Urban Design: a certificate program
                                                                                                                                                            source: Ron Kasprisin

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Urban design is both a product and a process.

As a product, urban design ranges in scale from parts of an environment, such as a streetscape, to the larger wholes of districts, towns, cities, or regions. Urban design is manifest in all aspects of the physical environment, including form, space, movement, time, activity patterns, and setting. The urban design of a place involves what the place looks like, how it feels, what it means, and how it works for people who use it. Among other things, the urban designer is concerned with the sensory and cognitive relationships between people and their environment, with how people's needs, values, and aspirations can best be accommodated in built forms.

As a process and a conscious act, urban design involves the art of shaping the built landscape which has been formed over time by many different actors. Urban design is not primarily an individual's act, but is a civic, collective activity. The clients of urban design, public and private, may be specific or multiple. Urban design tasks may have definite ends or be ongoing, and implementation may or may not be under the designer's whole or partial control. Urban design is a profession and field of study concerned with design ideas and possibilities, with community choices and decisions, and with the urban development process. In short, it has to do with the processes for shaping environments and with the experiential quality of the physical forms and spaces that result.

The Certificate Program

The contemporary social and physical problems of the urban environment are complex and overlap many fields, as do the solutions. For design and planning professionals to deal comprehensively with urban design in this context necessitates a special interdisciplinary education. The Urban Design Program provides for this specialized training through the collaboration of the College's three professional programs: Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Urban Design and Planning.

The Program was first developed in the late 1960s. It has evolved in response to demands for knowledge and skills in the professional marketplace and in the face of growing specialization of architectural and planning education, to maintain the natural and necessary link between the fields. Today the program is a vital, integral resource in the College of Built Environments, operating both as a specialization and as an enrichment program. It provides a framework for graduate students to specialize in urban design as part of their professional education. As such, this program (which runs concurrently with the student's degree program) leads to the Certificate of Achievement in Urban Design awarded with a Master's degree in Architecture, Landscape Architecture or Urban Planning. A one-year program is available for students holding a Bachelor of Architecture (five-year Professional Degree) and wishing to earn a Master of Architecture with a Certificate of Achievement in Urban Design.

Also eligible are students in the professional five-year program in Landscape Architecture (BLA), the Interdisciplinary Ph.D. Program in Urban Design & Planning, and the Ph.D. in the Built Environment.

Also eligible are students in the professional five-year program in Landscape Architecture (BLA), the Interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Urban Design and Planning, and the Ph.D. in the Built Environment.

For those students in the College who do not wish to specialize in urban design, the Program offers coursework opportunities to enrich their education.

The Opportunities

The Urban Design Program offers a rich and unique combination of resources to students:

Program Emphasis

The Program introduces students to the fundamental theories, methods, and substantive content of urban design. To provide a base for professional knowledge and a generative source for the future, training in urban design practice focuses on design and process. Strong emphasis is given to the process of designing and to the problem-solving contributions of designers. Understanding the qualitative product of design, the urban environment, constitutes a second focus. Our graduates develop the following abilities: The Urban Design Program at the University of Washington is a reflection of the geographical setting of the greater Seattle area, the experience and interests of the faculty, and the directions unfolding in the profession. Concerns, long manifested by the faculty in urban design, lie in regionalism and the evolution and mutation of urban form. Emphasis is placed on understanding the phenomena of place-making and the connections between site, people, culture, and the urban built response. Research interests in contextualism and continuity, the role of types and styles in design, the town as artifact, and sources of regional identity reflect the Program's orientation. Cross-cultural comparisons are included as an important means to learn and to carry out research.

To support this orientation, the Urban Design curriculum does not involve the design of large-scale architectural projects. Not solely directed to the design of downtown settings, it also includes urban and suburban neighborhoods, suburban towns, small towns, and rural areas.

Foreign Study

The Rome Program: Urban Design students are encouraged to participate in the Architecture in Rome Program, which is focused on the evolution of Rome's urban form through first-hand introductions to its history, topography, and morphology. The city's more modern quarters are also the subject of group research into the realities and potentials of Rome's growth and development.

Other Opportunities: Faculty and students have also arranged foreign studies in other countries, such Japan, China, Taiwan, Korea, India, England, The Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Cuba, and Mexico, and regional excursions to Alaska, B.C., Oregon, and California.


The Urban Design Certificate Program is open to students in the MArch, BLA, MLA, MUP, and both PhD programs in the College of Built Environments, who show promise of achievement in urban design. Candidates for the Certificate in Urban Design typically have a physical design background, and hold an approved undergraduate degree in architecture, landscape architecture, environmental design, or urban planning with a design emphasis. Alternatively, and with approval of the Director, an equivalent background may be obtained during residency in the College. Courses are available to help students develop design awareness and basic skills in conceptualization and integration skills, including coursework in graphics and communication techniques and introductory studios.

The Program normally requires seven quarters of study. Applicants without sufficient design background should anticipate spending additional time (one to three quarters) at the University of Washington.

Candidates without a physical design background may, in unusual circumstances, be awarded the Certificate of Achievement in Urban Design where a specialized program of advanced study in urban design (research, history, law and implementation, urban development) has been approved by the urban design faculty.


Applicants to the Program must meet the general requirements of the Graduate School and the requirements of the Departments of Architecture, Landscape Architecture, or Urban Design and Planning. The appropriate home department prospectus gives detailed information on admission and scholarship requirements. A department prospectus may be obtained from the graduate program assistants: Architecture Box 355720, archinfo@u.washington.edu; Landscape Architecture (all materials are on the web); Urban Design & Planning Box 355740, udp@u.washington.edu; Interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Urban Design & Planning Box 355850, jeanp@u.washington.edu; Ph.D. in the Built Environment (all materials are on the web); University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195.

Candidates who intend to pursue a program of studies in urban design should state this objective clearly in the statement of purpose required in the application to the selected home department.

In summary, applicants will be eligible to participate in the Urban Design Program if (1) they have been accepted for graduate work by the Department of Architecture, Landscape Architecture or Urban Design and Planning, the Bachelor of Landscape Architecture, or one of the College's Ph.D. programs, and if (2) they possess or gain the necessary physical design abilities prior to participation in advanced (final year) urban design studios.

Upon acceptance in any of these participating programs, students interested in obtaining a Certificate in Urban Design must complete a Statement of Interest for the Program. This can be done during the first week of instruction of the two-year programs or any time during the first year of the three-year programs.

Program Review

After students have completed their second urban design studio, they will be scheduled for an informal Urban Design Review with the program coordinator and members of the urban design faculty to discuss their work and objectives in the field. There are two purposes for this review: the first is to give students an opportunity to discuss urban design and their graduate program plans with members of the urban design faculty; the second is to give the faculty a chance to assess their progress, program accomplishments, and achievements in urban design at that point in their degree.


The Urban Design Certificate curriculum allows students to concentrate their study and research in urban design while they fulfill their degree requirements.

The curriculum in urban design normally consists of 12–15 credits of study. These credits must be for courses that are not required by the student's degree program, though they may be elective credits and part of the total number of credits required for the student's degree. "Selectives" also do not count towards the 12–15 credits, though we do ask students to choose an urban design selective were they have such an option.

These 12–15 credits differ depending on the requirements of the student's degree. There is an overall structure for the certificate of a required core curriculum complemented by mandatory courses in four areas to provide the student with a firm grounding in theory, methods, and practical skills. Special emphasis is placed on studios where a variety of topics and approaches to urban design are offered as opportunities for the student to synthesize and apply knowledge obtained in other program courses. Thus students need to carefully choose courses both in the certificate program and in their home degree program to complete their study.

Students must have a 3.0 cumulative grade point average for all urban design course requirements in order to obtain the certificate. To fulfill the certificate requirements, the thesis topic must have an approved urban design component and the student's committee must be chaired by a member of the urban design faculty.

Course Requirements

Summary: 12–15 credits of work that does not overlap with courses required for the degree or with "selectives." We also ask that students choose three urban design studios from their program studio choices and where there is an urban design option amongst selectives, choose that option.

The certificate credits may count as elective credits for degree programs. The 12–15 credits also does not include any necessary preparatory work in graphic design.

The lists below include a mix of courses required for the degree and supplementary urban design courses to include: 5 core requirements, 3 Urban Design studios, courses from the mandatory course areas, student review, master's thesis.

Urban Design Studios

The following excerpts from some of the urban design studio problems illustrate the types of issues, problems, and expectations in this important dimension of the curriculum.

Cascade Neighborhood Development Plan—Working with the Cascade Neighborhood Council, develop a Neighborhood Resource Map, a Neighborhood Vision Map, and design a series of projects which illustrate the physical livability and the financial feasibility of possible development in a mixed industrial, business and low- to moderate-income residential area.

Central Area Economic Development—Investigate the feasibility and contribution of economic development proposals for the Central Area of Seattle, an area ill-defined geographically, functionally, economically, and visually, which is also suffering problems of social, economic, and physical deterioration. Provide a master plans, specific site project designs, and implementation strategies for the area.

Edges and Increments: Urban Villages—Investigate edges as indicators of connections between built form and investigate the process and state of incremental development-both critical patterns and relationships-within the University District and Northgate, two of the proposed urban villages located within the City of Seattle.

Intervention at Interbay—The application of mixed-use, transit-oriented development to an underutilized industrial and maritime area of Seattle, using concepts from urban villages, Traditional Neighborhood Design, and Pedestrian Pockets, stressing both building and urban typology.

"Soft Cities"—Landscape Design of Communities—Investigation of methods and techniques for developing physical design and implementation strategies to create "liveable communities," concentrating on existing or infilling communities by investigating how "good" community design is achieved in the political process, and focusing on rebuilding communities to enhance walking, bicycling, car pooling, transit and high occupant vehicle travel through densification, mixing uses, adding facilities, restricting access, etc.

The Town Within the City—An Architecture of Place for the Magnolia Neighborhood Business District—A case study exploring the importance of the neighborhood business district for community life appropriate for a post-functionalist view of the city, focusing on the relationships between people, place, and work, generating new architectural typologies that will further a sense of community, countering the current fragmentation and specialization that current "metro-imperalism" exemplifies.

Research Opportunities

The faculty provide opportunities for multidisciplinary research in a number of areas including:

Past Conferences

For further information or to receive this information in printed format, write:

Interdisciplinary Certificate Programs
University of Washington
Box 355740
Seattle, WA 98195-5740

phone: 206-543-5996

e-mail: ud@uw.edu

The Certificate Program | Admission | Curriculum | Program Faculty | For Current Students | FAQ for Students | Student Theses | Wolfe Endowment & Copeland Scholarship

College of Built Environments | University of Washington

last updated September 25, 2013