BY THE END OF THIS ARTICLE I'LL BE CALLING MYSELF AN URBAN DESIGNER TOO
Nowadays, urban designers are it. Everyone wants to know one and half of my friends say that they are one. It's in fashion.
Conferences on 'placemaking' abound all over Europe and courses such as the LSE Cities Programme are gaining in popularity, academic acclaim and resonance in the architectural community.
There's even the Academy of Urbanism, launched by John Thompson at the recent RIBA Conference in Bristol. The architectural community can't get enough of urban design.
It's contagious. In fact, by the end of this article I'll have mentioned it so much I'll be calling myself an urban designer too.
Who could blame me? As a young architect, urban design now more than ever engages my imagination. There is something rather heroic about it. The ideals of urbanism, to create a better and more beautiful world for the public and to give people pleasure and excitement about the cities they walk through and the spaces they inhabit, re-engage me with the core reason I entered the profession.
But my question is: why now, in particular, is there such a sudden surge in popularity in the architectural profession towards urban design as opposed to individual building design, and why the separation of function?
In the past, the abilities of architects to work at both the macro and micro scale was taken as a given. Brunelleschi and Alberti, both perfect examples of the Renaissance man, were urban planners, project managers and technicians as well as designers.
But, during the past 15 years, the role of the architect has been increasingly encroached on by planners, consultants and technical specialists. There has also been a trend within architectural practices to try to specialise between masterplanning and individual building design. With writers such as Charles Jencks and Deyan Sudjic recently heralding the beginning of the end for the icon, there has been a return to the architect's role as a 'placemaker'.
This new sharp focus on urban design is making it possible for architects to re-engage with the wider political and economic sphere of the built environment. By working at the masterplanning stage for projects, architects as urban designers are engaging with developers, clients and government to promote and lobby as well as raising the profile of the architectural industry as a whole.
If we are, as Terry Farrell has claimed, entering 'a golden renaissance of urbanism' with greater investment in public spending than ever (especially now with the success of London's Olympic bid), there is a real chance for architecture, on both an urban and local scale, to be at the forefront of the political agenda and present in the public mind.
With so many opportunities at hand, the architectural profession needs to unite macro and micro scales - because for urban projects to be successful, good design at both scales is needed in equal measure.