• Cyburbia is a friendly big tent, where we share our experiences and thoughts about urban planning practice, planning adjacent topics, and whatever else comes to mind. No ads, no spam, no echo chambers. Create your FREE Cyburbia ID, and join us today! You can also register through your Reddit, Facebook, Google, Twitter, or Microsoft account.

Urban planning vs. urban design

smatt1973

Member
Messages
7
Points
0
I'm looking to get into urban planning, but i am curious as to what differentiates the planning and design, or if they more or less go hand in hand.

thanks for your help with this in advance.
 

Suburb Repairman

moderator in moderation
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
7,342
Points
31
I'd say planning and design go hand-in-hand. I may be wrong, but I believe that most planning schools, regardless of their emphasis, bring up urban design. They especially talk about urban design in reference to the history of urban planning and urban form. Most professors really dig this stuff since it tends to be the more theoretical aspect of planning. "New Urbanism" is probably the most popular example of modern urban design theory. I've always thought of urban design as architecture on a grander scale.

I hope that helps!
 

tsc

Cyburbian
Messages
1,905
Points
23
Urban planning is more comprehensive approach while Urban design tends to focus more on the built environment... and be more site specific.
 

Seabishop

Cyburbian
Messages
3,838
Points
25
As careers go, most of "urban design" jobs want to see some sort of architectural background mixed in with the planning. Experience with AutoCad or other design programs is a help. Personally, I fantasize about getting an architectural degree someday :-e.
 

tsc

Cyburbian
Messages
1,905
Points
23
Seabishop said:
As careers go, most of "urban design" jobs want to see some sort of architectural background mixed in with the planning. Experience with AutoCad or other design programs is a help. Personally, I fantasize about getting an architectural degree someday :-e.
for a moment there...I thought all you guys fantasized about was "sleepovers..."

good to see you are expanding your horizons....
 

Seabishop

Cyburbian
Messages
3,838
Points
25
ts corbitt said:
for a moment there...I thought all you guys fantasized about was "sleepovers..."

good to see you are expanding your horizons....
I forgot to mention that I would be living in a coed dorm at the University of Hawaii and tutoring female students on renderings of Stonehendge ;)
 

Rem

Cyburbian
Messages
1,524
Points
23
Urban Design is not 'big architecture'. A friend of mine once described it as design concerned with the spaces between buildings as much as the buildings themselves. I like this definition.

Urban planning is an overarching discipline concerned with all aspects of human habitat - that means an interest in the areas we don't inhabit as well.
 

garethace

Cyburbian
Messages
137
Points
6
Urban Design is not 'big architecture'. A friend of mine once described it as design concerned with the spaces between buildings as much as the buildings themselves. I like this definition.
Architecture is concerned with spatial design, that being degree of spatial enclosure - how you adjust that to permit entry of natural daylighting, ventilation and views to the exterior space outside. So you can imagine person A standing in their living room looking out at the spaces that Rem has described, between other buildings.
But at this scale, a 5 metre measuring tape rules - it is all about the distance of that opening from the floor, from the ceiling, from the side wall. A door ope can be as little as 700mm and rarely bigger than 800mm. A one metre wide door is really a monster, yet most people other architects with alot of experience are never, ever conscious to such degrees of rather small adjustments which make a view better, a lighting effect inside a space totally transform it, a shelve at the right height etc.
What i am describing here is pretty much static architecture - just the person walking around their apartment or house or office space. What makes movement in a 10x10x10 metre cube 'dynamic' is the changing modulations of openings, daylight, materials, surfaces, textures, colours and acoustics of surfaces.

Master Planning is when you introduce the element of TIME more into the equation. Here, the best measuring tape of all, is probably your self, and how fast you can expect to walk, cycle, or drive. Because at this scale the person is still only 5ft 8-10inchs on average - but by moving on two feet (every environment is designed for human beings who walk - see how sophisticated robots have so much difficulty navigating simple obstacles in our world) an average human being can cover miles if one had to, or many hundreds of yards quick briskly. That is the 'wonder' about masterplanning - routes, circulation, physical bodily movement.
So things like footbridges, or vehicular bridges with pedestrian parts, things like open spaces, things like monuments, edges, nodes... exist in 4 dimensions - that of space (3D) and time (4D).

However some good institutional buildings like the Stattsgalerie by James Stirling of the Frankfurt Art Gallery by Richard Meier, are designed to be experienced through both time and space, light and shade, views and circulation - just like some narrow winding medieval street in a very old Italian medieval city. So urban analogies can continue into buildings - Rem Koolhaas design a building called the Kunstal which is also worth a look from a point of view of its integration with a park landscape, and a motorway edge and a few other things.

Now with Master Planning also, you are talking about groups of people - apparently 15 people is the most you will get to know in your neighbourhood over a lifetime. Sometimes you will not talk to the people next door to you at all. You are dealing with the provision of spaces for kids to use etc, while being watched by adults. In simple buildings in Architecture, you are just designing for a husband and wife say - whereas in larger institutional buildings you must take into account 'groups'. At the 'groups' size of things, i feel that urban design, urban planning does come into it.

For instance, in architecture i have often designed cultural centres etc. But the people using those cultural centres come from a wide radius around the place, by foot and on public transit routes, or by car routes. So even in architecture sometimes, the idea of a larger community comes into it.

I think their is no easy differentiation between interior design, architecture, master planning, urban design, urban planning. I trained as an architect for about ten years, and still didn't manage to qualify - but i found what was very difficult was doing different project assignments - having to do an interior project and look at interior designers, do a master plan and read Kevin Lynch, design a housing complex and talk to planners about the issues involved, or design cultural centres and have to talk to everyone and consult the 'God of Architects - Which supposedly is a guy from Europe called Koolhaas who makes no sense whatsoever!'.

I suppose what the original thread, was really asking is how can i just narrow down the choice/focus to something that i can manage, and do as a college degree, career and job. Noone can accomplish excellence in all fields - but people like architects do know alot about everything - they just don't know much about anything. Whereas, urban planners, may have experience and understand an awful lot about housing, or transport, or land usage, or road infrastructure - and may even understand the economics and politics part of these projects too. An architect or urban designer i think, has to be good at talking to alot of different people, and co-ordinate the project, but not allow him/herself to become too bottled up with any particular aspect. Not easy, not for me anyhow.
 
Last edited:

Chet

Cyburbian Emeritus
Messages
10,624
Points
34
I like Rem's description. Think about which is "you" are run with it. Good luck!
 

Howard Roark

Cyburbian
Messages
276
Points
10
My base degree is in architecture, after working for several years and getting licensed, I was starting to get frustrated w/ the whole process.

That led me back to grad school in Urban Design, while I considered planning, I shied away from it. I, as a designer and technician, wanted something more hands on.

My class was about three quarters planners and one quarter architects (mostly landscape architects), interestingly enough when dissertation topics came about the planners drifter more to dissertations that dealt w/ design and the architects drifted more towards planning.

Architecture school was very different from UD graduate. Architecture undergrad is a grueling program w/ heavy emphasis on teaching you the design process, basically graphic problem solving, and there are no right answers, technical information is routinely integrated into this as you advance. In UD graduate, we spent tons more time reading theory and practice, we learned rules and how to apply them, it was defiantly not as free flowing as architecture school, but then there was not as much technical information and formulas to memorize, it was much more theory and policy driven, there was a better chance of a “right answer” in UD, I think this stems from the planning side of the profession, which is more black and white.

Currently most “urban designers” in the US come from landscape architecture, in the UK they get a lot from the planning community, this is reflected in the final product. My tastes lie somewhere in between, while I have learned great lessons from, Lynch, Mumford, Castells, Jacobs and Hall, I still believe that in urban design, as in architecture, the creative idea and the ability to technically apply it can create the best enviroments. I would rather see the built civic environment interact more harmoniously w/ the architecture. Urban design is a profession still defining its self, it deals w/ the “space between buildings” on the simplest level, but also deals with how society interacts w/ the built environment, trends in how we live and are going to live. I would go on, but have prattled too much already.
 

garethace

Cyburbian
Messages
137
Points
6
I would go on, but have prattled too much already.
Frankly there is nothing in your post, i could deny or argue with. Everything you have said, i think is about right. I know from your description, you have spent the time, and gone through the process - you have described architecture and urban design schools very well indeed.

But, just because architecture training doesn't get taught in Universities/Schools in the reading method you described for Urban Design - it doesn't mean that architecture is impossible to learn via reading and so on. I may not be easy for certain students to learn architecture without a lot of hands on fluid type of design etc. But that doesn't mean that teaching architecture has to be done by designing alone - certain students like myself would have loved to have qualified as an architect, and been allowed to build up a theoretical framework, based upon reading and thinking, as much as drawing and design work - to qualify as an architect.

I would have loved an opportunity to learn architecture from doing a bit of reading, combined with a bit of design. Unfortunately, the prospect of finding a course in architecture like that is slim and none. To some people architecture is just drawing and design, and no reading/thinking - that is fine - but everyone shouldn't have to suffer under the same teaching method - obviously what suited your personality best, was what architecture school is all about.

Architecture schools tend to judge people too much upon whether they have that kind of personality or not - i felt very, very prejudiced against in University while doing my architecture studies - and the architecture profession is that small - it can impose false kinds of limitations upon its own University degrees and the kinds of personalities it wants to keep/discard.

Urban Design cannot prejudice against people who cannot draw, and so on, because it is much wider, much bigger and ultimately needs to accept a much greater cross section of personalities. A much healthier approach in my opinion. At least, there was two different defined groups in the class, and you could choose to be part of one or the other - while still being part of the urban design class as a whole.

I found that in architecture, the class had gone too far ahead, and 'left me behind in a rut' in the design class side of things, while i was reading a chapter from Kevin Lynch, and drawing my inspiration from his ideas and creativity. I think that architects have clung to their clutch pencils and rubbers, like old men clutching onto their blankets - afraid to exercise their minds in reading/learning from writers etc.

You seem to have drawn a little bit from both sides of the fence, and taken the time to do a second qualification - but unfortunately, not many of my lecturing staff in architecture managed to achieve the same level of open-mindedness.

Personally i have learned alot more about what i was doing in architecture college here from the forum here at cyburbia, than i ever learned listening to architects drone on endlessly about Rem Koolhaas in design studios, or spening days and nights drawing up presentations in college. But that is just my misfortune, and i am absolutely delighted to here a story like yours, of someone who got to do both courses. I am sure, that your approach to design in general has improved because of it.

Also, while you have talked about peoples behaviour in a University - i.e. wanting to draw, or wanting to read - your post doesn't address the very crucial factor - how do these people who draw/read relate to the reality of buildings, streets and urban spaces/problems out in the real world. How much contact, or lack of it should the student have in a University? Personally, i find the issues raised by Planners here at Cyburbia a tremendous aid, in developing opinions or ideas about the real world around me right here in Dublin in Ireland. If you go through my gallery, you will probably find this is so. For me the great thing about Urban Planning, is it does get one out into the real world - unlike the urban design/architecture stuff, which can have you locked into an office for the next decade with ones clutch pencil.
 
Last edited:

spartan885

Member
Messages
6
Points
0
Degree differences?

So if one has no design background - what are the best degree options if one is looking to get into this business?

I ask because I have no design background - hence the question - 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).

Is urban planning - even with a design concentration/certificate - less well regarded than urban design - i.e., MLA or an MArch?

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!
 

nrschmid

Cyburbian
Messages
2,859
Points
20
IF YOU WANT TO DESIGN, LEARN HOW TO DESIGN.

Design is not an easy career to pick up. You can't learn how to design by reading. Pick up a pencil or a pen, get a piece of paper or notebook, and start moving lines around and see where they go. I started designing my first imaginary cities with streets and parks and boulevards when I was a kid. I was not afraid to dive right in and get dirty. Sure, some of my lots were 15' wide and the streets were 300' feet wide. I bought an engineering scale as a kid (yes, I'm a geek) because the rulers looked really cool on each side. I had no concept of drawing to scale, I just designed maps how they would look from other maps. Granted, I bought the scale on a trip to Canada, so I was drawing in centimeters and meters for a years, but whatever. I still scribble concepts out on trace everyday.

If you don't have a design background, no big deal. MAKE SOMETHING. Teepee your next door neighbor's house and take some pictures. Rake your leaves and arrange them in a funky pattern on the front lawn. Dilute ketchup and make your own watercolors. Photograph bar codes and frame them on your wall. There are infinite numbers of ways of expressing your creativity. Get the juices going. If you can't think outside of the box right now, don't expect any formal degree or degrees to do it for you.
 

Streck

Cyburbian
Messages
605
Points
18
Urban planning deals with how the land should be used including density, height, setbacks, purposes/uses, appropriate adjacent uses, traffic flow, utilities, floodplains, and reservation or creation of landscape preservation areas, etc.

Architecture deals with what the structures should look like, and how they should function (including the positive and the negative spaces created) on a given property.
 

Streck

Cyburbian
Messages
605
Points
18
To Spartan who asks:

So if one has no design background - what are the best degree options if one is looking to get into this business?

I ask because I have no design background - hence the question - 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).

Is urban planning - even with a design concentration/certificate - less well regarded than urban design - i.e., MLA or an MArch?
I think both Architecture and Landscape Architecture are the best degree fields to provide you with a solid background for Urban Planning. Both have specialties available for "city planning" within their ciricula.

Of course it is my opinion that you do not need either degree to get into Urban Planning. Sometimes business statistics and related disciplines are valuable. There is also civil engineering and transportation that are useful in Urban Planning. You might also find that some special courses in urban history and city development will give you a perspective useful for Urban Planning.

I will defer to others as to what courses and degrees are currently available directly related to Urban Planning in today's colleges and universities.
 

Burnham

Member
Messages
13
Points
1
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....)
 
Top