If we think of landscape architecture as a long, right-angled triangle, then plant selection and saving significant trees would be at the narrow end, whereas broad-scale landscape planning, coastal studies and catchment management plans are at the wide end. Urban design is somewhere near the narrow end of the triangle, because urban design is incremental: upgrading a street, a precinct or a plaza for example, but never a whole city. Whole cities are the realm of urban planning.
In his 1986 book, Finding Lost Space, urban geographer and Harvard professor Roger Trancik defined ‘urban design’ as ‘urban spatial design’ and ‘urban landscape design’. Dr Susan Lennard-Crowhurst of ‘Making Cities Livable’ also asks for presentations on ‘Urban Space Design’.
If it is appropriate for landscape architecture students to be taught about the Acropolis, the Roman Forum, Piazza San Marco, Piazza del Campo, Paley Park, South Bank, Darling Harbour, Salamanca Place, Melbourne Docklands and the North Terrace Redevelopment, for example, then the notion that landscape architecture includes and embraces urban design is readily established. Landscape architecture students are taught to observe and design public open spaces. They are encouraged to anticipate how individuals and groups of people could respond to a variety of spatial components in different situations, by day and night and on weekends.
‘Design is the fundamental skill required to restructure urban space – a skill that distinguishes it from other activities of planning and engineering the built environment,’ wrote Dr Trancik in 1986, ‘Without design, the modern landscape would evolve in the absence of judgements on aesthetics, visual quality and social concerns. Urban spatial design is an environmental art’.