MUDD25 Directors message

Urban Intensity & Urban Design

Message from the Program Director

Professor James Weirick

In our 25th year, we reflect on the qualities that have given the UNSW Master of Urban Development & Design Program its special identity – a commitment to the double ‘D’ integration of urban development and urban design, a critical engagement with the ‘urban project’ from a spatial political economy perspective, a creative mix of continuity and change in the exploration of our pedagogical principles over two and half decades, and above all, a championing of the design dimension of city-making.

Leading up to its launch in 1995, the MUDD Program was conceived as a response to the pace and scale of urbanisation worldwide unprecedented in human history. Although we knew that the curriculum would be engaged with Sydney as a continuing urban laboratory, we were convinced from the outset that Sydney had to be seen from a powerful international perspective. For this reason, we have welcomed students from 39 countries around the world – from Asia, the Americas, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Australasia – and have undertaken 53 international urban design studios, hosted by universities, city governments and major design firms from Beijing to Buenos Aires, New York to New Delhi. Embedded in this way, our engagement with urbanisation across the globe from a design perspective has been exciting, indeed exhilarating as the proportion of the world’s population in cities passed the 50% mark on its way to 70% by 2050.

The driving force behind the program has been a love of cities. For some time, however, we did not have a clear, compelling definition of ‘the city.’ We wrestled with Lewis Mumford’s portentous words, ‘a geographic plexus, an economic organization, an institutional process, a theater of social action, an aesthetic symbol of collective unity’ and the descriptive analyses of more recent scholars, ‘dense interactive locations’ where ‘knowledge is exchanged, innovations spurred and sophisticated skills developed’ (Mumford 1937, Harvey 1985, Henderson 2009). Then in 2017, ‘the city’ was defined for us in simple, direct words in a brilliant lecture given at UNSW by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Alejandro Aravena, Co-founder & Executive Director of Elemental, Chile: ‘the city is a concentration of opportunities’ (Aravena 2017).

The Aravena definition, capturing the fundamental rationale of urban life, has inspired our MUDD25 theme: Urban Intensity | Urban Design, with ‘urban intensity’ seen as the condition created by ‘compactness, density, diversity and connectivity’ in physical terms (Guan & Rowe 2016), and as a ‘concentration of opportunities’ in social terms, played out in the imperatives and challenges of everyday life.

In 2019-2020 we explored the theme of Urban Intensity | Urban Design in a series of Sydney Studios critically engaged with the challenge of urban consolidation and densification along a transect stretching north from the suburban setting of Arncliffe on the Cooks River, to the inner ring regeneration area of Green Square, the ‘central city’ business district of North Sydney, and the former ‘weekender’ communities on Brisbane Water, now dormitory suburbs on the urban periphery, threated by the effect of climate change on sea-level rise.

In the MUDD25 International Studios, which were undertaken in China, we explored the Urban Intensity | Urban Design theme in Beijing, studying the recurring reality of the Chinese city expanding over rural villages on its periphery. In Hangzhou, we studied the urban transformation of industrial sites dating from the early years of the Chinese revolution, today largely obsolete and

abandoned, posing formidable challenges in remediation and re-design for high-density residential, commercial and cultural uses. Both the Beijing and Hangzhou projects were charged with special significance, located at the northern and southern ends respectively of the UNESCO World Heritage listed Grand Canal, 1800 kilometres long, principally a legacy of the Ming Dynasty but with some sections formed as early as the 5th Century BC.

We returned to China for the MUDD International Studios in our 25th year for two reasons. First to meet up with and honour our largest group of graduates, our students from China, now successful, enthusiastic, interconnected as a remarkable group on digital media, and engaged with the pace and scale of urbanisation that inspired the MUDD Program in the first place. Second, to become familiar with recent city-making initiatives that have begun to integrate urban design into the formal processes of Chinese city planning (Jin 2019). These initiatives, aimed at creating more liveable, ecologically resilient urban environments, include the national commitment in 2013 to ‘Sponge City’ principles of water sensitive urban design and the 2016 directive of the China State Council to create more fine-grained patterns of urban development and more human-scaled urban spaces (Kan, Forsyth & Rowe 2019; Yu & others (2015). These national policies must be considered among the most significant underpinnings of ‘urban design as public policy’ in the world today.

To see the emerging inter-relationship of urban design and urban development in today’s China, reinforces the thinking that has formed the basis of the UNSW MUDD Program since its foundation.

First the focus on urban development in our double ‘D’ degree, considering development processes at urban scale essential to the theory and practice of the field. This approach embraces the overarching role of cities as engines of economic growth and change, and the specific role of property development in the ‘circuit of capital’, the process of investment and disinvestment in the fixed capital of the built environment.

Second, projection of the power of design, defined by Herbert Simon as ‘the purposeful transformation of existing conditions into preferred ones’ (Simon 1969). In this definition, design involves change, it involves directed change. It involves a deep understanding of existing conditions, an imaginative process of determining preferred ones, and a purposeful means of moving from one to the other.

Third, the integration through design of three bodies of knowledge about the city:

· spatial political economy, the manifestation in urban form of global patterns of investment and disinvestment;

· urban design principles and paradigms, normative models of ‘good city form’ grounded in aesthetic, social and environmental concerns; and,

· ‘urban design as public policy’, the intersection of public policy, design principles, the deal-making of the property sector and defence of the public realm.

In this 25th Anniversary Yearbook, two of my fellow founders of the MUDD Program – Emeritus Professor Alexander Cuthbert and Emeritus Professor Bruce Judd – together with our ‘outside observer’, Visiting Professor Karl Fischer from Berlin, reflect on the pedagogical principles we have tested and refined since the mid-1990s. Professor Cuthbert highlights the role of spatial political economy in our critical positioning of the urban project in relation to the forces of global capital. Professor Judd sees the interdisciplinary basis of the program as the key to its engagement with urban challenges of the past and the future – the formidable challenges of demographic change, climate change and increasing urbanisation. Professor Fischer continues discussion of the interdisciplinary life of the program, seeing it as an achievement in human terms – across the

academic staff and successive student cohorts – and as the intellectual basis for urban design as physical city-making in robust, defensible terms, paralleling in many ways the interdisciplinary strength of physical city-making in Germany. Here he refers to the theory and practice of Der Städtebau, created in the 1890s, revived in the 1980s and influential around the world since the Berlin IBA of that decade.

Reflecting more generally on the field of urban design, we have a powerful essay by a third founder of the MUDD Program, Professor Jon Lang. Revisiting Colin Rowe’s distinction between program and paradigm (Rowe 1982), Professor Lang discusses the dominance of paradigm-based design over program-based design in the world of practice, i.e. the power of seductive models over design generation from first principles. Although strongly supporting the latter, he ultimately advocates a fusion of the two, arguing that urban intensity will best be realised by rich programs based on the compact city model. John Zerby further interrogates the concept of urban intensity, critically exploring the relationship of intensification to measures of density, vitality, compactness, diversity, connectedness – and more broadly, to any move which seeks to ‘accentuate, amplify, boost, consolidate, deepen, enhance, heighten, magnify, step up and enhance’ the urban condition. In the process, he argues that the costs and benefits of intensification in social terms must be evaluated by means of the social sciences, relating the scale of the problem to recent urbanisation in China and concluding that ‘urban design will be affected less by the degree of population density and more by the way intensity works through the experiences of the population that participates in the public realm of an area or neighbourhood.’ The oft-stated claim that urban development and design is concerned with the public realm and is pursued in the public interest is interrogated by Jeremy Dawkins in his essay, which emphasises the scale and significance of the public contribution to the value of private land to the extent that all urban projects should be seen as beholden to the public interest, with obligations to serve all or most citizens in direct, meaningful ways.

The complexity of urban design, operating ‘at the intersection of politics, finance and design’ (Washburn 2013) has been more than demonstrated by the protracted redevelopment of Green Square, the former industrial lands between Central Sydney and the airport. In the first year of the MUDD Program, back in 1995, we undertook a Studio 1 project which was submitted in the ideas competition for the Green Square Urban Renewal Area conducted by the former South Sydney Council. Our work was unplaced but we have always honoured the winning entry in that competition by Sydney architect Chris Elliott, proclaiming that it should have been implemented (Weirick 2004). This year, we took Chris Elliott’s brilliant, water sensitive scheme as the point of departure for a re-interrogation of the Green Square site, inviting Chris to co-convene our Studio 1 study with Brendan Randles. To set our MUDD25 design work in context, we publish the Chris Elliott scheme of 1995 to highlight the potential of re-capturing something of its vision in the inevitable intensification of the light industrial sites stretching down to the Alexandra Canal.

In further exploration of our MUDD25 Urban Intensity | Urban Design theme, we present in outline, the individual research projects undertaken by our students in the MUDD Extended Program this year. Set in China, Vietnam, the United States and Australia, the physical dimension of city-making is the common thread in these passionate, highly charged studies which in themselves demonstrate urban diversity and vitality. Engaged with historical, cultural, experiential, typo-morphological and technical research questions, these projects have given depth to our year of study in the program.

The theoretical basis and project work of the MUDD Program have been documented from the outset in our yearbooks, which stand as both a record of our endeavours and a continuing teaching resource. This year, as part of our 25th anniversary preparations, we have worked through the complete set of yearbooks, and our digital files, 1995-2020 to honour the 84 projects we have undertaken across the Sydney metropolitan area; the 408 urban design case studies we have

documented; the 53 international studios we have embarked upon, and the many magnificent hosts – universities, city governments, eminent design firms – who have welcomed us overseas. In this context, we express our special thanks to our MUDD25 hosts:

· in Beijing, Professor Yu Kongjian, Dean of the College of Architecture & Landscape Architecture, Peking University, together with his colleagues Professor Li Dihua, Associate Professor Zhang Tianxin, Professor Wang Zhifang, their graduate students, and the staff of Professor Yu Kongjian’s internationally-renowned practice Turenscape, Wu Xiaodan and MUDD alumna Yue Yushan;

· in Hangzhou, Professor Wu Yue, Dean of the College of Civil Engineering & Architecture, Zhejiang University and his colleagues Professor He Yong, Associate Professor Wang Ka, Dr Liu Cui, Dr Wang Jiaqi and their graduate students.

We congratulate the MUDD25 students for the creative achievement of Urban Intensity | Urban Design – Sydney | Beijing | Hangzhou. We extend sincere appreciation to Jodi Lawton of Lawton Design and Andrew Sweeney of Palfreeman Sweeney Architects for the very special efforts that have made presentation of this work possible. Generous support for the 2020 Paul Reid Lecture in Urban Design, together with the MUDD25 Yearbook and Exhibition has been provided by the Faculty of Built Environment and our generous sponsors: Zhejiang Jiangong Real Estate Development Group, Bates Smart, Johnson Pilton Walker, Ethos Urban, Dickson Rothschild, Pascal Bobillier, Habitat Planning, LFA and Wolski Coppin Architecture; and a most loyal anonymous sponsor. For the vital support we have received from our sponsors for our 25th anniversary year we express sincere thanks.


Aravena, A. 2017, C + A Lecture, Leighton Hall, Scientia, University of New South Wales, Sydney, 24 July 2017 (unpublished).

Guan, C.H. & Rowe, P.G. 2016, ‘The concept of urban intensity and China’s townisation policy: cases from Zhejiang Province,’ Cities, vol.55, pp.22-41.

Kan, H.Y., Forsyth, A. & Rowe, P. 2017, ‘Redesigning China’s superblock neighbourhoods: policies, opportunities and challenges,’ Journal of Urban Design, vo.22 no.6, pp.757-777.

Harvey, D. 1985, The Urbanization of Capital: studies in the history and theory of capitalist urbanization, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

Henderson, J.V. 2010, ‘Cities and development,’ Journal of Regional Science, vol.50 no.1, pp.515-540.

Jin, G. 2019, ‘How to implement urban design in China? China City Planning Review, vol.28 no.1, pp.47-55.

Mumford, L. 1937, ‘What is a city?’ Architectural Record, vol.82 no.11, November, pp.58-62.

Rowe, C. 1982, ‘Program vs. paradigm: otherwise casual notes on the programmatic, the typical and the possible,’ Cornell Journal of Architecture, vol.2, pp.8-18.

Simon, H. 1969, The Sciences of the Artificial, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.

Washburn, A. 2013, The Nature of Urban Design: a New York perspective on resilience, Island Press, Washington, D.C.

Weirick, J. 2004, ‘Watering Sydney: the NSW Government Architect and Hassell create water responsive streets, parks and public spaces for Victoria Park precinct,’ Architecture Australia, vol.93 no.1,

Yu, K.J., Li, D.H., Yuan, H., Fu, W., Qiao, Q. & Wang, S.S. 2015, ‘“Sponge city”: theory and practice,’ City Planning Review, vol.39 no.6, pp.26-36.