Understanding the Role of an URBAN DESIGNER

Understanding the Role of an Urban Designer

Understanding the Role of an Urban Designer as an Interface between an Architect and a Planner.

Role of a Planner

By the Oxford English Dictionary, a planner is the one who schemes or connives out things or strategies. According to the planner’s manual, however, a planner is an allocator of scarce resources. And he has various roles to play in the planning process itself. All planners are sensitive to those circumstances outside the field of their immediate executive or advisory function, to extraneous influences on the community in which they plan, which may profoundly alter the circumstances under which the people live. They are necessarily concerned with the quantitative aspects of migration, as it affects the age, sex, and skill composition of the population.

Planners look at changes in fertility rates, abortions and divorces. They closely watch the progress of the national economy as it affects the size, composition and distribution of the national income. A Planner learn to identify those issues, partly under their control, but mostly bearing on the subjects they monitor.

So, basically they interact more with the people and all their decisions are based on the results of such interactions.

The planner is still concerned with the physical environment but he is equally deeply involved with the efficient functioning of the economy, the growth of communities, and the correct usage of the scarce resources for which there is competition from many directions. This means the planner becomes a listener, a researcher, as well as a decision maker.

Thus a planner, actually, ‘the grand design’ is at the back of the mind. What occupies forefront is the process through which he aims to achieve at that design according to the scheme of priorities which he himself must help to shape. It includes all of his land-use, economic, demographic, transportation and heritage surveys, his capabilities of improving the immediate function and environment of his area, one section at a time. So basically he is the person who provides a rough sketch on which the final shape of the city is based on.

Role of an Architect

An architect is the creator; he is the builder who puts up the spaces. The art of architecture is to do with the physical phrasing and shaping of dreams and emotions and hopes and motives. The architect is the person who creates this dream space – for an individual or a group of individuals. He does not go into the social infrastructural, resource or development details. He is concerned with is that the immediate and futuristic needs and aspirations of his client are being fulfilled, the structural and constructional details; the psychological impact of each space and the forms and colors used in them; the landscape’s effect on the immediate environment etc.

As professional experts in the field of building design and construction, architects use their unique creative skills to advise individuals, community groups, developers and property owners, commercial organizations and local authorities on the design and construction of new buildings, the reuse of existing buildings and the spaces which surround them in our towns and cities.

Architects work closely with other members of the construction industry including surveyors, builders, building control officers and engineers, builders, surveyors, local authority planners. Much of their time is spent vesting sites, assessing the feasibility of a project, inspecting building work or managing the construction process. They also spend time testing new ideas and construction techniques and researching old records and drawings.

Thus basically an architect’s part is to create the inhabited art, which affects the people physically, aesthetically and emotionally. Architecture is primarily about spaces. How well they are linked and perceived from the macro city level to the private dwelling space, is something that is not an architect’s primary focus.

‘The role of an architect can be conceived as that of a social critic.’

Society looks up to architects to define new ways of living and working, to develop innovative ways of using existing buildings and creating new ones. How important a certain building is because of its heritage value and in what ways do such buildings contribute in the psyche of the masses and their historical impact on them.

Architects are trained to take our brief and can see the big picture – they look beyond our immediate requirements to design flexible buildings that will adapt with the changing needs. They solve problems creatively – involved at the earliest planning stage, they gain more opportunities to understand and develop creative solutions, and propose ways to reduce costs. Architects save money by maximizing investment and manage a project from site selection to completion. This all essentially includes catering to the needs of a group or an individual. During this process, the masses and society as a whole are given a priority next to the immediate user or the client.

Urban Designer – an Architect or a Planner : Conclusion

Urbanism works when it creates a journey as desirable as the destination. – Paul Goldberger

In the urban context, which has been the primary focus, the ‘journey’ can be well replaced by planning; and the ‘destination’ by architecture. Thus, basically it is in the merging of the two, that a beautiful city design lies. And who is the professional who is responsible for this? An Urban Designer certainly comes as a probable answer.

Work of an Urban Designer

Architecture has been historically evolving. Analyzing architecture with respect to fulfilling basic physical functions is an important part of design, the psychological and biological needs are equally important. Spaces can create a sense of association, disassociation, pride and prestige. Though such a thing is the product of feelings and sensitivity of the user, there is no rigid for interpretations. However, an interpretation of such values is partly an urban designer role and partly his personal cultivation.

Although it has grown around feudalistic and religious institutions in the past, in the present time backed by new technology and democratic institutions, it essentially focuses on serving the masses. And that is exactly what a planner does.

A planner essentially looks up at the requirements of the masses and according to the feasibility, tries to divide or allocate the area. However, the psychological impact a particular building is having on the people or the emotional values attached to a heritage building is not his concern at all. His focus is on how the quantitative aspects affect a particular area and thus how it should be tackled. But even his ultimate purpose is to create well-built and functioning areas.

So basically both of them are to serve the same purpose, the same clientele. The question is how to do it efficiently and how to put together the works of both. Urban design as we see is the process through which to combine the works of an architect and a planner. He is the one who looks at the quantitative as well as the qualitative aspects of the city design. One who is concerned with the masses but does give attention to the individual requirements of an immediate user. He is thus an architect planner.

Now, what essentially has been tried here is to clearly establish the meanings of the terms; ‘architect’, ‘planner’, ‘urban designer’; rather than escaping from the ambiguity of their overlaps. Also to understand the actual processes that go into the city design and so understanding the basic and major principles that go into it so that as professionals, we are able to know exactly what our job is and how we can work together to create successful urbanscapes; which can promise us a better livable world in the future.

Source: The article is taken from NOSPLAN Journal – Esplanade written by Surbhi Pratap way back during her architecture graduation.

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