What is Urban Architecture?

Jessica Ellis

Urban architecture comprises buildings made for an urban setting, specifically for large or growing cities. With nearly half of the world's population currently living in urban cities, urban architecture has become a vital and thriving field of design. Special considerations of this area of design are concerned with the practicalities of city life, including high-capacity housing and workplaces, harmony of form and function, and, more recently, energy-efficient design.

Different cities offer various examples of urban architecture.
Different cities offer various examples of urban architecture.

High rise apartments and businesses are classic examples of urban design. In a rural or suburban setting there is no need to build a 20-story apartment complex that can house more than a thousand residents. Urban architecture provides the space and design principles to allow a lot of people to live and work in close proximity. Because of this, efficient use of space is a highly important factor in this kind of design.

Skyscrapers are a common feature in urban architecture.
Skyscrapers are a common feature in urban architecture.

One new form of urban architecture gaining popularity in some cities is the concept of multi-use buildings. In the age of telecommuting, these multi-functional buildings can provide both living space and private offices for those who work from home. Combining these types of buildings with ground-level commercial enterprises, such as boutiques, restaurants, and grocery stores, allows residents to live, work, and shop all in the same building. Multi-use buildings epitomize the efficiency of space, and the proximity of necessities can allow residents more down time from the fast-paced city life.

The Taipei 101, one of the world's tallest buildings, is an example of urban architecture.
The Taipei 101, one of the world's tallest buildings, is an example of urban architecture.

With recent publicity over the deteriorating natural resources of the planet, much of urban architecture is becoming devoted to sustainable, environmentally-friendly design and buildings. The use of recycled material as insulation, solar panels, rooftop gardens and pre-installed appliances that are energy-saving all represent innovative techniques used to make urban architecture more green. Because urban areas are typically high sources of pollution and smog, incorporating environmental advances into new buildings isn't just trendy, it can be beneficial to the health of a city's residents.

Although the practicality of urban architecture is paramount, style and artistry need not be neglected. Many of the most famous structures in the world are triumphs of urban design. The Petronas Twin Towers of Kuala Lumpur, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Empire State Building, and the Taipei 101 are all products of urban architecture. Far from austere and impersonal, urban architecture can be beacon of innovation and artistry.

This growing field of architectural design is constantly in need of new visionaries, particularly those versed in new technology that makes buildings safer and better for the environment. Many top universities offer degrees that allow students to specialize in urban development and design. With experts predicting the city population to continue throughout the 21st century, students choosing to pursue a career in urban architecture may have a bright and busy future ahead of them.

Urban architecture is designed for use in an urban setting, most specifically for large cities.
Urban architecture is designed for use in an urban setting, most specifically for large cities.

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Discussion Comments


@ Alchemy- I have actually visited cities that employ the new urbanism in the development of their urban areas. A few cities that come to mind are Burlington Vermont, Santa Monica California and San Antonio Texas. All three of these cities have great walking downtowns full of shops, hotels, and restaurants and they all have their own unique feel. These areas are devoid of most of the big, faceless box stores that dot every other strip mall in sprawling American cities. Instead, these areas are filled with independently owned businesses, street vendors, artists, and street performers. These areas give these cities such a unique feel. I would love to live in a neighborhood that had a district like the ones in these cities.


@ Highlighter- What you are talking about is actually called New Urbanism architecture, and urban planning and design is certainly headed in that direction. The New Urbanism movement began in the mid-eighties and is basically a trend that looks to transform cities into conglomerates of walkable and livable neighborhoods that resemble small towns within a city.

Many of the most sustainable cities have a walking district that improves the quality of life through design and development. The design of these walkable city districts does not only improve the social functionality of a city, it also improves the environmental and economic performance of these cities. Cities employ multi-use zoning practices that allow people to live, Work, and Play within walking distance of each other. These cities become sought after places to live, even attractions to tourists in some situations.


Sustainable architecture is fast becoming the new architectural norm. More than half of the earth's population lives in cities and the rate of urbanization is steadily increasing. Urban design is moving towards walkable cities that are not based on automobiles. Designers and architects are also designing buildings that are more resilient, using less energy, using less water, producing fewer emissions, and increasing urban albedo.

Cities like Portland Oregon, Atlanta, San Francisco, and Seattle are leading the way in sustainable design. I believe that the city of the future will be much different from the cities of today. They will probably be more densely packed cities with plenty of greenery and natural spaces, fewer mega highways, and sophisticated public transportation systems.

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