Ask What If / Regeneration and Urban Design

Regeneration and Urban Design

I’m currently working in Town Centre Regeneration and working on projects around economic development, improving public spaces, addressing transport and parking issues and improving cultural opportunities, all with an aim to strengthen the vitality and vibrancy of the town centre.

I’m particularly interested in the urban design work i’ve been involved in through this and have a real interest in the relationships between buildings and spaces, with how different people use spaces and how spaces can be designed to improve that use - particularly with a view to improve town centre vibrancy.

I will be completing a Masters course in Regeneraton in Summer 2008 and am looking into doing a course in urban design after this, as this work in the regeneration field is what i’m really interested in and this is what i’d love to do as a long-term future career.

What i’m concerned about though is that I don’t have a design skills background, and although I think I have a reasonable grounding on the theoretical side of urban design and have a great interest and enthusiasm for urban design, I don’t know if my limited design background will be a major obstacle.

It would be really useful to get any advice on whether you think the urban design postgraduate course is likely to be the best route for me to follow / whether you think limited design skills is likely to be a big obstacle or whether urban design is very much a balance of the theoretical side and the design skills side, and this is something I should be able to catch up on / whether you think I should look to do a short course in Computer aided design before starting on an urban design course, and if so any ideas on where to start with this - if i’m hoping to enrol on an urban design course in September 2008.

I know thats a load of questions but any advice on it would be much appreciated.

Answer #1

Having read your experience, I would say you are ideally suited to move into urban design. There are many courses on offer which do not require a design background specifically and the great thing about masters courses is that you come into contact with people with a great range of experience in the built environment. Your background will be really useful for this and really valuable to the course. You will be able to work with people from design backgrounds in your group work and do additional supplementary courses for graphics etc while you study. A big component of urban design is understanding how places come together and it seems that you are considering this in your work already. Also, in communicating your ideas and being able to negotiate within a development process to achieve high quality places…so again you are well placed.

Also, there are many roles for an urban designer, such as client for major projects, where designing yourself is not central to your role, but you may be commissioning design work or coordinating project implementation. This is something I am sure you are doing in your current role and so having a strong understanding of how to make quality places will enable you to negotiate really well to achieve this quality.

In the course I did, there were many who were did not come from a design background, but really used the year (or two, dependent on full or part time route) to improve on certain aspects of their knowledge. It may be worth looking for a strong design based course, where you can do a design project as your final project (rather than or part of written dissertation). Or do an investigation that combines your experience already with urban design.

I suggest you contact some schools offering masters courses and discuss with the course coordinators your concerns and aspiration. I am sure you will be welcomed with open arms and your problem will be choosing the right course for you! Check out the Urban Design magazine for courses and practices.

As you will know, having an urban design qualification opens many doors and is just such an exciting field to be involved in. Best of luck!

Answer 2

Good to hear from someone enthusiastic in improving places for people. After reading your post I thought I might be able to give some help on your situation. I am currently studying and working as a landscape Architect and although there are differences with urban design I felt I might be able to give an insight into the design aspects of landscape architecture that in many cases cross across to urban design issues.

Firstly I would say you concern over lack of design skills may not be a big a problem as you might first think. In my opinion (which may be completely wrong) urban design is using you experiences of spaces to inform your ideas and so producing perfect lifelike drawings is not crucial. From my understanding, an urban designer will be more involved in layout and strategic design and not necessarily the detail design. Hence knowledge for instance of paving, materials, planting, will be needed but not in detail to the extent you will need to produce construction and detail drawings. In terms of urban design and people/places/buildings, rough sketches and plans literally showing lines of people movement / desire lines through spaces are just as and if not more informative in getting your idea across. During my university course we are encouraged to work in rough throughout the conceptual design stages as it allows for a much wider discussion and constructive criticism of what might be working or not as the case may be in your design. As for your design ideas themselves (as different to actually your means of illustration) then I believe these can come from your experiences of spaces, and in this sense you will gain the design skills through visiting and in many cases your passion for improving town centres.

Like you say urban design is a compound of theoretical / strategic thinking with design and so I believe your theoretical knowledge in urban design will hold you in good stead for the course. After all you are doing the course to become an urban designer and although there are some prerequisites to get on the course, I am sure they will teach you every aspect of urban design including the design skills you may feel you lack at present. You may them know them from cover to cover but during the urban design module in my course our lecture really pushed some good books such as Responsive Environments (ISBN 0750605669) and The Image of the City by Lynch (ISBN 0262620014). Responsive environments is particularly good and has sketches and drawings which can be used as a basis for getting your design ideas across.

I hope this has been of some help. Please feel free to ask more questions. As a student myself I am still learning myself. I have found lots of practice and trial drawing is the best way to improve drawing skills. As for doing a computer aided design course, my personal opinion is that you only truly learn these types of programs by doing and in my experience I have found using on-line tutorials are an excellent means of learning. What computer programs were you thinking of learning? The most frequently used ones within Landscape Architecture are AutoCAD and the Adobe creative suite including Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign. However again I have found that the use of rough sketches, and crude models can be often the best way to get your ideas across.

Hope this has helped.