Written by Matthew Carmona, an architect and urban planner, ‘Public Places, Urban Spaces’ is an exemplary guide on the fundamental principles, theory and practices revolving around the subject of urban design. Matthew Carmona is a professor of Urban Design at the Barlett, University College of London. He also conducts extensive research on urban design governance, values of urban design, design and management of public spaces.

Book in Focus: Public places Urban spaces, dimensions of Urban Design by Matthew Carmona - Sheet1
Book cover_©goodreads.com

Co-authored by Tim Heath, Taner Oc, and Steve Tiesdell, the book evolved as a medium to teach the foundation of urban design thought during an undergraduate urban planning programme, in the 1990s, where the four authors worked together.

Urban design is a thriving discipline and has been a subject of recent attention. It has proclaimed its place among the other built environment professions as a pivotal medium of communicating interdisciplinary concerns. Thus, it requires an extensive base to understand the subject. This book draws on that and demonstrates the key contributions to the field, aimed at positively influencing the built environment.

The book explores the various complex but interrelated dimensions of urban design. It provides a disquisition on the approach to urban design thinking by methodically building through theories, ideas, research and case studies from an unparalleled range of sources. The structure and flow of the book are quite straightforward and practical, with self-contained and well-cross-referenced units and chapters. 

The book assists the readers to understand and analyze concepts in parts, gradually leading to an overview of the subject. Thus, it is useful for both, readers in search of specific information as well as those looking for a holistic guide composed of layering of concepts and theories.

Book in Focus: Public places Urban spaces, dimensions of Urban Design by Matthew Carmona - Sheet2
Illustration representing the structure and flow of the book_©Public Places, Urban Spaces

The author elucidates on the subjective nature of the approach to urban design where there are no underlying correct or incorrect answers to the process but the consequence of which can only be determined eventually, with time, by the people. Thus, the book emphasizes the belief and perspective that urban design has to be both, an inquisitive and integrative activity. Urban design is seen as an integral part of the management, renewal, development, planning and conservation of the urban fabric- this forms the core of the book.

The intelligible and well-organized structure of the book makes it useful for both, those who are new to the subject as well as those who require a general guide for reference. The effortless style of writing makes the book feasible and easy to comprehend. The use of diagrams, captivating illustrations and sidebars help in further understanding of the subject, making it an extremely beneficial book for everyone who wants to learn urban design.

Book in Focus: Public places Urban spaces, dimensions of Urban Design by Matthew Carmona - Sheet3
Illustration depicting types of urban spaces_©L. Krier, 1990

The content of the book is divided into three sections. The first part is introductory and discusses the context and scope of urban design. It begins with the addressing of challenges faced in urban design given the vast scope and line of influence of the field in the built environment. It throws light on the fact that urban design is much more than merely being an agent of physical and visual development, it acts as a catalyst for change and renewal. 

The philosophy is unbelievably simple, the goal of urban design is to make ‘better’ places for the people. Thus, urban design is seen as an ethical activity in an axiological sense since it is directly linked with questions of values, equity and social justice. 

It further outlines the matters concerning a change in the contemporary urban context. It presents a wide-ranging approach with local to global contexts and ‘design’ being as much about effective problem-solving as it is about fostering change.

The second part of the book demonstrates the six rudimentary dimensions of urban design- ‘morphological’, ‘perceptual’, ‘social’, ‘visual’, ‘functional’, and ‘temporal’, respectively. The basic purpose of which is to reflect upon the principal framework of urban design by understanding and analyzing the urban context. The four contexts mentioned in the first part are linked with the six dimensions and this integration is conceptualized as a mode of problem-solving.

It also stresses the fact that urban design can be holistic only if all the dimensions are taken into account simultaneously. The third and last part of the book underpins and discusses the implementation and delivery mechanisms. It describes how urban design is secured, managed and communicated, thus, highlighting the aspect of urban design as a process of progression from theory to implementation. The book concludes by integrating the various dimensions of the subject to articulate its universal nature.

Overall, the book is a comprehensive supplement to a better understanding of what good urban design is about and how it can enhance, flourish or preserve the quality and liveability of urban spaces. It showcases the author’s experience and niche in teaching, writing and researching about urban design and planning. The content is not about far-fetched concepts or striking imagery but simply about the acquisition of greater knowledge about urban design.


Surabhi is a student of architecture and is trying to figure out how she can contribute to the field and society. She finds architectural writing as an escape to a world full of possibilities and hope. Her curiosity, zest to learn, explore and share, is what keeps her going.