Elements of Urban Design and Planning

The Elements course is the foundation design studio administered by the Department of Urban Planning and Design, and it is required of all first year students in the MAUD, MLAUD, and MUP programs. The course concentrates on the analytical methods, representational techniques, and speculative approaches that lie at the foundation of urban design and physical planning. Studio based exercises introduce tools for interpreting, envisioning, and implementing urban plans. This includes the mapping of social, geographic, and historical phenomena, the development of strategies for the provision of infrastructure and site parcelization, and the generation of use, massing, and height zoning. As the course seeks to develop an awareness of the contemporary city as a complex organism, these conventional tools are introduced in a way that challenges students to model them in the climate of economic speculation and political negotiation that characterizes urban development today. The course puts particular emphasis on various scales and cultural lenses – including the ecological, domestic, civic, and transportation – through which the city can be understood and projected. The forms and configuration of building and landscape systems, development districts, transportation corridors, and entire cities or metropolitan regions are examined during the Elements studio as manifestations of contemporary values, social needs and urban traditions, and ultimately as physical phenomena subject to planning and design intervention. Taking advantage of the remarkable international make-up of the student body, the course curriculum also sets out to establish a common intellectual ground among architects, landscape architects and planners who intend to practice as urbanists. Four highly structured design exercises expose students to a broad range of urban situations. These exercises are set against the background of four operating premises: 1.Urban landscape may be read and understood as physical environments that reflect the rich commingling of multiple, often competing forces and conditions. In this sense, all urban sites are continually being constructed and are thus open to scrutiny and redefinition.2.Urban planners and designers are uniquely charged with the crafting of maps, plans, images, models, and texts that represent the city. Our capacity to affect and guide the political and economic forces that build the city depends on our ability to effectively utilize these media by translating information drawn from a complex set of demographic, cartographic, geographic, and historiographic sources. Thus, the way in which we analyze and represent the urban landscape structures the ways in which we intervene in that landscape.3.This rhetoric of drawings, images, and words give planning and design agency, acting as temporary sites through which the future of a built landscape may be negotiated and reimagined. 4.Ultimately, the planner\’s and urban designer\’s agency depends as much on the posing of compelling scenarios as it does on the solving of already defined problems.