We are an independent consultancy of urban designers working to create robust and imaginative contributions to the built environment.

We develop responsive masterplans and visions for urban areas with a strong public conscience.

We aim to create distinctive places of exceptional quality through a socially engaged design process.

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We are an independent consultancy of urban designers working to create robust and imaginative contributions to the built environment.

We develop responsive masterplans and visions for urban areas with a strong public conscience.

We aim to create distinctive places of exceptional quality through a socially engaged design process.


︎    Home
︎    Recent News
︎    Who We Are
︎    Our Projects

︎    Contact



The problem with master planning

By Riccardo Bobisse

The word masterplan has become more and more contentious, as well explained by David Rudlin in his recent article in BD. The word weakens the concept of co-authorship which is essential to building development strategies — and no, we don’t expect a free copy of Rudlin’s new book for using the term ‘development strategies’ instead of ‘masterplans’!

Masterplanning as a practice is a broad church, which is very visible in, for example, the makeup of the Urban Design Group. Multidisciplinarity and the nature of urban design as a mediator should be cherished for their role in bringing different skills together and finding a synthesis. The field thrives on these layers, integrating perspectives to produce robust development strategies.

Becoming an urban designer is not a one-size-fits-all journey. There are multiple pathways, each valid in its own right. At AR Urbanism, most of us have studied architecture, but we also have colleagues with backgrounds in transport planning and landscape design. This variety fosters stimulating discussions, challenges our preconceptions, and ultimately enhances the quality of our work.

However, the inclusivity of the field has its pitfalls. The "master planner" space has become so broad that it is becoming diluted. Practices of a range of flavours—planners, architects, landscape architects, and surveyors—often label themselves as master planners without substantial experience in the field. This apparent flexibility often stems from some designers’ belief that they can handle projects of any scale, from interiors to entire cities.

This misconception has been conveniently nurtured within the industry to upsell or cross-sell other services, often, unfortunately, leading to a race to the bottom in terms of fees. Clients' often unrealistic expectations and the property industry's tendency to treat masterplans as loss leaders do not help, and we can end up with beautiful renders that lack depth in either analysis or concept.

Can we do better without shutting off the practice to professionals without a post-grad urban degree and several years of experience? This could help a little, but would not solve the problem and would most likely kill the beautiful richness of urban design as a space of synthesis among experience.

Perhaps instead, we should promote the value of a good master plan — particularly to the public sector — as a way of maintaining high-quality development. The new government’s push for more housing could be a good testing ground for this approach.