Urban Design I: Tools

Throughout the course Urban Design I several “tools” were introduced that impact urbanity.


Tools of this kind belong to top-down approaches and usually give form to the urbanscape in a radical way.

Megascale-planing (Berlin)

Berlin was an early example of a politically motivated re-organisation of administrative units. Berlin grew from nearly 2 million to 4 million people due to the administrative rearrangement. Infrastructure was created to join the adjacent cities and towns.

Horizontal-vertical grid (New York)

To tackle shanty towns and issues with hygiene in 1811 New York proposed the grid layout of the city. The grid was super-imposed over the old city and only main roads like the Broadway give a glimpse at previous layouts. The grid-structure was complemented in the early 20th century with vertical zoning laws that created the concept of high rises with private plazas that must include residential areas in the buildings.. To compensate for the high density the Central Park was created as a contrasting void.


This set of tools focuses on cities with destroyed urban fabric and potential ways of reconstructing the fabric.

Critical Reconstruction (Berlin)

The “Planwerk Innenstadt Berlin” was a combined effort to fill the holes in the city left by the division and the war. The main idea was to re-discover the historic character of the city and modernise it.

De-urbanisation (Sarajevo)

The urban fabric of the city was not only damaged by the on-going war within the city, but also intentionally destroyed to remove signs of urban co-existence of different ethnic groups. The process has been called urbicide and is intrinsically connected to ethnic cleansing. The use of urban space was shifted and attained new meaning. Open spaces became dangerous due to the constant sniper fire and new spaces had to be acquired. The cold winters forced people to cut all trees for firewood. The city’s transformation was consequently two-fold: enforced by destruction and new uses of the remainders.

Shrinking City (Detroit)

In a shrinking city the core loses its role and the periphery becomes dominant. It is often accompanied by generating suburbia. The decreasing role reduces services provided by the city and requires a drastic rearrangement of budgeting. It is often an ignored reality that is only considered when all potential alternatives failed. See the bankruptcy of Detroit.

Micro/Temporary programmes

This set of tools is limited in either time or space. It focuses on action-driven approaches where either events in the near past triggered the programme or the programme is an answer to an issue of missing urban functionality.

Temporary Urbanism (Berlin)

The empty/negative spaces of Berlin offer space for temporary and spontaneous use. Temporary urbanism arises as a consequence. An example would be the “Kitchen Monument”. A mobile kitchen that is temporarily installed in empty spaces throughout Berlin.

Turbo Urbanism (Sarajevo)

The negative spaces created by the war as well as the urbicide created the need for many functions in the city that were currently not fulfilled. New architectural and urban interventions materialised and transformed economic identities, accompanied by gentrification.

User-generated Urbanism (Athens)

Small scale, user-generated, architectural solutions to urban problems such as self-managed parks, occupation/squatting movements and alternative economy networks. They include new programs for meetings and open assemblies, and new models of production, such as the formation of urban plantations.

Cooperation and Dialogue (Cape Town)

Following the apartheid segregation and the distributive attempts of the 1990s a new paradigm was introduced in the early 2000s. To contain the sprawl, amenity requirements were introduced (access to public infrastructure, social and economic facilities). Instead of attempting total redistribution also intermediate solutions such as upgrades to the infrastructure of informal settlements rather than complete rebuilding were added to the policy portfolio. Local needs were examined and localised solutions actively sought for.

Street Renaissance (New York)

The lack of funding in the Department of Transportation, forced New York to become creative on how to adapt to new urban realities. Street paint was used to reduce space for cars, broaden side walks and introduce bicycle lanes. The reclaimed space was then occupied by pedestrians, restaurants and street furniture. Urban re-engineering enabled a fluid transformation of New York.

Microplanning (São Paulo)

Transforming unused micro-spaces into highly functional pieces of a city. For instance, the Garrido Boxing Gym situated under the unused space below an elevated highway. It uses the urban morphology to and can be considered a micro-intervention that enables local residents to participant in sports. Benches, skate parks, mini lawns and planters can all be considered micro-interventions to improve unused public space.

Active Infill (Detroit)

A reaction to empty decaying space in a city. Can be either tackled top-down with infrastructure restructuring or bottom-up in community driven projects. Infrastructure restructuring includes the condensing of services (thereby dis-servicing certain areas effectively shrinking the city) and offering incentives in “condensing areas”. Community projects make use of the empty space and give new meaning to the local urban fabric.

Informal/Hybrid City

These tools focuses on actors at the border of formal and informal and highlight how both interact and even how they can be combined.

Reactivating the city (Sarajevo)

Political paralysis has caused neglect and destruction due to disagreement over how to proceed. This opened up the city as a new urban frontier. For instance, the Historical Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina epitomises the phenomenon. To overcome decay due to budget cuts supports of the museum suggest to stretch transparent vinyl over scaffolding to stop water from causing further decay. The museum is tasked with cultural  preservation and opens a venue for society to deal with its traumatic past.

Hybrid City (Caracas)

An interplay of formal and informal settlements characterises housing settlements such as “23 de Enero”. The formal housing structures have been “improved” with informal settlements around them to optimise the use of space and to accommodate social and economic functions (such as shops and restaurant) required by the inhabitants.

Repurposing infrastructure (New York)

Rail viaducts were a common necessity in the early 20th century. In the 1950s trucks displaced trains and robbed the elevated tracks of their purpose. The High Line showcases the repurposing of infrastructure. The viaduct became a linear park that offers a green space through which people can move around the city.

Public Infrastructure/Mobility

These tools demonstrate the interconnectedness between mobility and urbanity and highlight the interaction (both negative and positive).

Oil and Automobile City (Caracas)

A car-centric approach to public infrastructure focuses on freeways and elevated highways that partition the city and thereby segregate it.

Multiple Hubs (Caracas)

The inaccessibility of Slums such as San Augustin up in the mountain hills requires new approaches to urban mobility. Cable cars were introduced and transformed the urban landscape. Not only did they provide transport to the residents, they offered a functional space for formal services (postal, banking, government) in an otherwise informal environment. The overlay of functionalities popularised the method throughout slums of Latin America.

Urban Mobility (São Paulo)

The vector of mobility defines the kind of urban space that will be created. São Paulo showcases a steady move away from public transport towards individual transport reducing public space and decreasing traffic flow.


These tools take influence on an abstract but fundamental level. Often they set the rules of the game and indirectly enforce specific outcomes.

Developer as Architect (Athens)

The deregulation of the construction industry with regulation of building structure effectively removed the architect form the equation. Polykatoikia were constructed throughout Athens without a masterplan. An abstract legislative framework enforced the practise of self-building.

Masterplanning Segregation (Cape Town)

Apartheid planning consisted of deliberately developing the city based on ethnic segregation. Planning was completely top-down and racially motivated and permeated through political and administrative processes.


These tools tackle how to embed humans in the urban fabric and showcase different approaches to creating urbanity.

Post-olympic Urbanism (Athens)

Olympic games are considered a potential urban development catalyst. They can intervene in the short- and long-term development activities. Additionally, they require urban functions that may have been previously lacking. If applied correctly, they can be used to address urban issues (such as inner-city decline or sprawl). However, Athens is a prime example of how to not do it as today most of the Olympic facilities are decaying.

Development through Distribution (Cape Town)

To overcome inequalities distribution policies can be enacted that equalise the urban realm. In Cape Town social housing and Mandela’s promise of “one house per family” drove the creation of new houses. However, the development happened within the geographical constraints set out by the previous apartheid regime and consequently reinforced social segregation. Additionally, due to the required space of a house, the city began to sprawl diffusing the urban core.

Community Projects

This tool focusses on urban functionalities on the community level.

(Infra)Cultural Design (São Paulo)

To strengthen urban fabric Unified Educational Centres (CEU, Centro Educational Unificado) were placed strategically in diffuse urban locations. They offer new socio-cultural opportunities and enable communities to express themselves. Identities can be formed around those hubs and enable the city to become more coherent.


This tool focusses on the interaction between suburban and urban.

Generating Suburbia (Detroit)

To accommodate single houses per family suburban developments were created that rely on roads, cars and telephones to cover distance. The space requirements increases the surface area of a city unproportionally and requires large infrastructure spending to maintain roads. In the case of Detroit it has aggravating side-effects. People moved out of the administrative boundaries of the city into suburbia and reduced the tax base of the city accelerating its decline. The overstretching thins the urban fabric and distributes and diffuses it.