Captain Kirk | Urban Designer


The role of the designer has become a topic of greater discussion in the evolving and increasingly complex system of landscape architecture, architecture, and particularly urban design.  Historically, urban design as emerged from one of two opposing beliefs.  Design should consist of either top-down design (New Urbanism) or Bottom-up Stewardship (Everyday Urbanism).  Top-down design techniques like master-planning may be appropriate for new, small-scale, monoculture or private designs but fail instantly when applied to existing cities.  Urban design deals with more reclamation and renovation than it does actual new place making. Complex cultural and physical systems of structure often make bottom-up approaches like tactical urbanism and gorilla urbanism seam more practical.  These practices of stewardship may achieve a higher level of sensitivity and place specificity; however, they often lack enough robust development to effect change on a noticeable scale throughout the city.

Landscape Urbanism offers a third option to this top-down vs. bottom-up dichotomy.  LU seeks to understand the existing systems to streamline or processes on a perceptible scale.  This type of design is focused on when it is appropriate to deploy tactics apposed to comprehensive planning.  LU prioritizes the outcome over the approach. ‘Fast-Forward Urbanism’ by Dana Cuff and Roger Sherman outline the following five tools for Landscape Urbanism.

  • Surface
  • Programmatic indeterminacy
  • Information
  • Change over time
  • Form as a unit of organization, as having catalytic agency.

Landscape Urbanism comes the closest to a system that I believe addresses contemporary issues.  However, I think that there is still a lot of work to be done on strategies of urban design and I am hesitant to approve any single school of thought. I like LU because it brings to light the need for greater dialogue and accountability between all parites. 

Structure of Mind

Freudian theory is most interesting to me, not because it gives an accurate description of pcycology but because Freud was a master of storytelling through archetypes. 

Sigmund Freud was an Austrian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, a clinical method for treating psychopathology through dialogue between a patient and a psychoanalyst.  Freud believed that humans develop over time through conflicts within the structure of their mind. 

Freud believed that the mind is made up of three aspects of consciousness: The Id, The Ego, and the Super Ego. Freud called this the psychic apparatus’.  All three components need to be balanced to achieve high levels of mental health and stability.  The Id represents a persons emotional reasoning, often referred to as ones instincts.  The super ego constitutes rational behavior and morality.  The Ego is the most conscious aspect of the mind that negotiates between Id and the Super Ego to determine courses of action.  The basic dilemma is that each element of the psychic apparatus makes demands upon a person that are incompatible with the other two. Inner conflict is inevitable.

Freuds structure has often been used as an example for movie tropes.  The Ego is usually the protagonist, incorporating feedback from the Id and Super-ego to find a solution.  For example: Spock provides the logic, Mccoy responds from his emotions, Kirk finds a way to save the day.  Other movie examples include: (The Lord of the Rings - Frodo, Sam, Gollum), Harry Potter, and the Hangover. 


Role of the Designer

As society has become more complex over time, so have design problems.  The desires of the client and the user often are in competition.  Good design in my opinion, is design which satisfies the needs of the people who use it.  However, in public projects, the people who use it are usually not the people paying for it. The role of the designer can be compared to Freuds structure of the human mind.  In this case, the Id represents the users and the super ego represents the client(s) and the Ego represents the designer.

I believe the role of the designer is that of a mediator.  The designer should act as a type of double agent who advocates for the needs of the user while seeking orchestrate the demands of the client and ultimately using thier expertis and experience to navigate to the best solution.  Without clients, there are no resources, without users, there is no demand.  Here in lies the dilemma just like Freuds model for the human mind.  I believe that there should be a cultural shift in how we think about development, especially in urban settings.  Clients and users should take on a greater level of involvement and responsibility.  Clients must be willing to understand greater pressures and ramifications of development just as users take on a more community driven view towards NIMBYism and functionalism.  The urban client and user will always be in competition but perhaps, between expanding views towards collaboration and a designer who is equipped with skills to understand and advocate for both sides, there is hope for a more sophisticated process of development.