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Urban Design

Urban design is both a product and a process. As a product, urban design ranges in scale from parts of an environment, such as a streetscape, to the larger wholes of districts, towns, cities, or regions. Urban design is manifest in all aspects of the physical environment, including form, space, movement, time, activity patterns, and setting. The urban design of a place involves what the place looks like, how it feels, what it means, and how it works for people who use it. Among other things, the urban designer is concerned with the sensory and cognitive relationships between people and their environment, with how people’s needs, values, and aspirations can best be accommodated in built forms.

As a process and a conscious act, urban design involves the art of shaping the built landscape which has been formed over time by many different actors. Urban design is not primarily an individual’s act, but is a civic, collective activity. The clients of urban design, public and private, may be specific or multiple. Urban design tasks may have definite ends or be ongoing, and implementation may or may not be under the designer’s whole or partial control. Urban design is a profession and field of study concerned with design ideas and possibilities, with community choices and decisions, and with the urban development process. In short, it has to do with the processes for shaping environments and with the experiential quality of the physical forms and spaces that result.

The contemporary social and physical problems of the urban environment are complex and overlap many fields, as do the solutions. For design and planning professionals to deal comprehensively with urban design in this context necessitates a special interdisciplinary education. The Urban Design Program provides for this specialized training through the collaboration of three of the College’s departments: Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Urban Design and Planning.

The Certificate Program was first developed in the late 1960s. It has evolved in response to demands for knowledge and skills in the professional marketplace and in the face of growing specialization of architectural and planning education, to maintain the natural and necessary link between the fields. Today the program is a vital, integral resource in the College of Built Environments, operating both as a specialization and as an enrichment program. It provides a framework for graduate students to specialize in urban design as part of their professional education. As such, this program (which runs concurrently with the student’s degree program) leads to the Certificate of Achievement in Urban Design awarded with a Master’s degree in Architecture, Landscape Architecture or Urban Planning.

Also eligible are students in the professional five-year program in Landscape Architecture (BLA), the Interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Urban Design and Planning, and the Ph.D. in the Built Environment.

For those students in the College who do not wish to specialize in urban design, the Program offers coursework opportunities to enrich their education.

The Urban Design Program offers a rich and unique combination of resources to students:

  • A diverse faculty from architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design and planning, who specialize in urban design and who are committed to teaching as well as active involvement in research and consulting activities.
  • A curriculum designed to provide students with broad knowledge about theories, methods, and processes of urban design, and with experience in research as well as professional practice.
  • Interaction with fellow graduate students from these three professional programs of the College of Built Environments, who come from a variety of schools and countries to study urban design.
  • The resources of one of the country’s leading universities. Urban design-related organizations outside of the College of Built Environments include the Coastal Resources Program, the Institute for Environmental Studies, the Schools of Business, Law, and Public Affairs, the College of Engineering, and the Departments of Geography, Anthropology, Psychology, and others in the College of Arts and Sciences.
  • The Northwest, the Puget Sound region, and the City of Seattle offer a livable place that is growing, building, and planning in many innovative ways, thus providing the student with an unique laboratory to learn from and to experience, through employment, the professional activity of urban design.

The program introduces students to the fundamental theories, methods, and substantive content of urban design. To provide a base for professional knowledge and a generative source for the future, training in urban design practice focuses on design and process. Strong emphasis is given to the process of designing and to the problem-solving contributions of designers. Understanding the qualitative product of design, the urban environment, constitutes a second focus.

Our graduates develop the following abilities:

  • To conceptualize, define, and analyze design problems and opportunities at the urban scale.
  • To develop urban design concepts, principles, criteria, and programs.
  • To analyze and evaluate the performance of design projects and policies.
  • To understand the processes which generate urban form.
  • To synthesize and manage strategies for implementation in urban design involving public and private development actions.
  • To work successfully with the public and the planning and design professions that shape the urban environment.
  • To contribute creatively to the resolution of urban problems through design.

The Urban Design Program at the University of Washington is a reflection of the geographical setting of the greater Seattle area, the experience and interests of the faculty, and the directions unfolding in the profession. Concerns, long manifested by the faculty in urban design, lie in regionalism and the evolution and mutation of urban form. Emphasis is placed on understanding the phenomena of place-making and the connections between site, people, culture, and the urban built response. Research interests in contextualism and continuity, the role of types and styles in design, the town as artifact, and sources of regional identity reflect the Program’s orientation. Cross-cultural comparisons are included as an important means to learn and to carry out research.

Not solely directed to the design of downtown settings, it also includes urban and suburban neighborhoods, suburban towns, small towns, and rural areas.

Note: following the name are the departments the faculty member is able to chair and advise thesis/capstone/professional projects in.

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