Elements of Urban Design

“Elements of Urban Design” is the advanced core studio for the post-professional Urban Design program. The studio introduces critical concepts, strategies, and technical skills associated with current thinking about urban design, and speculates on the designer’s spectrum of roles in analyzing and shaping urban environments. More generally, the studio aims to develop the necessary literacies for architects and landscape architects to critically engage in bridging the practice of urban design—to understand and interrogate questions related to urban environments, and to produce compelling formal responses. 

A fundamental difference between urban design and architecture and planning is its concern for the “thingness” (Heidegger) of urban settlement, which transcends the single building or complex and involves competing claims and other unreconciled constraints needing to be resolved through design. Today, cities are often parts of larger networks of communities and ecologies within regions, with both overlapping and complementary roles. Urban growth and change now range over a wider landscape, offering both opportunities and constraints, and often with faster growing areas located in peri-urban and peripheral locations. This is certainly the case in several North American cities like Boston, Detroit, and Los Angeles, European cities like Rome and Paris, and a host of settlements across the globe. Even within the thrall of global pressures, local characteristics and identities require both attention and resolution. Globally, the expansion and transformation of metropolitan regions have introduced different scales and types of urban form. Increased economic, social, and environmental complexities further complicate urban design circumstances, making them more challenging. The studio will expose students to this range of conditions and propel them to think systemically about how to intervene in these varied emergent urban formations. 

In the fall semester of 2019, the “Elements of Urban Design” studio is organized around two six-week design exercises located at the core and periphery of the Greater Boston region, which together cover a range of pertinent issues in urban design today, particularly, although not solely, in a North American context. These are preceded by shorter introductory exercises focused on establishing familiarity with workflows and knowledge of case studies.