It's nearly 15 years since the Urban Design program was established at the University of Sydney - in response to a need for good urban design in a world where planners had retreated from the physical. and architects had returned to the site. Since then, there have been numerous competitions, a report on "Urban Design in Australia" by Paul Keating’s Prime Minister's Task Force (1994) and a "National Urban Design Education Strategy" from the Australian Council of Building Design Professions (1996). Urban design sections have appeared in several state governments and there have been many urban design appointments in local government. Courses have been established in several other universities and scores of design professionals have added the term to their business cards.
In other words, urban design has experienced a coming-of-age. Yet there remain many questions about the adequacy of urban design education. One imperative is to learn from the experience of planning. From the late 1960's, planners explored many contextual dimensions of city building (economic, social, demographic, legal, etc) - to the neglect of form itself. Fewer people from design backgrounds were attracted into the planning arena where more attention was directed to processes, administration, legalities and other non-physical aspects. There are some indications that this path may be repeated in urban design. All of this is neither to deny the breadth of planning nor the need for broad multi-disciplinary collaboration. But it is to stress the need for strong urban design skills within the planning process and that urban design education maintains a sharp physical three-dimensional focus.
The form and shaping of cities
The structure of the Sydney urban design program is conceived with its sights directed firmly to an understanding of form and the shaping of cities. Most time (a full 50%) is spent on project work - including both teamwork (so essential to practice) and some individual work (the only way of measuring certain competencies). This translates into two studios (constantly supported by theory and criticism) and one individual project. At the heart of these activities is the manipulation (in the best sense of the word) of urban form.
Three key areas of study support this central activity: "Urban Design Ideas and Methods" reviews the contributions of key design thinkers from the last century of theory and practice - Sitte, Corb, Jacobs, Lynch, Rossi, Venturi, Trancik, Hillier, and Koolhaas, to name a few; "Urban Morphology" considers the countless building and spatial typologies that have combined to make up our cities - a kind of practical city history with emphasis on those forms that remain part of our urban experience; the third is concerned with dimensions of "Urban Ecology" - an area that cannot be ignored in an increasingly urban world characterised by unsustainable environmental practices.
Beyond this substantial core, there is scope (one-third of the program) for extending into related areas, particularly architectural history and theory, Asian architecture and urbanism, heritage and conservation, planning history and law, and digital media. Lastly, unlike many urban design programs around the world, entry is dependent on experience in design. In other words, the graduate program is directed to the extension and enhancement of this experience.
Also in UDFQ 63: September 2003:
- Rob Cowan visiting Australia
- Next Edition: Culture and the built environment
- UD strengthened at RMIT University
- Urban Design a must for Kiwi Architecture students
- Who wants an Urban Design education?
- Urban designers – then and now
- A student perspective on outcomes
- MUDD at University of New South Wales
- Urbanism in SEQ
- MUD at Melbourne University
- The art of asking questions
- Urban design laboratory
- Urban Design Forum meets RMIT