Department of Urban and Regional Planning   
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign   

UP 503: Site and Physical Planning

Assignment 6e: Urban Design Paradigms

Objectives: In this assignment, you will work on 1) understanding the function of design paradigms and archetypes by studying one paradigm closely, and looking at your proposed development through the lens of this paradigm, and 2) using Kevin Lynch's elements of urban form to help you think about how uses are arranged on your site to implement the underlying values of your paradigm and create legible urban environments.

For a given site, there are numerous ways in which it can be developed. Faced with such a large number of potential design outcomes, how does a designer narrow the search among these alternatives and efficiently arrive at a "good" design? Designers typically accomplish this using an abstract notion of what constitutes a good outcome as a way of eliminating from consideration a large portion of potential outcomes. This abstract notion lays out rough benchmarks that the design should meet. Underlying these benchmarks are a set of values that differentiate between desirable and undesirable outcomes for different aspects of site design: land-use mixes, pedestrian-automobile relationship, relationship with nature, to name just a few.

A coherent collection of such benchmarks can be considered the basis for a design paradigm or an archetype. The term paradigm is often used to describe a world-view comprised of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality. The term archetype is used to mean the quintessence or an ideal example of a type, and to that extent it is related to the notion of a paradigm. A paradigm or an archetype can be formally articulated or it may be unstated and implicit in current practices at any given point in time.

An historic example of an influential design paradigm or archetype in the idea of a "neighborhood unit" as articulated by Clarence Perry among others. A description of this paradigm is available in:

More recent studies of residential environments have questioned the assumptions of paradigms like the "neighborhood unit," that all people want to live as part of a small community or that there is one best solution. Nonetheless, paradigms provide useful starting points as models for land use design. Rather than think of design paradigms and archetypes in the abstract, we will ground these ideas in the course project. I have identified four paradigms that are in circulation today and provided some starting points on the Web about these paradigms. You will find that these paradigms are not mutually exclusive and that there is considerable overlap among them.

For this assignment, you will 1) choose and research a paradigm to guide the development of your site, and 2) create a schematic land use map of your site that reflects the concepts of your paradigm and incorporates Lynch's elements as a way to visualize the structure and function of different urban environments on your site. I encourage you to work closely with others using the same paradigm in this part of the project so that you can learn from each other and share resources. To explore your paradigm in a structured way, your memo should contain the following:

  • a mission statement that will guide you in exemplifying in a unique way the assigned paradigm
  • a set of values that underlies this mission statement
  • a set of benchmarks that if met will mean that a design for your site uniquely exemplifies the paradigm

A PDF document of your memo and map is to be uploaded to the course folder before class on Thursday, Nov 21. Please use the assignment name format 6e_[Last Name].pdf.

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