a history of the design Professions
While it is certainly true that people have been creating works of architecture, designing landscapes, and planning and shaping cities for millennia, our contemporary disciplines have particular histories. The professionalization of architectural practice can be dated to the formation of the American Institute of Architects in 1857; the American Society of Landscape Architecture was formed in 1899; and the American City Planning Institute (later the American Institute of Planners, and now the American Planning Association) was founded in 1917. Formal educational and degree programs in these fields followed soon after. The histories of these professions and the educational systems that support them is relevant to our current circumstances.
from "civic art" to "civic design" to "urban design"
As compared to architecture, landscape architecture, and city planning, urban design is a relatively young field. Although it has ancient roots, urban design as we know it emerged out of the Civic Art and Civic Design movements of the early twentieth century. But it was after World War II, in the context of city rebuilding and modernization efforts, that city planning and civic design saw renewed interest and many city planning and civic design degree programs were established. In the same years, the late 1940s and 1950s, postwar "Urban Renewal" legislation and governmental programs were also conceived in the US and, in reaction to this new "urban" landscape, civic design was re-imagined as "urban design." Some felt that "civic design" was too closely associated with the City Beautiful movement and the civic center-building efforts of the early twentieth century. Urban design was meant to signal a shift to a broader perspective on the city, but it was also an attempt to effectively rebrand design practices in order to bring them into alignment with the "urban" focus of postwar intellectual interests and public policy.
The birth of "urban design"
Although not the first postwar civic design program, the first urban design degree program was established at Harvard University in 1960, when "urban design" was still a neologism. While similar discussions were taking place at other schools, the program was conceived in the mid 1950s, in the midst of national discussion about urban renewal, by architecture dean Josep Lluís Sert, then president of CIAM (the Congès international d'architecture moderne), as a post-professional degree program. At the time, few practitioners described themselves as civic designers and there were few practitioners who were especially concerned with the appearance or form of the city. Before the urban renewal era (and the environmental movement), architects typically had little influence over the building "plot," or site, and landscape architects primarily focused on gardens and private commissions, not the public spaces of the city or landscapes from an ecological point of view. Meanwhile, although zoning codes certainly shaped city form, city planners (then, as now) were rarely physical planners or designers. The new field of urban design was therefore logically meant to bring together architects, landscape architects, and city planners to share and create knowledge, and to help address the needs of the changing modern city.
Urban design as a speciality: an upside-down pyramid
Some sixty years later, the 1950s model of urban design as an advanced study prevails in the US. Today, there are relatively few urban design degree programs, and urban design is pursued by a relatively small number of graduates from architecture, landscape architecture, and city planning programs. Arguably, the model of urban design as an advanced study has outlived its usefulness. While there may be agreement that the urban environment is a shared concern and responsibility of architects, landscape architects, and city planners, few study urbanism and urban design in a focused manner. Rather than serving as a foundational education, urban design is treated as a post-professional specialization, the narrow apex of an educational pyramid.
the need for better education in urbanism and urban design
Given the long histories of the design professions and their educational systems, it is unlikely that their professional organizations will decide to require their students to pursue pre-professional or pre-requisite coursework in urbanism or urban design. However, if the design professions acknowledge their shared concern and responsibility for the city, they must also see the virtues of providing their students with more education in the area of urbanism and urban design. This is not the case now, at least in NAAB accredited programs, but The Urbanism Project seeks to make this case.