Introduction to Urban Design

December 7th 2006

Urban Design

Following the success of last year's pilot lecture, Shape East organised a one day workshop led by Rob Cowan, Director, Urban Design Group, aimed at Members and Officers of Harlow District Council and the surrounding sub region. The day was part of a series of training events being held throughout the Eastern Region designed specifically for Councillors and Officers faced with making major decisions about development and change in their built environment.

Rob Cowan is one of the leading lights in the UK dealing with urban design and a very well known figure in the field. He is a very entertaining speaker and a gifted cartoonist. He believes in clear, jargon-free language and acknowledges the temptation for design professionals and urban designers to use abstract terms where plain English will do! Rob based his discussions around By Design (2000), the first government guidance to show how the planning system could promote urban design. He emphasised that the physical from of development is important not only in historic areas, ‘every place is important to the people who live and work there.’

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The workshop explored some of the key ingredients to success in the delivery of design excellence and quality in housing and urban design. It gave participants the opportunity to discuss the concepts of urban design with colleagues and experts and to consider how best to apply them within the growth areas.

Shape East also worked with the Essex Design Initiative who supported the event. David Balcombe, Head of the Built Environment Branch, Essex County Council, spoke of applying the principles of quality design in Essex and highlighted examples outlined by the Urban Place Supplement. The Essex Design Initiative was established in 2005 in response to the growth agenda that is challenging Essex. It aims to help deliver that growth in a way that increases urban vitality, reduces carbon emissions and creates genuinely sustainable communities. For more information please contact

The afternoon concentrated on applying the principles in practice. Break out groups looked at specific examples and discussed potential problems and solutions prior to a general summary discussion. Twenty seven elected Members and officers joined us for the day. We would like to thank Inspire East for sponsoring Shape to hold this event.

The extracts below, from Rob Cowan’s Powerpoint, give a flavour of the workshop:

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