Urban Design

Mind takes form in the city; and in turn, urban forms condition mind. For space, no less than time, is artfully reorganized in cities: in boundary lines and silhouettes, in the fixing of horizontal planes and vertical peaks, in utilizing or denying the natural site, the city records the attitude of a culture and an epoch to the fundamental facts of its existence. The dome and the spire, the open avenue and the closed court, tell the story, not merely of different physical accommodations, but of essentially different conceptions of man's destiny. . . . With language itself, it remains man's greatest work of art.1

The design of cities has been the conscious task of many throughout history. However, only in the 1950s, with the advent of university degree programs, did the term urban designer and the profession of urban design emerge with a distinct label.

Cities develop over time because of the conscious and unconscious acts of people. Urban designers assume that in spite of their vast scale and complexity, cities can be designed and their growth shaped and directed. A major example of human ability to shape the urban environment is the work of Baron Haussmann from 1855 to 1868 in Paris during the time of Napoleon III.

During this period, Haussmann was responsible for creating a new pattern of boulevards that reshaped the character of Paris. The facades of buildings along the grand boulevards were required to be uniform, giving a sense of rhythm and order to the streets. The grand tree-lined boulevards he created became and remain some of the major public spaces of Paris.

Parts of this chapter were written by Charles W. Steger. He was formerly Dean of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and president of the university.

Haussmann's design a century later. A view down the Seine from Notre Dame cathedral.

He addressed the problem of the flow of traffic and the appropriate uses of land. He shaped the skyline and the proportion of space by limits on height and rules governing the space between buildings. The vistas shaped by the boulevards focused on major public buildings and on gardens, giving new character to the nineteenth-century city. This plan for Paris, using grand boulevards as a major orienting force, was copied throughout the world.

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