    Some MUD programs will take applicants who don't come from design backgrounds, they just make it a requirement that you take a semester (usually summer) of Preparatory Studio/Introductory Design course(s) to get your feet wet so to speak.
    I disagree with some of what you said. MUD programs do not have an established standard for coursework (one of my biggest gripes). IMO, MUDs should be viewed as an extension of a design degree (architecture, LA, even engineering). However, there are a handful that want to stand on their own and admit anyone regardless if they have the design training or not. I reviewed one guy's portfolio on cyburbia who did not have a design background and finished the MUD program in 1 year. His work was terrible and even he admitted it.

    An NAAB or LAAB accredited design degree will shave off a year (or two) off of an MArch, MLA, or increase your chances to get into an MUD program. However, you don't need to have a design background, degree, etc. to apply to design programs. After all, that is why you are going to school, isn't it?

    Professionals who earn an accredited degree in architecture (whether it is an MArch, BArch) are typically called interns until they pass the ARE. This is NOT the same for landscape architecture. Professionals who earn an accredited degree in landscape architecture (BLA, MLA) cannot be called landscape architects until they pass all 5 sections of the LARE. They might use the title landscape designer, site designer, etc. but they are not called interns. Each state has different title and practice acts for architects and landscape architects, so the rules will vary.

    There are also exceptions to this rule. In some states, you don't need to have a design degree to take the licensing exam. You need to practice X number of years under a registered architect or registered landscape architect as well meet stringent criteria to sit for the ARE or LARE.

    Finally, professional experience can still make a big difference not only in admissions but how many years it will take to complete the degree. I started college in architecture and switched to planning. My planning degree is a generalized degree and stresses research, analysis, and policy. In addition to work experience on the non-design side (long-range planning, site impact analysis, environmental, transportation, current planning, expert witness, GIS, grant writing, ED, HP) I also have 6 years of experience working on site design, planting plans, construction documents, rendering, and I know more about plant material than most planners. The professors at a couple of MLA programs value my mix of design and non-design experience (coupled with the AICP) and have negotiated shaving off a year in a 3 year MLA program.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally posted by torontopian View post
    Beatlebug9 / Milodesc

    I'm currently attending the MUP program at the GSD with eyes on the urban design concentration. You are absolutely right that a MArch or a MLA is a requirement for most if not all post-professional urban design programs. The MAUD program at Harvard for example requires intense prior preparation in design. Even a MUP with a design concentration/certificate won't prepare you sufficiently for these programs, let alone capital-D urban design jobs.

    So if you are set on urban design, then it's probably better that you explore MArch or MLA programs, with a possible concurrent MUP. It'll be a long and intense 4+ years, but since you said you didn't mind being in school a bit longer, you could consider it. Your non-design background will not jeopardize your whole application, but you should be able to demonstrate potential and "taste", for the lack of a better word. This is however not the forum to discuss this...

    On the other hand, if your interest lies on the larger urban scale, and you are not too keen on architecture itself, then a MUP with a design concentration could work for you. As a self-identified design-conscious person, I find policy-oriented work hugely rewarding as well. The design concentration won't qualify you for hardcore urban design work, of course, but the "designer's eye" you develop in these programs can make you (in the words of a practitioner-professor here) a valuable intermediary in a large multi-disciplinary firm such as Sasaki etc.

    Feel free to PM me if you wanna talk more about this.

    I know this is quite a lot later however I just saw this thread. I'm applying to the GSD in the Fall and would really like to do the UP program with the Urban Design concentration. I was just wondering if you ended up doing this and what you thought about it? I don't have any previous design experience but am minoring in City and Regional Planning and will be attending the Career Discovery program this summer.

  16. #16
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    Urban design with no design background :) ?

    Quote Originally posted by milodesc View post
    beatlebug9 / nrschmid -

    From the programs I've looked at, even MArch or MLA programs demand some previous design experience (not sure if this is the case universally). While the demands are minimal, it may prevent someone with no design background from meeting admission requirements.

    Alternatively, I have seen 2 options to pursuing a career in design:
    1. Do a MA in Urban Planning with a specialization/concentration in Urban Design (GIT, UPenn etc... offer this)
    2. Do a MA in Urban Planning and get an Urban Design Certificate (Portland State, UPenn, MIT etc... offer this)

    Of course, with just a specialization or certificate in design, I don't think you'd get the depth of a Masters degree. However, it might be a good way to break into the design world. Additionally, I don't think a specialization or certificate would qualify you for admission into a MUD program in the future.

    As I have little knowledge of the design/planning worlds, I'd be interested in hearing others' opinions on these options.
    So if one has no design background, these seem like great options. However, is an urban planning degree - even with a design concentration/certificate - less well regarded than urban design - i.e., MLA or an MArch? What would one be able to do with one degree as opposed to the other?

    I ask because I have no design background, but I have a background in economics and philosophy. I am wondering what types of programs I should consider and if I have a shot at all at getting into urban design (broadly construed). I am a big picture type of guy and I am interested in promoting health through public spaces, I am interested in TOD design, and I am interested in sustainable development. What degree will help me actively address these interestes considering my lack of a design/architecture/arts background?

    Any insight is much appreciated!

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    Further clarifications

    How many degrees does one need to start to actively engage these more macro issues - would the MUP even with the design concentration/certification be enough to secure a job in either the public or private sector?

  18. #18
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    Torontopian is spot on (I also did the GSD MUP with UD concentration). If you want to work for a private sector firm doing the actual designing of the sites, campuses, etc. then you'll almost certainly need an MAUD degree (or another design degree like landscape architecture). An MAUD degree is not the same as a certificate (like what UPenn offers) - it's a post-professional degree for people who are already architects or landscape architects (at least with a BA).

    Urban planning degrees with urban design concentrations have a slightly different focus, there are roles at private firms that a planner can play. This is more true at a place like Sasaki that actually does planning, as opposed to a firm like NBBJ that is much more on the design than the planning side. To work at a private firm it's important to find the way to distinguish yourself as a planner that can add value (which won't be your skills as a designer): managing projects, graphic design/layout (e.g., are you great with color schemes and InDesign), making slick diagrams, writing (this is huge - probably one of the biggest roles planners played at the firm I was at), research (e.g., understanding zoning requirements), etc. In all these cases your urban design concentration allows you to interface with those doing the actual designs.

    MUPs with Urban Design concentrations (or certificates) can also play a bigger role in the public sector. Municipalities often farm work out to consultants; however, being able to interface with them, speak their language, offer meaning feedback, is a useful skill.

    Hope that helps.

    Quote Originally posted by torontopian View post
    Beatlebug9 / Milodesc

    I'm currently attending the MUP program at the GSD with eyes on the urban design concentration. You are absolutely right that a MArch or a MLA is a requirement for most if not all post-professional urban design programs. The MAUD program at Harvard for example requires intense prior preparation in design. Even a MUP with a design concentration/certificate won't prepare you sufficiently for these programs, let alone capital-D urban design jobs.

    So if you are set on urban design, then it's probably better that you explore MArch or MLA programs, with a possible concurrent MUP. It'll be a long and intense 4+ years, but since you said you didn't mind being in school a bit longer, you could consider it. Your non-design background will not jeopardize your whole application, but you should be able to demonstrate potential and "taste", for the lack of a better word. This is however not the forum to discuss this...

    On the other hand, if your interest lies on the larger urban scale, and you are not too keen on architecture itself, then a MUP with a design concentration could work for you. As a self-identified design-conscious person, I find policy-oriented work hugely rewarding as well. The design concentration won't qualify you for hardcore urban design work, of course, but the "designer's eye" you develop in these programs can make you (in the words of a practitioner-professor here) a valuable intermediary in a large multi-disciplinary firm such as Sasaki etc.

    Feel free to PM me if you wanna talk more about this.

  19. #19
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    get a design degree!!!

    I got a masters in planning, worked for several years, and then eventually went back for an M Arch. If you want to design work, don't kid yourself, even if you area able to get enough skills to draw master plans and diagrams, your career options will be very limited if you don't just get a design degree. The fact is, an MUP, like many masters degrees, is a piece of paper and an opportunity to build some valuable relationships. It is similar to an MBA, you learn a few applicable skills, but the degree really is not about the skills, it is about a rite of passage to enter the profession. By contrast, a studio-based design degree, an M Arch or an MLA, is a REAL degree - you leave the program a COMPLETELY different person than the one you were when you entered. The degree is not a replacement for your own creativity (as others have noted), you must have that as well, but you will discover that in the studio - you learn about yourself and you develop your design ability. To be quite honest, in contrast to what others have said, the standards/dimensions are not the most important thing you learn in design school, nor is it the software and graphics skills (although both of these are certainly essential); design is a set of "soft skills" that you must develop through a long-term commitment to the art.

    Most planners who claim to be design-minded, have really just memorized a few principles and best practices, such as street-building relationship, scale issues, and maybe some street width dimensions. There is a reason that the New Urbanism is so popular among planners - it is a set of easily understandable rules that non-designers can memorize. However, knowing best practices is NOT the same thing as design. Design is about taking a set of conditions and MAKING something out of them. In real design, there is no textbook, there is no template, there is only your ability as the designer to solve the problem at hand. And if you are good, you can solve the problem AND enhance the experience of the user. You can make place. You can make poetry.

    I wish I could go back and save the two years I spent in planning school. After years of school and working in the field, I am confident that the absolute truth is this: if you want to be a DESIGNER-designer, get an M Arch; if you want to be a PLANNER-designer, get an MLA. City planning, and certainly urban design, IS a design discipline; however, city planners are not typically designers, and this is a major problem. This means that most of the professionals who are in the field are not actually equipped to do the job. It is not the architects (or really even the developers) who are to blame for the lousy built environment in our country, it is the PLANNERS themselves, and the wide-spread professional malpractice on the part of the city planning profession who are not trained to do the job they are paid to do. Planners, in general, are spatially incompetent and design illiterate. This comes as a result of the fact that city planners are not trained in city design and city building. Landscape architecture absolutely can (and quite frankly should) replace the profession of city planning within the next 15 or so years. LAs are far more equipped, due to their design training, to deal with the planning problems facing cities and regions in America than the so-called planners.

    A note on MUDs: Something that often gets overlooked on this site and in other forums when talking about MUD degrees is the fact that the very existence of a special "masters in urban design" is largely the result of design schools (architecture and landscape architecture programs) moving into the realm of urban planning to fill the void left by the actual urban planning discipline within academia. City planning programs have largely refused to address the physical conditions of cities (a latent result of advocacy planning and other well-intentioned but misguided movements within the discipline over the past few decades) and MUD degrees are an attempt to train the more traditional design practitioners to scale up to the urban, metropolitan, and regional scales. MUDs are very useful as a mode of training those already versed in design to become planners. They are, by contrast, probably not so useful to planners without a design background.

    The short of it is this: JUST GET A DESIGN DEGREE!! It will be well worth the time and energy you invest in it. If you just put in the time to get a real design degree (not MUD, not MUP - unless it is a dual with MARCH or MLA), you will never need to be self-conscious about your skills or about the value you bring to a project. You will have wide career opportunities (in consulting firms, in public sector, on your own, as a planner, as a designer, etc.) Plus, studio design education is so much more enjoyable than planning education! I loved architecture school! It was tough, but so incredibly rewarding. By contrast, planning school was a money and time sink without the payback. JUST GET A DESIGN DEGREE!!!! (I wish I had listened to the people who told me that when I was starting planning school....)

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    Quote Originally posted by Burnham View post
    I got a masters in planning, worked for several years, and then eventually went back for an M Arch. If you want to design work, don't kid yourself, even if you area able to get enough skills to draw master plans and diagrams, your career options will be very limited if you don't just get a design degree. The fact is, an MUP, like many masters degrees, is a piece of paper and an opportunity to build some valuable relationships. It is similar to an MBA, you learn a few applicable skills, but the degree really is not about the skills, it is about a rite of passage to enter the profession. By contrast, a studio-based design degree, an M Arch or an MLA, is a REAL degree - you leave the program a COMPLETELY different person than the one you were when you entered. The degree is not a replacement for your own creativity (as others have noted), you must have that as well, but you will discover that in the studio - you learn about yourself and you develop your design ability. To be quite honest, in contrast to what others have said, the standards/dimensions are not the most important thing you learn in design school, nor is it the software and graphics skills (although both of these are certainly essential); design is a set of "soft skills" that you must develop through a long-term commitment to the art.

    Most planners who claim to be design-minded, have really just memorized a few principles and best practices, such as street-building relationship, scale issues, and maybe some street width dimensions. There is a reason that the New Urbanism is so popular among planners - it is a set of easily understandable rules that non-designers can memorize. However, knowing best practices is NOT the same thing as design. Design is about taking a set of conditions and MAKING something out of them. In real design, there is no textbook, there is no template, there is only your ability as the designer to solve the problem at hand. And if you are good, you can solve the problem AND enhance the experience of the user. You can make place. You can make poetry.

    I wish I could go back and save the two years I spent in planning school. After years of school and working in the field, I am confident that the absolute truth is this: if you want to be a DESIGNER-designer, get an M Arch; if you want to be a PLANNER-designer, get an MLA. City planning, and certainly urban design, IS a design discipline; however, city planners are not typically designers, and this is a major problem. This means that most of the professionals who are in the field are not actually equipped to do the job. It is not the architects (or really even the developers) who are to blame for the lousy built environment in our country, it is the PLANNERS themselves, and the wide-spread professional malpractice on the part of the city planning profession who are not trained to do the job they are paid to do. Planners, in general, are spatially incompetent and design illiterate. This comes as a result of the fact that city planners are not trained in city design and city building. Landscape architecture absolutely can (and quite frankly should) replace the profession of city planning within the next 15 or so years. LAs are far more equipped, due to their design training, to deal with the planning problems facing cities and regions in America than the so-called planners.

    The short of it is this: JUST GET A DESIGN DEGREE!! It will be well worth the time and energy you invest in it. If you just put in the time to get a real design degree (not MUD, not MUP - unless it is a dual with MARCH or MLA), you will never need to be self-conscious about your skills or about the value you bring to a project. You will have wide career opportunities (in consulting firms, in public sector, on your own, as a planner, as a designer, etc.) Plus, studio design education is so much more enjoyable than planning education! I loved architecture school! It was tough, but so incredibly rewarding. By contrast, planning school was a money and time sink without the payback. JUST GET A DESIGN DEGREE!!!! (I wish I had listened to the people who told me that when I was starting planning school....)
    Wow. You just blew me away. Excellent post. I am new to the site but this is exactly the kind of information/opinion I was looking for when I signed up. I am very interested in how the built environment impacts our social, environmental, and economic systems and behaviors. I absolutely agree that many of the problems in our society derive from poor planning in regards to the built environment. I should have, but did not, equate this notion to the fact that planners may be under-trained for the design elements that are so critical in creating places that function well for people (rather than cars or corporations).

    I am curious about your professional trajectory. Would you care to share more about your experience in planning school, your work experience after, and the process of applying to MArch program? Are you still in it? How's it going?

    I work for a non-profit in community development. I initially thought I was interested in the policy-side but it's all paperwork, incredibly boring, and you barely ever get to see the result. At least in design you get to see a beautiful model even if its never implemented, am I right? The policy side, is just all WORDS! (And then everyone has their own interpretation!). An MLA sounds like the kind of learning experience I would love. Always been a visual learner, obsessed with maps since I was a kid, and enjoy just the slightest hill for a topographical pleasure view (Amen San Francisco! I could stare at you for days).

    Anyway, did you have a strong portfolio before applying to MArch? I have never been much of a drawer or sculptor. What else do you put in a portfolio? I have taken some pretty cool urban photos. Should I make some maps? I also have zero experience using any design software, is this a setback? And do most folks submit digital designs or actual drawings? Thanks for any feedback it would be much appreciated.
    Last edited by smurf; 08 Oct 2013 at 4:36 PM. Reason: I messed up the quote and placed my own text inside a previous post.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Burnham View post
    It is not the architects (or really even the developers) who are to blame for the lousy built environment in our country, it is the PLANNERS themselves, and the wide-spread professional malpractice on the part of the city planning profession who are not trained to do the job they are paid to do. Planners, in general, are spatially incompetent and design illiterate. This comes as a result of the fact that city planners are not trained in city design and city building. Landscape architecture absolutely can (and quite frankly should) replace the profession of city planning within the next 15 or so years. LAs are far more equipped, due to their design training, to deal with the planning problems facing cities and regions in America than the so-called planners.
    Dude, I LOLed right on the spot. As for your last sentence, please bear in mind that the planning profession adheres to concepts of "Equal Protection" and "Due Process." It's a public process, and design doesn't really do well in that realm. For example, please see the recent financial hemorrhaging at Calatrava's "City of Arts and Sciences" in Valencia, a marvelous collection of remarkable structures the architect chose to build in a riverbed that endures flooding from time to time. Why? Who knows, but I'm sure Valencia really needs that 4,000-seat opera house.

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