Measuring urban performance: Design Workshop legacy

Wednesday 11 September 2013
16.00 – 17.30

Design Workshop is an ideologically based firm in the United States that originated in academia. Their guiding tenet has been that the work must take the most comprehensive perspective and use a collaborative approach to resolve issues. At this event, held at Space Syntax in London, a small group of Academicians were introduced to Design Workshop’s approach and had a chance to discuss how we measure urban performance.

The following report was compiled by Anna Cawrse from the Design Workshop:

The Academy of Urbanism offered a gracious invitation to present Design Workshop’s design philosophy in an open forum. In September, I met with thinkers and practitioners involved in the physical development of our towns and cities. Design Workshop and The Academy of Urbanism both believe it necessary to advance the understanding and practice of urbanism through evidence-based inquiry, knowledge-sharing and provoking dialogue that ignites through these top visionaries and spreads to partnering communities. During our open forum, we met in London to discuss landscape architecture, urban design, and to share the philosophy ‘Legacy Design’, a proprietary process of Design Workshop.

Design Workshop, was founded on the premise of academia over 44 years ago and continues to be a leader in the profession focusing on performance measurement. The firm’s ‘Legacy Design’ values encompass the elements of landscape architecture: art, environment, community and economics. This inquiry informs the firm’s project approach, which is based upon these foundational principles: defining and documenting; comprehensive thinking; measurement; inclusive conversations; transparent decision-making; and accountability related to the goals set early in the design process. The open forum was directed towards sharing Design Workshop’s approach towards the foundational principle of measurement, which the firm calls metrics. Our firm finds it necessary to measure project performance by setting goals early in the design process. Whether these goals are quantitative or qualitative, the design team will develop a method of measurement to track the success of the project. Utilising the latest technologies in field measurement and research, the firm seeks to create successful urban design and analyse the progress of a project over time.

After a brief presentation of this methodology the floor was open to discussion. The conversation was centered around two main points: the differences between quantitative and qualitative data and the challenges in which American and European designers face in practice.

The formula for measuring the success of solving environmental issues and improving economics easily can be defined through quantitative analysis, but measuring cultural, historical, and an art’s significance of a space brings in a different type of formula that cannot be measured. The conversation delved into the challenges that designers face in dealing with qualitative data. Many times the measurement of a qualitative goal is subjective and that is where the greatest challenge for the designer lies.

There are many differences between planning and design across the world, but what was discussed at the forum was a few main differences between European and American planning trends. We talked about how in America, the majority of development occurred post-car invention and this drastically changed the shape of our urban fabric. European urban designers are facing many of the same challenges of population growth and look at American precedents to examine how to expand their cities during such times. Counter to that, American designers look at European precedents to examine what types of densities are successful, the design of public squares and gardens.

The two hour long discussion was an incredible platform to share our thoughts on urban performance, the success of urban spaces, and the differences between design across the world. The Academy of Urbanism allowed us all as practitioners to dig deeper into the philosophy and methodology of successful urban spaces, and for that conversation I am very grateful.

For more information please contact Bright Pryde (