Setting urban design as a specialised, evidence-led, coordinated education and profession

Ombretta Romice (Lead / Corresponding author), David Rudlin, Husam Al Waer, Mark Greaves, Kevin Thwaites, Sergio Porta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
58 Downloads (Pure)


Urban environments are complex, impacting on climate change, social justice and health globally and locally. Their spatial, social, economic, environmental dimensions are interlinked and must be studied from a complexity viewpoint. Yet, while complexity has successfully entered urban scholarship and practice in many fields, urban form, a key component of urban environments, is not yet studied in these terms and consequently they are not yet designed as complex. This paper argues that the discipline of urban design should be (re)defined as the understanding and design of urban environments as places of organised complexity. It can become the discipline best placed to manage a useful global overview of sustainable placemaking. It does so by tracing urban design's historical relationships and attitudes towards the evolution of the city, contrasting definitions of complexity in science, with the deterministic way in which the early urban design practitioners viewed design. It then looks at urban design's relationship with other design professions in the UK and suggests its lack of clarity and efficiency is an enduring consequence of this historic trajectory. Finally, it proposes urban design as the discipline concerned with the understanding and design of complex-adaptive urban environments and advocate its establishment as an independent profession.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)179-198
Number of pages20
JournalProceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers: Urban Design and Planning
Issue number4
Early online date15 Jul 2022
Publication statusPublished - 4 Oct 2022


  • urban design
  • complexity
  • adaptability
  • education & training
  • built environment
  • design

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Urban Studies
  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Architecture


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  • Reed and Mallik Medal

    AlWaer, Husam (Recipient), 2023

    Prize: Prize (including medals and awards)

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