1. What is urban design?
  2. Types of urban design services
  3. Urban design theory
  4. Areas of expertise and urban design
  5. Urban design project spotlights

What is urban design?

The process of urban design focuses on how we understand the relationship between public space and its built surroundings. It includes the arrangement of buildings and streets and how those decisions can impact the design of neighbourhoods and cities.

Types of urban design services

• Civic and cultural space design
• Design Guidelines and architectural approvals
• Architectural massing design
• Master planning
• Mixed-use development
• New Communities
• Resilient urban design
• Urban districts and town centre design

Urban design theory

Nadi senior urban designer Malvin Soh has written extensively about urban design in his articles. He has explored the relationship between music and city planning, using familiar elements in music such as rhythm, melody and harmony. He writes, "I believe that music can not only enhance our experience of spaces and deepen our connections with places but can also be a source of urban design inspiration, a narrative medium and socio-economic infrastructure in city planning." Music can be a reflection of the direction cities take and whether it’s beneficial or a dire commentary on the state of affairs.

In another article, Malvin examined the influence of popular culture and how it shapes our unique sense of identity and place. Cities like London, New York and Tokyo often take on a narrative built through storytelling and moviemaking. We read or watch our favourite characters use real spaces and places found throughout the world, which can sometimes translate to an intimate journey for ourselves within that setting.

However, while the built environment is one component of urban design, we can also look to our natural habitats as well to study how designers and planners practice this discipline. Biomimicry or biomimetics "seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature's time-tested patterns and strategies. The goal is to create products, processes, and policies—new ways of living—that are well-adapted to life on earth over the long haul."

Urban environments behave like complex natural systems—all interconnected by buildings, streets and underground utilities such as the animals, insects and plants all living within the same forest. Malvin uses Zaha Hadid's OneNorth master plan in Singapore as an example of how she implemented elements of biomimicry into her work. Zaha approached the design of a 182-hectare mixed-use development by looking at the original topography of the locale and working out the metrics of how the natural environment should perform and subsequently shape the urban grids, building forms and road systems cohesively.

Areas of expertise and urban design

We commonly associate urban design with complete communities or mixed-use environments. It makes sense—urban design is integral to both practice areas, especially as we move toward more sustainable and resilient design methods. As the practice lead for complete communities, Malvin often discusses what these concepts look like and how they can be successfully implemented in our cities and towns. New Urbanism, in particular, is "a movement united around the belief that our physical environment has a direct impact on our chances for happy, prosperous lives". In other words, to create walkable neighbourhoods that contain a wide range of housing, jobs and public amenities.

This concept is the foundation of complete communities, which is the "places where people can live, work, move, and thrive in a healthier, more equitable, and more economically competitive way." Mixed-use environments can operate in the same way—especially as we look at our existing spaces and how to enhance, preserve, sustain or maintain them in a way that is economically viable for the city. Urban designers and planners should consider the implications of its cultural, social and environmental sustainability.

For space or building to remain this way, we must look at how it enriches the pedestrian experiences, encourages public interaction and participation and engages the community culture. This is especially relevant in the adaptive reuse of old buildings where it's necessary to be cognizant of the building's historical and cultural significance.

As globalization increases, making the world a smaller place, and the increasing consequences of climate change, making certain place unlivable, complete communities and mixed-use environments have an essential role to play in the future of our cities. The real estate development industry has the opportunity to become agents of positive change by implementing these practice areas in new and old communities. People want to live somewhere there is an economic and social opportunity, a high quality of life and how it values environmental resilience and natural resources. However, at a smaller, more local scale, people want to live somewhere that has public and green space and walkable amenities such as grocery stores and entertainment. These aspects of a community or neighbourhood are the mortar to the brick of these practice areas and successful urban design. It’s also how we realize our mission statement in every project we undertake—we want to design for a better world.

Urban design project spotlights

Industrial Park on Dugald Road

A private developer contracted Nadi to develop a subdivision concept for a new industrial park in the St. Boniface Industrial Park Phase 2. As the single largest development-ready site within Winnipeg's city limits, it needed to fit within the city's strategy to transform spaces like this from "the traditional imagery of segregated industrial uses [into an] aesthetically pleasing, sustainable, mixed-use development." Learn more.



Bridgwater Centre

Bridgwater Centre is the focal point for all three Bridgwater communities: Bridgwater Forest, Bridgwater Lakes and Bridgwater Trails in Winnipeg, MB. The client envisioned a commercial hub for shopping, leisure, working and living that would be within walking distance of each community. Learn more.



Pointe Hébert

Pointe Hébert is a small infill development located on a bend in the Red River near St. Boniface and close to Downtown Winnipeg. With client participation, we developed an image database through study trips to Chicago, finding inspiration from best-practice neighbourhoods, such as Chicago's Lincoln Park, High Park and others. We further refined the database with input from St. Boniface residents and the City of Winnipeg's bylaws. Learn more.