What do architects think of urban planning?


I am thinking about getting an M.Arch or a M.LArch degree after I finish my urban planning degree.

I am really interested in urban design, so which architecture program would couple a city  planning degree; M.Arch or M.LArch?

Also, what do architecture firms think of urban planners? Are they looked down upon in the design world?

Nov 20, 11 11:29 pm

Huge and interesting topic, not nearly enough energy here to respond adequately.  It's late.

First, search the forum for "urban design planning" and you'll find many threads that will offer many opinions.

The most important thing to keep in mind at the outset is that urban design and urban planning are related but not the same thing.  (Search the forum.)  Don't use those terms interchangeably.  You're interested in urban design, and either an MArch or MLArch could get you there.  So, for that matter, could an MUD.  (Search the forum). 

Good luck!


Nov 21, 11 12:54 am

I figured that urban design and urban planning were different fields but I was just curious as to which degree; M.LArch or M.Arch would be the most helpful when coupled with a City Planning degree.

I was also curious as to what architects think of urban planners and their field?

Nov 21, 11 10:28 am


Nov 21, 11 1:29 pm

What's your focus right now for your Urban Planning degree?

Nov 21, 11 5:56 pm

You'll hear lots of opinions, many of them negative, about planners and planning from architects and developers. 

"Planning" for most means city or county planning, done in a public agency, and normally involving the application of code regulations to building or development applications.  Applicants often see planning (and its regulations) as an inherent obstacle to creativity and barrier to profitability.  There are also urban planners who work in the private sector as consultants--hired guns who work on a contract basis for private developers and/or public agencies in some specialty (urban design, economic development, transportation, land use, etc).

One important difference between architects and planners (broadly speaking) is their training and professional worldview.  Architects (as a rule) are encouraged to be creative, to single-handedly "author" a design, and somehow get it built.  Their norms and values are drawn from ostensibly "subjective" criteria such as beauty, order, and "good" form. Obstacles to this process--whether coming from a "stingy" client, an "incompetent" builder, or a "unreasonable" planner or code official--define the fundamental frustrations of architectural practice.

Planners, on the other hand, are generally trained to work in groups, and their professional norms and values come from ostensibly "objective" sources in the social sciences.  They are not designers (typically), but briefly exposed in planning school to a wide range urban-related subjects: design, policy, economics, social relations, law, etcetera.  Some are frustrated designers themselves; others are happy not to come near design.  Planning (the local government kind)  is fundamentally the application of public policy (via regulations) --decided on by elected officials-- to the creative work proposed by others.  Planners are the intermediaries, and many are frustrated in this middleman role: unempowered to make big decisions, and not part of the creative design process.

As an architect and a planner, I find myself defending one group of colleagues to the other from time to time, in both directions.

[Nb: The above is riddled with qualifiers because making broad generalizations is dangerous work, especially in online forums.  Plenty of exceptions and variations exist which smash my schema to smithereens. For example: many planners fully enjoy carrying out public policy by shaping new projects in conformance to codes and regulations. Your mileage may vary.]

Nov 21, 11 6:16 pm

Planning by mnuicipal agencies is always the result of political decisions. As such it is invaribly doomed from the start by corruption, greed and incompetance.

Our local chief planner rallied on at great length about the failure of 1950's zoning, especially creating commercial strips along roads, then went on to do exactly that.


Nov 21, 11 6:30 pm

Planning is a broader field than just urban design.  I am an urban designer with degrees in planning and architecture.   Many firms and people use the terms "urban planning" and "urban design" interchangeably, but this isn't exactly accurate.  I'm considered an "urban planner" in some countries and I also hold certification as a planner, but, really, what they means is that I'm an urban designer.

Nov 21, 11 6:32 pm

Going into my program I realized that not a lot of design is required but I am still interested in urban design. There are some courses and one can concentrate in it in my program. I am also set on applying to architecture school when I'm done. I was just curious if an M.LArch would be more appropriate to couple with a planning degree than an M.Arch? I had no idea there was such a riff between the two professions. Most people, including I, think of it as a subset of architecture.

Nov 21, 11 9:08 pm

Okay, now you know some some (basic) differences between UP and UD.

As to your other question... I will give you that great, time-honored answer-of-all-answers:

It depends.  It depends upon which MArch program versus which MLA program.  Different programs at different schools have different foci and different curricula, some of which translate to UD nicely.  There is also a handful of masters' programs in UD itself.

So, now: you 1) hope that some people chime in here on the different programs' particulars, or 2) search the forums for that some information, starting with the search term I suggested above.

Nov 21, 11 9:22 pm

LOL, well I also wanted to know what architectural firms thinks of planners. They do hire them don't they? They aren't just left to look for work at local city planning department? I was also wondering if people here would consider them part of the design community?

I was thinking about going into a UD program but I figured they only took people with design backgrboud









Nov 21, 11 9:33 pm

manoverde, I can only speak for myself, but when hiring for an urban designer, I look for somebody with a dual background in architecture and urban planning (B.Arch/MCP or MCP/M.Arch works well).   Urban design is interdisciplinary: it requires both the analytical and methodological training of an urban planner and the design skills of an architect.  Generally speaking, one does not substitute for the other.

Nov 21, 11 10:24 pm

Exellent. That's the advice I needed. It would be good to have both an MCP and an M.Arch. While I have your attention, anyone know what the acceptance rate is for CCNY Spitzer? Is it a tough school to get into.
Also do firms look highly at the BAC, Boston Architectural College?





Nov 22, 11 9:00 am

Personally, I'd look for schools with both strong planning and arch programs.

The Planetizen/ACSP guide (2011) just came out with the following rankings of PAB-accredited programs in planning.  Here's the list in rank order for the top 12.  Note that for a number of reasons, Columbia was not ranked, but is widely reckoned to have a good (PAB-accredited) program too.

1 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
2 Cornell University
3 Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
4 University of California, Berkeley
5 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
6 University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
7 University of Southern California
8 Georgia Institute of Technology
9 University of California, Los Angeles
10 University of Pennsylvania  
11 Harvard University
12 University of Michigan

I don't know how seriously to take the relative rankings between these schools, but this list, plus maybe Columbia and Cal Poly, are pretty much the bucket list of programs that many people in the profession agree are the most comprehensive and research-oriented.

Nov 22, 11 10:33 am

The fact of the matter is I am already in a planning program and I have about a year and half left of the program. So before the next year is done  I want to have a school in mind. My two choices are CCNY Spitzer because Michael Sorkin teaches there, and the BAC as a backup school considering it's a school for people without design background.







Nov 22, 11 10:47 am

Anyone know if CCNY Spitzer is a difficult school to get into?


Nov 22, 11 10:47 am

no idea.  I'm not showing that they have a PAB accredited program at all.  Hunter College does, though.. isn't that in the same system as CCNY?

Strongly recommended you get a planning degree from an accredited program. 

Nov 22, 11 11:24 am

Well I meant for M.Arch. I am already in a PAB accredited planning program.

Hunter is part of CUNY (City University of NY) which also houses CCNY (City College).

Does having PAB accreditation really affect one's employments opportunities?

Nov 22, 11 11:39 am

Maybe I should bump the last thread I started on CCNY.


Nov 22, 11 11:49 am

manoverde.. yep.    most surveys suggest that MOST of the unemployment in urban planning these days is from those with degrees from non-accredited programs.  The placement stats are actually quite good for grads from accredited schools.. people don't go by the accreditation.. they go by the school's reputation, and it just happens that the two coincide, for the most part.  There's maybe one exception in the country I can think of, offhand.  Planning from Hunter and M.Arch from CCNY Spitzer probably makes sense than.  Hunter has a good planning program.  I don't know too much about CCNY for architecture.

Nov 22, 11 11:56 am

One more question:

It was mentioned in an earlier post that one could obtain a Masters in Urban Design and be qualified to work as an urban designer.

This sounds like it would be a less costly route for me after I obtain my planning degree.

But would it be a more lucrative venture for me to bypass the M.Arch or MLA? I would only have an MCP (City Planning) and a MUD. Would it be a competitve enough background against people who have architecture degrees?



Nov 25, 11 11:32 am

I'm pretty sure that most MUD degrees require that you already have an Arch or LA degree; they may take exception with you already having an planning degree, but you'd have to talk to individ. schools about their policy.

Nov 25, 11 12:16 pm

I talked to advisors at Carnegie Mellon and CCNY Spitzer and both said a planning degree is fine as long as I took some urban design course (which my program does offer).

So I take it there are some schools who make exceptions. What I am worried about is if it's enough for employers.

Nov 25, 11 1:08 pm

Manoverde, employers will look in part at your degrees, but ultimately it's about your portfolio and (later) your professional experience. If you can do urban design well, it won't matter whether you have an MArch or an MLArch. I have a few friends with planning-only backgrounds who work as urban designers. However, since there is so much overlap between the disciplines, having an architecture or landscape architecture degree would probably be quite helpful. 

In my experience, urban designers with an architecture background will often focus on urban fabric and form, building typologies, and projects in comparatively dense settings. Urban designers with a landscape architecture background will often focus on public realm, campus planning, master planned communities, and large scale semi-infrastructural projects. So depending on the type of urban design work you want to do, a MArch or MLArch may be preferable. As well, I recommend looking at the types of firms that you would like to work for and see what their backgrounds are. You could check some of these major and/or influential players as a start:  Calthorpe, Sasaki, HOK, Chan Krieger, DPZ, West 8, Field Operations, OMA, Bernard Tschumi, MvRdV, MVVA, SOM, and AECOM.

Good luck!

Nov 26, 11 5:08 am

Those are some really excellent firms. What does it even take to land a job with them? Tell me and I will get to it.

Nov 26, 11 1:08 pm

MUD degrees generally require you to have a prior professional degree in arch. and they don't do particularly well getting you jobs in urban design (as opposed to general arch) if those of my friends of got the Columbia MSUD and Harvard GSD MUD degrees are any indication.

Nov 26, 11 10:49 pm

Sorry, your last sentence was a bit muddy. Could you repeat that? Are you saying that your friends who  earned MSUD from Harvard and Columbia couldn't land design jobs?


Nov 27, 11 12:08 am

No Mano ... I said that they got jobs as architectural designers mostly, not generally as urban designers specifically

Nov 27, 11 3:08 am

Well I am assuming they had architectural degrees then?

My situation is when I a done with my planning degree, I wanted to jump into a Masters in Urban Design in order to save two years and a truckload of money trying to earn an MLA or M.Arch.

I found two programs that take planning graduates as long as they've take courses in urban design.

But would not having an architectural degree look strange to employers? Just going out there with an MCP and an MUD be enough to land a job, either in planning, architecture or urban design?

Nov 27, 11 11:22 am

I guess the question for you is what you want to do. Urban design isnt a field by itself. It augments your accredited professonal degree in the field of your choice, not replaces it or substitutes for something else, If you want to design buildings - including buildings at urban scale - you need to become an architect. if you want to design the spaces around buildings, you need to become a landscape architect. If you want to design the systems that serve these environments (circulation, land-use, environmental), then you should become a planner. If you want to do more than one of these things, you will likely need more than one professional degree. All a UD degree does is help you mould these skills to enable you to use them in an urban environment, It does not substitute for them. IMO, getting a UD degree with an non-professional (not PAB) planning degree doesn't do any of these things for you and will likely hurt you in the private sector and among architecture firms in particular. I can't speak to the hiring policies of government agencies, but I do know what arch firms look for.

Nov 27, 11 12:27 pm

But the planning degree I am going for is accredited. I figured an MUD would be a good asset to couple with an accredited MCP.


Nov 27, 11 12:51 pm

Sorry.. I thought you said below that you didn't. Yes, that combination might help you in the planning arena (working for government or planning consulting firms). Most architects I know are more comfortable with people who actually have studied arch, so having a combination on of a professional planning degree and a post professional degree in UD, won't necessarily do it for them. I can only really speak to my corner of the world (architecture). Other types of employers may look at things differently.

Nov 27, 11 12:57 pm

I guess I should just play it safe and earn the MLA? I've decided on Landscape Arch.

Nov 27, 11 1:00 pm

Manoverde, I would recommend considering one of the following. Taking a year or so off from school and getting some professional experience. This will help you confirm exactly your interests and see first hand how your skills or lack thereof are perceived in the workplace. Another option is to find a short term intern experience with a firm or firms. 

If you can prove you have the design chops (conceptual, graphical, and technical) to pull off urban design without an M.Arch or M.LArch, then you're already set. You may not need to do a degree in something you're not passionate about as well.

Nov 29, 11 3:38 pm

I think you should be concerned less with "playing it safe" and instead figure out which of the degrees (MLA, MArch, MUD), if any, would really help you further develop what areas of focus you're interested in (which is also why I asked what your specialization was for your MUP). Setting aside employability, which I feel would follow suit once you have a focused set of professional tools appropriate for the area you want to pursue, consider what projects you want to work on; see if the firms walldrug mentioned are of interest to you, as well as what degrees current employees of said firms have.

Why is an MLA considered "playing it safe" anyways? Why not go balls deep and go for an M.Arch? See how silly it sounds when you call a degree 'playing it safe'?

Nov 29, 11 7:11 pm

exactly Byen.  

Selecting a discipline for study based solely on your likelihood of achieving a career path you can't clearly identify (do you want to do architecture, landscape, urban planning?.. any given urban designer tends to do one, maybe one and a half of those three.. not all three) seems to me to be a surefire path to personal and career frustration.  

Dec 1, 11 1:49 am

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