2019 Contextual Urban Design

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Academic unit or major
Graduate major in Urban Design and Built Environment
Jonathan Martin 
Course component(s)
Day/Period(Room No.)
Intensive (W9-402)  
Course number
Academic year
Offered quarter
Syllabus updated
Lecture notes updated
Language used
Access Index

Course description and aims

This course surveys recent prominent theories of urban spatial design—ways of reading, understanding and designing urban space—and asks: How did we arrive at our current thinking and understanding about urban design? What works and what doesn’t, and why? The course also provides students the opportunity to design a small public space in as part of the coursework. It is an introductory urban design course for the non-design major.
The objective of this course is to provide urban planning students with a set of basic tools by which they can formally understand, critique, and discuss urban spatial design.

Student learning outcomes

By semester’s end, students in the course will be able to:
1. Identify a variety of urban spatial conditions and reference these against well-known case studies;
2. Intellectually critique urban design within the context of the theories covered; and
3. Speak knowledgeably on what constitutes “good” urban design.


Urban Design, Urban Planning, Spatial Design Theory

Competencies that will be developed

Intercultural skills Communication skills Specialist skills Critical thinking skills Practical and/or problem-solving skills
- - -

Class flow

Course lectures present an introduction to the subject theory and practice. All lectures will be annotated in Japanese to convey key concepts to non-native English speakers. Lectures will also be supported with case studies from the U.S. Students are required to submit short written responses on weekly reading assignments.

Course schedule/Required learning

  Course schedule Required learning
Class 1 Introduction – What is Urban Design? To learn current urban design challenges and history in USA
Class 2 Theories of Urban Spatial Design To understand three theories of urban design - figure-ground, linkage and place theory
Class 3 The City of Monuments To learn application of historical precedents in urban design
Class 4 Urban Utopias – Garden City, Broadacre City and the Functionalist City To understand history of early 20th century utopian planning
Class 5 Post-Modern Reactions – Overview To understand the response to Modernism in urban design theory and practice
Class 6 Critical Regionalism & City of Sweat Equity To examine post-modern reactions, including participatory design
Class 7 The Post-Structuralist City To understand post modern reactions and repositioning of architecture practice
Class 8 Field Trip – Location TBD To participate in learning experience outside of classroom and observation of ideas from class
Class 9 Current Theory I – The Gehl Approach To learn current theory informing placemaking in the USA and Europe
Class 10 Current Theory II – Recombinant Urbanism & Heterotopias To learn application of theory of "less-design"
Class 11 Planning Practicum To apply ideas learned in class exercise - hopefully with American students
Class 12 Planning Practicum Same as above
Class 13 Planning Practicum Same as above
Class 14 Current Theory III – Neotraditionalism To learn principles of TND and New Urbanism
Class 15 Current Theory IV – Green Urbanism and the Sustainable City To learn recent efforts at green design in the USA


Gehl, Jan. Cities for People. Washington DC: Island Press, 2010. (ISBN: 159726573X)
Martin, Jonathan. New Urbanism Visual Companion (digital, provided by the professor), 2018.

Reference books, course materials, etc.

Trancik, Roger. Finding Lost Space: Theories of Urban Design. Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1986. ISBN-13: 978-0442283995

Assessment criteria and methods

Your grade will depend strongly on your class participation (reading responses, in-class discussions, and participation in the joint planning practicum) and completion of the lecture assignment.

Related courses

  • UDE.D472 : Introduction to US Land Use Planning and Regulations
  • UDE.D507 : Urban Planning and Development in Japan
  • UDE.P403 : Urban Planning

Prerequisites (i.e., required knowledge, skills, courses, etc.)

Recommended for students in Urban Design and Built Environment Course and Architecture Course, though not excluding those overseas students with other majors. The lecture will be given in English.

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