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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Daniel B Abramson
URBDP 474
Seattle Campus

Site Planning: Issues and Techniques

Introduction to site planning; how it is regulated; why it is important to know; and how to carry out its key tasks, including residential subdivision and mixed-use development layout; basic topographical and hydrological analysis and manipulation; roadways, parking and hierarchies of circulation, and site design detail. Offered: Sp.

Class description

URBDP 474 introduces students to site planning not only as a design activity, but also as a nexus of principles and issues that are central to the larger profession of urban planning. The course addresses the meaning of site planning; why it is important and useful to know; and how to carry out some of its key tasks. The course is informed by two complementary working definitions of site planning: (1) The normative, designer’s/place-maker’s definition, as phrased by Kevin Lynch and Gary Hack (whose book Site Planning is a required text for this course): the practical, moral and aesthetic “art of arranging structures on the land and shaping the spaces between” (p.1). (2) The analytical, planner’s/policy-maker’s definition: that aspect of single-client-driven design which intersects most clearly with the public interest.

The second of these working definitions is tentative, and is worded to provoke discussion. For example, what is the role and responsibility of the client with respect to the public? What distinguishes site planning from urban design? These categories are not mutually exclusive, but while urban design more often than not addresses the public realm itself and is carried out explicitly for the public, site planning usually takes place on one “property,” and is therefore more subject to control by a single client. Central to the site planner’s task is the job of clarifying the client’s interest as well as minimizing potential conflicts between the client’s interest and external concerns for ecological sustainability, public health and safety, “sense of community,” and preservation of cultural values.

This course therefore focuses both on the basic techniques and norms of good physical design as well as critical issues, regulations and policy, and their place in the historical evolution of approaches to site layout. Presentations will include enough historical background and comparative examples to enable students to think critically about current conventions and the application of technique.

By the end of the course, students will have had an opportunity to practice some of the key tasks of site planning, including: site observation and analysis; basic topographical and hydrological analysis and manipulation; property subdivision; residential, mixed-use and shopping center layout; laying out roadways, parking, and pedestrian circulation; site furnishing, lighting and planting.

Student learning goals

Students will gain a basic idea of what site planning is and why it is important given current issues in urban design and planning in general.

Students will learn what to look for on and around a site in order to assess the difficulties and opportunities it presents for different kinds of development and design approaches to the site, and how to present this observation and assessment in a simple report.

Students will learn how to read topographical contour maps; understand their implications for hydrology, and road and infrastructure layout; and learn how to manipulate contours to represent proposed modifications in topography.

Students will measure buildings on their sites, and thus become familiar with the dimensions of different typical building types, their sites, and public access; they will exercise this familiarity in subdivision layout, residential area design, and the design of site details including furnishing, lighting, planting and paving.

Students will learn how to optimize vehicular parking and access given a mix of uses on a complex commercial site.

General method of instruction

Learning will come in the form of small-group lectures, guided seminar-type discussion, field trips, and hands-on exercises, both in-class and take-home.

Recommended preparation

General familiarity with urban physical planning issues; ability to read maps and obtain geographic data from commonly accessible sources.

Class assignments and grading

Assignments require students to conduct site visits; make, record and present observations; make and revise design decisions; and express design ideas graphically and textually. Assignments include both team- and individually-conducted work.

Grades are assigned on the basis of how well and thoroughly the considerations and techniques discussed and illustrated in the course readings and class lectures and discussions are reflected in the assigned work; and on improvements demonstrated between different design iterations in the clarity with which students present design ideas, as well as in the validity of the design ideas themselves.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Daniel B Abramson
Date: 01/16/2007