Should urban design start with architecture, landscape, infrastructure – or music?

The highwaymen seem to have won so that modern (or should it be Modernist?) urban design begins with the layout of roads. The gaps are then filled with blocks and the SLOAP is slurped with slabs and shrubs (SLOAP = Space Left Over After Planning). This is how Concrete Jungles are made. ‘Ugh’. So let’s demote the highwaymen and then think about how to design cities which will be more than assembles of Big Boxes and Little Boxes beside roads (see video below).
Should we launch our urban designs with music, architecture, landscape, planning or infrastructure? Music can set the mood for a design. We can remember the example of the Greenwich landscape architecture urban design project 2011. And we canĀ  look back to the example of St Clement Danes (see video above). The original church, built by Danish imigrants, stood between the cities of London and Westminster – possibly near trees, as today. James Gibbs designed the tower – and the music it was to produce was surely the starting point for his design, reminding us that form can follow function without being its slave.
Yet what is the function of a city? Is it to help its citizens lead good lives: healthy, comfortable, safe, sustainable and beautifully inspiring. If so, we cannot expect good cities to result from starting with the design of roads. But where should the urban design process begin: planning, architecture, landscape architecture, green infrastructure, grey infrastructure? You might say ‘start with urban design’ but it has proved too broad a discipline for the training of professionals at first degree level – and also problematic at masters level.

2 thoughts on “Should urban design start with architecture, landscape, infrastructure – or music?

  1. Christine

    Yes, it would seem that urban design is not object oriented (ie buildings, gardens or roads etc) but rather is about the relationship between things (ie building, gardens and roads etc).

    For this reason in my opinion it is something that is best studied either within projects at the urban scale at undergraduate or as a dedicated qualification at postgraduate level.

    Music is a good place to start because it can teach the student so many things, about harmony, dissonance and composition as well as voice (artistry) etc that are difficult to convey in studios because they are viewed as ‘subjective’.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      If music comes first, we are then faced with the problem of who chooses the music. Is it the urban designer? Also, how do we ascertain that someone has the necessary talent in urban design? I regard the books, though inspiring, as inadequate. And we can hardly call for experience, because making cities takes so long. And we cannot rely on college degrees obtained by reading inadequate books. Could staffing problems be the reason for twentieth century cities having been so disappointing?
      PS I really like the phrase ‘object oriented’ in connection with an incomprehension of what urban design involves


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