Every building is designed according to its surrounding context and areas to represent, respect, and adapt to it. Any design which fails or doesn’t measure up to its relative areas automatically fails to establish any identity or character of substance. Hence, architects learned to satisfy the inner form of a building it was necessary to understand and cater to the outside too. 

The concept of urban architecture may have been rooted in these ideas and thoughts of architects but when looked at throughout history, we see designs that were oriented to achieve mass gatherings and congregations of people for various events. Plazas, gardens, parks, colosseums, amphitheaters, and many more designs have been created that in reality are much more urban and city-scale in nature than minuscule in size. Although they are on a much larger scale than the buildings built, they must complement the solid form as well. 

The origin of urban architecture tells us about the way our minds worked before: big picture to small picture, which is the complete opposite of what architects practice now. 

Origin and Chronology

Urban architecture or urban design might be a new term coined by modernists and futurists, but the actual practice of urban design can be seen when the first civilizations rose to their glory in the world. Often, studies of Harappan and Mohenjodaro civilizations talk about its fabulous drainage system and its overall city planning, but we often seem to forget primitive humans were urban planners all along. Humans have always seen and perceived the coming future to react and prepare themselves accordingly. 

These remains which we find and study of such early civilizations prove that urban architecture has been a practice since the beginning of the human race even though we have acknowledged it quite later in the future. 

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Mohenjo – Daro ruins at present_©Qayyum, Saqib
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Lifestyle in Indus Valley Civilisation_©dkfindout.com

Following the Indus Valley civilization, several European cities in the 6th century sought out to build non-designed or organically formed societies and housing typologies along with public spaces integrated within. Streets, gullies, roads, paths, walkways, and arenas came into existence when cities were then laid out in a grid pattern to attain maximum area coverage and facilities. 

The 12th century brought about a massive and significant change in the urban architecture of cities due to urbanization and global impacts of societies and nations to increase the economy with proper growth patterns.

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Roman Forum remains, Rome_© Bert Kauffman

As time passed, spaces were now becoming much more personal and function-oriented. Spaces for philosophical and spiritual needs were given the importance that started influencing the minds and working styles of people and artists. The Renaissance period saw a major boom in urban architecture with several regional gardens being designed along with public areas and plazas. To achieve these, no urban planners existed hence the ones with creative minds like architects, painters, sculptors, artists, and artisans were called upon to design these beauties.

In the 18th-19th century, during several epidemics and illnesses which caused decreases in mortality rates of the growing population, cities were then planned by trained professionals like engineers, architects, and surveyors. Cities were becoming industrialized and mechanized at an alarming speed. This made several urban planners aware of the class division of the population and their needs and necessities for urban spaces which were deprived of the grey and smoke from the factories of livelihoods. 

Cities were planned around open spaces rather than inserting open spaces in between them. This although was forgotten later in the 20th century due to overpopulation, real estate, capitalization, and economical surges in nations.

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Westminster Abbey by Canaletto, 1749_©Westminster Abbey

The beginning of the 20th century still showcased many beautiful urban scale projects which have now become iconic through different layers and shades that these projects possess even if some of them failed as a whole but succeeded in parts. Cities were planned by famous architects like Le Corbusier and several national buildings were built for political and official purposes which still are exemplars of the modern architectural era. 

Utopian concepts were initiated by several architects and urban planners which in turn established many town planning committees on the city, state, and national levels which governed, scrutinized, and minimized many out-of-the-box concepts like garden cities, central cities, etc. Several of these cities were now to revolutionize their standards due to several industries, mainly the automobile industry, to incorporate their products into the city’s fabric.

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Assembly Building in Chandigarh by Le Corbusier_© Tanweer Morshed

The Current Phase

In the past, urban planners and architects never thought of urban architecture to be restricted or limitless. They just let the space flow in between the forms and make themselves useful and accepted. Although due to several climate changes, global warming, and the greenhouse effect, it has urged, pushed, and forced architects and urban planners to reconsider their footsteps which may harm nature and the environment. 

Urban architecture is now sought to be sustainable, eco-friendly, user-friendly, durable, flexible, and modular. Urban architecture now needs to respond to the ideologies with which the structures which they engulf are based. Spines that focus on human actions and exercise to reduce carbon emissions from automobiles have become the main objective of the current generation of urban planners and architects. 

Several municipal norms and regulations like land-use patterns, circulation, water drainage systems, public transports are now being converted and morphed with sustainable living and architecture. Rural sprawls are now being sought out and reflected in urban contexts which further blurs the lines between the two. Architecture and urban architecture now go hand in hand and can’t be done without one another.

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Paolo Solleri in Arizona_© Arcosanti Architecture.

Architecture may be about being iconic while providing the necessities but urban architecture has been all about being useful and catering to the needs rather than being iconic. This distinction is what sets both apart but also makes the relational design parameters for the current generation and for the years to come.

Author

Ashwini is an architecture student who is trying to pursue her love for writing. She is an avid reader and also has an interest in graphic designing. She believes that the power of the pen can bring out the soul of a building to the mortal world.

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