Every 60 years or so, the question of “urban design” finds itself back in vogue again, in response to demands for better urban quality, for improved sustainability, sociability, urbanity, or for aesthetic and artistic reasons. This was the case in 1889 when Camillo Sitte introduced three-dimensional design to urban planning in his work Der Städtebau. Or later, in 1956, when Josep Lluís Sert organised an international conference at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, officially launching the term “urban design”. And more recently, when the United Nations New Urban Agenda, 2016-2030, identified “urban design” as one of the cornerstones of its proposal for furthering sustainable development and a better quality of life.
The majority of recent reappraisals of urban design and its history (Saunders and Krieger 2009; Carmona and Tiesdel 2002) identify Sert’s 1956 Conference as birthplace of the discipline. But is it possible to talk about “urban design” without going back to its roots, at the turn of the 19th century? Is it possible to understand and respond to contemporary issues and challenges, such as sustainability and urban quality, without some reflection on the origins of what we call “urban design”?
Building a Genealogy of Urban Design and creating a GUDesign network is timely. We believe that a number of contemporary issues (including the worldwide crisis in architecture and planning; rising environmental risks and the need for sustainable and resilient solutions; the call for quality design and quality of life; or even the need to overcome Eurocentric approaches) may find answers in the study and rediscovery of the urban design legacies of each country, particularly in relation to local traditions and the use of history. With this purpose and in light of the interest expressed by a large number of colleagues, May 15th, 2020 saw the launch, under the auspices of the Italian Association of Urban History – AISU International, of an international and interdisciplinary network on the genealogy of urban design.
The aim of the network is to investigate the history and “birth” of this disciplinary area, its transformation in the 1950s, and academic methodologies in contemporary urban design worldwide. Its ultimate goal is to promote a comparative historical analysis between theoretical approaches and realized projects in order to identify best practices that can support proactive undertakings in the future.