Urban Design Exercises

You may have seen some of your friends and/or family pass an evening knitting, or you know someone who doodles all the time. Both are a form of design, stimulation for a busy brain, something to occupy the time.  For me, I like to design fictitious city plans, which are usually based off an existing city design.  Any artist that has been designing for a while can picture specific signature design motifs in their mind. Examples: if an artist was asked to depict a grouping of the Three Graces, they’d probably represent the two end Graces facing the viewer, while the middle figure is rendered with its backside to the observer.  Here are three examples.

Marble Statue Group of the Three Graces, 2nd century A.D. Roman copy of a Greek work of the 2nd century B.C. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Raphael, The Three Graces, 1504
Sandro Botticelli, Primavera 1485-1487

Urban designers use a similar technique, a recall of specific recognizable urban design moves. Again, three examples…

Rome, Italy – Piazza Navona and the Pantheon forming Piazza della Rotonda
Bordeaux, France – Place des Quinconces and the concourse along the Garonne River
Barcelona, Spain – and its square blocks with chamfered corners in the added Eixample district, which then form a small rectilinear square where for of the blocks intersect.

These Urban Design Exercises are a takeoff of the The Plan Game, which I wrote about in an earlier blog. I typically will choose an urban figure/ground and commence by printing the plan out and then sketching out my ideas in 2D.

The 1914 plan of Vienna and its Ringstrasse
Sketch on trace of a design scheme using the Vienna Ringstrasse as a base.  I’ll usually sketch out a part of the fabric as a design generator. These areas are shown in purple. This first pass was laying out the block massing.
In this second sketch I’m beginning to investigate possible circulation moves through the block massing.

I’ll then import both the existing figure/ground and the sketches into 3D CAD software (I typically use SketchUp) and will begin to design a 3D version from my sketches.

This is the final version of a design using the Vienna Ringstrasse as a base.  A top-down view with shadows.
The final version of a design using the Vienna Ringstrasse as a base.  An aerial view with shadows

Shown below are seven urban designs exercises. I’ll begin by showing the existing figure/ground I worked from, and then the final 3d schemes.

St. Petersburg, Russia 1834
3D urban design scheme using St. Petersburg as a design base. A top-down view with shadows.
3D urban design scheme using St. Petersburg as a design base. An aerial view.
Karlsruhe, Germany 1910
3D urban design scheme using Karlsruhe as a design base. A top-down view with shadows.
3D urban design scheme using Karlsruhe as a design base. An aerial view.
Steven Fong, Thesis, Design near Regents Park, London 1979
3D urban design scheme using S. Fong’s London design. A top-down view with shadows.
3D urban design scheme using S. Fong’s London design. An aerial view.
Düsseldorf, Germany 1896
3D urban design scheme using Düsseldorf, Germany as a design base. A top-down view with shadows.
3D urban design scheme using Düsseldorf, Germany as a design base. An aerial view.
Charles Graves, Design Exercise, Cambridge, Massachusetts 1977
3D urban design scheme using C. Graves’ Cambridge design exercise as a base. A top-down view with shadows.
3D urban design scheme using C. Graves’ Cambridge design exercise as a base. An aerial view.
Steven Holl, Milan, Italy 1995
3D urban design scheme using Steven Holl’s Milano design as a base. A top-down view with shadows.
3D urban design scheme using Steven Holl’s Milano design as a base. An aerial view.
Potsdam, Berlin Gremany, Seidlung Drewitz-Kirchstegteld, Augusto Romano Burelli, 1991
3D urban design scheme using Augusto Romano Burelli’s design as a base. A top-down view with shadows.
3D urban design scheme using Augusto Romano Burelli’s design as a base. An aerial view.

Please feel free to comment. You can contact me directly at cgraves@kent.edu

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s