Best career path for a Urban Designer


Hi, I am a upper division undergraduate student in a BS Arch, and I want to become a urban designer. However, because urban design is not considered a profession of itself, but a integrated form of architecture, landscape design, and planning, I am trying to decide what graduate degree to get for this career. I want to work on revitalization projects in downtown areas that include working with brownfields and old industrial sites, architectural conservation, street design, public space and parks, and mixed use mixed income urban housing. Public space, new urbanism/TOD and work live housing would be my focus. I also want to have my own consulting firm in which I travel nationally and globally to consult with mayors, planners, and design firms to design master plans for city growth and redevelopment. What graduate education do I need for career path? I know that I want a dual masters to help me stand out and because urban design is a combined field. I have considered dual landscape architecture and urban planning, dual architecture and urban planning, dual urban design and planning, dual landscape architecture and architecture, dual architecture (or landscape arch) and urban design, and real estate development and urban planning (urban design focus). I would probably get a urban design certificate or real estate development certificate. I looked at job requirements for top firms and I noticed that most required a license or degree in architecture or landscape architecture for urban design. I want to be design focused but I am not afraid of the analytical side of planning, but I want to do more then just policy. Also would a license or certification in landscape, architecture, or planning be best? My professor also recommended the PHD route for urban design that I am also considering. I am not sure if I want to work in a architecture firm or city office or both. Thanks for any input, sorry for the long thread.

Jul 15, 16 10:23 am

Hi, Justin.  Urban design is a great field, though sometimes ill-defined in terms of suitable educational prep-- as you've discovered already.  Some thoughts:

  1.  There are multiple paths to UD practice, not a single correct way.
  2.  Don't consider the PhD until much later, and only if you find yourself burning to do research and pursue an academic career.
  3.  You're right that a dual-degree approach is the best path for a field that spans disciplines.
  4.  Every degree program's focus and quality is different.  So, all things assumed equal, and considering you already have an architecture degree (the most important foundation an urban designer can begin with), I'd recommend combining planning and landscape architecture.  Other combo's could work fine, too, but from a purely disciplinary perspective, those two best complement your existing degree for a well-prepared path to UD practice.
  5. Get as much experience and exposure as you can (even small bits) in planning and/or UD, starting now.  This means internships, exhibitions, lectures, reading... the usual.  You'll gain knowledge, personal contacts, talking points, and input on what about the field most interests you.

Good luck!

Jul 15, 16 2:31 pm

Thank you so much for the advice. I will look into a dual masters in LArch and MUP, which I was leaning towards because I feel like a MArch will just go back over the same topics I learned in my BS Arch. I feel that a LArch and MUP on top of my BS Arch will make me a more well rounded urban designer.

Jul 16, 16 2:25 pm

You're welcome.

Consider searching the forums here for threads on UD.  Beware, though, that the extent of diverging opinions can get daunting.  Still, there can be some good thoughts and comments.

Jul 16, 16 5:36 pm

from your post, it looks like your mind works a mile a minute, and just want everything everything. why dont you just get a dual degree in everything.

Jul 17, 16 10:26 am
Doing a M.Arch. will not make you go over the same things as a B.Arch. Most masters courses have a specific focus, and some of them have Urban Design as a focus.
Jul 17, 16 12:05 pm

Ok, thanks for the clarification on a MArch. I just knew that most MArchs would go through structures, building science, and history again that I learned the basics about already. I feel that a MArch would only be helpful if I want to be a licensed architect as a urban designer. Which I have not decided on what profession I want to be to back up my career in urban design. I am leaning towards landscape architect and planner because it is different from my current education and has less licensing requirements then a architect. Does a architect who works as a urban designer have a edge over a landscape architect or urban planner who works as a urban designer?

Jul 18, 16 1:56 pm

Training (especially culminating in a degree) in architecture has two-fold benefits here.  First is (to state it very generally) an understanding of form, space, circulation, etc., and how to manipulate them.  Second is an understanding of common building types and their related functional and spatial needs.  This is important, since a lot of urban design work overlaps with master planning activities.

Landscape architecture brings similar tools, though at a different scale and using different forms as well as a better grasp of change over the long term.

Planning complements these two with sustained exposure to larger processes at work: the economics of both development and public finance; involvement by diverse stakeholder groups; formulation of public policy, including development standards and design guidelines; and politics in general, among other elements.

Again: this is a description of how different fields/ disciplines can work together for more complete urban design education and training.  Specific degree programs will vary considerably.

Jul 18, 16 2:48 pm

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