Teaching & Practice

Master of Urban Design Program

In 1996, faculty from the three departments in the College of Environmental Design formed a Graduate Group to inaugurate and administer a Master of Urban Design professional degree program.  The Program offers advanced training to starting-level professionals, who return to the University for interdisciplinary studies in a practice-oriented course that addresses urban growth and transformations.

The San Francisco Bay Area has provided an excellent laboratory for the program, as growth has allowed and required older areas to adapt to new uses; areas at the suburban edge have increasinly come under scrutiny as more and more land has been developed in patterns that have proven environmentally and socially unsustainable.  Students in the Urban Design Program have the unique opportunity to engage political leaders, city and regional planning officials, and developers as clients in projects that are appropriately grounded in reality.

Examples of work that serve the Bay Area Region include projects such as the Oakland Mayor's initiative to house 10,000 additional residents in the downtown area, and a plan to include housing and retail in Downtown Berkeley.  The City of San Francisco has benefited from student work on the former industrial waterfront and upgrading of the Fisherman's Wharf area; on the demolition of the elevated central freeway and design of Octavia Boulevard; on the design of an intensely dense inner city neighorhood near the Transbay Terminal and the designs of new stations along the proposed Central Subway.  Regional topics included a concept plan for the Central Valley with concentrated areas for new housing in Stockton, the El Camino Real in San Mateo County, the San Pablo Avenue corridor from Oakland to San Pablo, and conversions of salt marshes in the South Bay.

Lafayette Square Park, Oakland CA (1st row, left)

Hood Design / Walter Hood, professor of Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning and Urban Design

Lafayette Square Park, one of seven original squares in downtown Oakland, is the last remaining 1.5 acre square that has escaped development.  Hood Design, funded by the LEF Foundation, was commissioned to create a vision for the open space.  Major challenges to the design were homelessness, confusion over issues of use and dilapidated physical elements.  The firm has worked closely with local nonprofits and the city's Parks and Recreation Department to secure funding and implement the new design.

Lafayette Square is a typological hybrid of park / square / infrastructure.  The vision for the project recognizes its physical and social history, as well as the social infrastructure from its early days as a public square in the 1800s, as a park in the 1900s, and its more recent role as a sanctuary for the transient population.  The design features both park and square landscape elements, including a new community center, restroom facilities, lawn and barbecue area, playground, amphitheater for outdoor projection, and a grass hillock with a water fountain that marks the summer solstice.  The water is unseen yet audible; at night ribbons of light illuminate and mark the sun's path.  Places for people of all ages include a plaza, glade, bosquet of trees, promenade, horseshoes court, and picnic and sitting area with hybrid urban furnishings such as card tables, benches, signage and lighting.

--prepared by Hood Designs

Splash Pad Park, Oakland, CA (1st row, middle)

Hood Design / Walter Hood, professor of Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning and Urban Design

Splash Pad Park was created as a major component to the Lake Merritt park environment.  Cut off physically from its adjacent park systems by the Interstate 580 freeway, today its role is as the forecourt to the historic Grand Lake Theater.  The new design strengthens its connection to the adjacent parklands through the development of a twinkling bracelet promenade at its edges.  This will connect to Lake Merrit's historic "necklace of lights."  At the park's center is a wood-paved gathering area with lights illuminating from below its surface.  A water wall with sparkling jets defines its edge.  The space is ordered by small walkways that link its users under the freeway to the adjacent commercial corridor.  To further re-engage the site with its context, Lake Park Way is closed and transformed to a pedestrian path that hosts a weekly Farmer's Market and other informal activities.

--prepared by Hood Design

Teaching A Social Perspective To Architecture Students
Raymond Lifchez, Professor of Architecture

The attitudes and assumptions about clients and co-designers, which the architect often inadvertently brings to a design task, are factors which affect the way the architect will perceive the clients as people, select information about them, and interpret the way in which their needs are to be met by the design; they also affect the design process itself. By attitudes I mean the expectancy of certain kinds of behavior; by assumptions I mean preconceived but under-developed summations about certain types of people, very often other populations, for whom the environment is designed.

At the University of California-Berkeley, 106 undergraduates in an architectural design studio were given, each quarter for 3 years, an 11-week task of working in teams to design an environment for a population that included elderly and physically disabled individuals. The objectives were 1) to see what effect the attitudes and assumptions students had brought with them would have on their performance and 2) to teach in such a way that the students could learn from their own process. In general, we were evaluating our own success or failure in introducing these social issues to students at a beginning level.

-excerpt from Journal of Architectural Education, vol. 31, no. 3, 1977-78.

Lark-Inn for Youth (bottom, left)
Larkin Street Youth Services
San Francisco, California

For the past several years I have been working with non-profit emergency housing and service providers designing shelters and facilities for the homeless. Through my clients I have come to appreciate how much a modest amount of design can do. Often it is merely figuring out the logistics of getting the requisite number of beds in a space. Increasingly, however, design is seen as a means of establishing trust between the provider and the homeless, and a way to create a sense of belonging for those with little or no
social connection.

It is within this difficult and often tragic arena that architecture serves its highest purpose. A visit to a museum can be a powerful and moving experience. Public buildings are a reflection of our culture. But if we believe that architecture serves a society as well as reflects its values, then we must provide for those with the most need and the fewest options.

--Sam Davis, Professor Emeritus of Architecture
Designing for the Homeless: Architecture that Works (UC Press, c2004)