Urban design Study Options (Australia)

Frances Mall_Palmerston_NT_AUS

Are you seeking formal training to create places like this? One Mob, Different Country, dance group encompasses many different communities and areas in the Barunga community. Dancing gives these men the opportunity to connect back with their culture, and increases their self-confidence to re-join the community, as this group consist of men currently in the prison system. Engaging with the general public and performing their dances, re-installs a sense of pride. 

This place is a project I led for HASSELL with MKEA, to redesign an ‘old’ new town, south of Darwin. We ran a 3 day design workshop on site with stakeholders to produce a structure plan to guide the location of a new library and recreation centre. 

We demolished Goyder Hill (built from car bodies with a derelict waterfall – very oz) and converted it into a park. We took the time to convince council to do a back flip and allow streets in the centre – with slow traffic speed. The new buildings reinforced the footpaths with active edges and attracted people into town (they are non-discriminatory uses). We also showed how the shopping centre could expand and deliver an active edge to the new park.
Unfortunately, it was not possible to consult with the aboriginal community who use this area. (Andrew Hammonds)

Written by: Juris Greste OAM October, 2011*

Posted by: Kari Sinkko

Saturday 21 April, 2011

Currently there is a diversity of urban design education options available. There are 7 post graduate degrees in Australia, one of which will be available in 2012 and one in New Zealand. Generally there is one post graduate program available in each state capital (with two in Melbourne, Deakin University having provincial and regional campuses). Generally they are of one year full time duration, except the new 3 year double degree at Adelaide University. To broaden the choices, some can be exited at Graduate Diploma levels. However, one must note that some degrees have specific discipline orientations. Some appear to have a stronger planning leaning than others.

Of the undergraduate programs, the RMIT 5 year double degree course could be regarded as on par with some of the post graduate courses, especially if length of study is any indication. However, the other undergraduate program – at Bond – while seemingly having a clear urban design content, is a first tier undergraduate degree preparing students for entry to professional level courses, mainly planning. Thus it could be challenged as an urban design program.

There are six ‘embedded’ urban design programs or course units, generally of one semester or less duration. In fairness to the other above-mentioned courses, these programs have to be regarded as only introductory or familiarisation subjects.

Without further detailed comparison, on present indication the Griffith ‘Essentials of urban design’ program at 10 days of full time attendance may be regarded as being of similar ‘weight’ to some of the other unit programs.

From this brief survey, it would appear that since the introduction of the first Masters level urban design course at QUT in 1986, opportunities for the acquisition of urban design knowledge have expanded greatly. This is encouraging and reassuring. So it should be in the most highly urbanised nation in the world. Is this also the sign of a cultural change towards valuing urban qualities and urbanity for its own sake?

A future extension of this investigation will seek to gather information of the number of graduates the various programs, especially post graduate, have produced. No doubt a considerable number of those will be foreign students who will have returned to their home countries. Thus, it remains to be seen just how many locally based urban designers we are producing as we continue to grow and expand our cities and urban centres. Informal and hearsay evidence seems to indicate that we need many more well educated urban designers in positions of responsibility, especially at local government level, to give us the form and quality of cities and towns that we need in a world of climate change and diminishing resources.

The study programs range from double degree post graduate qualifications to introductory two day courses. Thus, in this document, the findings are grouped under four headings.

The extent of the internet information is varied and diverse which accounts for the difference in details in this document. Comparing like with like is thus not possible. Although credit points are stated (where available), it must be noted that they are not necessarily of equal or similar value from one university to another. Nevertheless, they do offer some indication of the relative ‘weight’ of a program.

No doubt the various courses and programs reflect the demand of the market. The extent to which the focus of the various study programs is on urban design seems to depend on the host academic department or faculty as well as the course general orientation or host department. Some courses are really planning degrees with some urban design attention (not previously offered). Others are full double degree post graduate programs with urban design emphasis within a professional discipline program. There are no doubt smaller urban design components (units of study) of varying length and extent within some built environment undergraduate courses. These have not been included in this survey as they would not have been intended to offer specialised knowledge and urban design skills.

For someone wanting to gain deep urban design knowledge and skills to offer specialist services, the choice is not easy. Post graduate courses range from one year full time duration of 96 credit points; to one and a half year 12 credit points; to two year duration of 96 credit points; to a three year program. The particular ‘flavour’ of the programs (architecture, planning, landscape architecture, property development) is also difficult to ascertain from the published information. One would need to speak to past or current students and research the backgrounds of staff. The decision making process, especially for overseas students, could be quite arduous.

In terms of what extent of academic background or learning makes one ‘qualified’ to claim to be an urban designer remains a vexed and contestable issue. The urban designer community at present is indeed a broad church. While it may be a controversial question, it nevertheless is appropriate to ask whether there should not be an attempt to reach agreement on some core knowledge and skills. It may be time for that kind of discourse.

Uni / Inst

Program type


Full time





Post Grad.

Master of UD

1 year


Grad Dip available

U of Syd.

Post Grad.

Master of UD


Exit at lower levels available

U of Melb

Post Grad.

Master of Des

1 year


Available to those with qualifications in Melb. School of Design

U of WA

Post Grad.

Master of UD

2 years

8 core units

U of Adel.

Master of Plann.-UD

3 years

Double degree, also Master of Landscape Arch. Offered in 2012

Deakin Uni

Post Grad. Master of UD

1.5 years


Exits at lower levels available

U of NSW

Post Grad. M.of

1 year

Planning students eligible for PIA membership. Planning & design streams

U of Auck. NZ

Post Grad

1 year



Under grad. Bach. of Des

5 years

Double degree in planning & landscape arch. O/s components.

, Bond

Under grad. Bach. of u.d & planning.

3 sem.


A double foundation degree


Course unit-intro to u.d.

1 sem.


No prior requirements

U of Qld

Course unit Urban design

1 sem.

Offered in 2012, intended for BRTP students


Course unit U.d.& planning

1 sem.

No prior requirements


Course unit Urban design project

1 sem.


No prior requirements


Course unit Principles of urban design

Less than 1 year


Part of planning and geography courses

E. Cowan

Course unit u.d case study

Less than 1 yr


Part of Grad. Dip. In planning

Chifley B.S.

Intensive u.d. intro course

2 days

Inaugurated by PIA


Essentials of urban design

10 days

Intensive program based around a design project


* This investigation was conducted in early October, 2011. The information in this document was drawn from what was available on the internet at the time.






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