The ‘art’ of urban design: does objectivity constrain imagination?

To be published in Urban Design and Planning themed issue: the ‘art’ of urban design

Christopher Boyko, Joanne Leach, Rachel Cooper and Chris Rogers are leading a paper that has been accepted for a 2014 special issue of the academic journal Urban Design and Planning.  This paper builds upon the work of the Urban Futures research project (, drawing in emerging findings from Liveable Cities. 

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Planners, architects and urban designers often become constrained by the myriad of checkboxes, guidelines, requirements and specifications and have to forgo the ‘art’ of urban design.  Objective approaches belie the nature of places as messy, plural, organic, accidental and emotive; trying to find a formula that works may tick boxes, but it also risks creating soulless spaces, oppressing innovation, and the implementation of inappropriate design elements.  This paper argues that objective approaches have something to contribute to the art of urban design precisely because they encourage engagement with challenging and often complex societal priorities, such as sustainability, resilience and liveability.  Through anecdotal experiences with architects and a critical examination of two urban design tools—the Urban Futures Method and BREEAM Communities—the authors suggest that the ‘art’ of urban design is not lost; however, more attention needs to be paid to when and how in the process it can flourish.


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