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The Urban Design Life Cycle



The Urban Design Life Cycle is a diagrammatic representation of the life of an urban development project. It can refer to multiple scales, such as building, neighbourhood or city level.

The VivaCity2020 project identified four stages within the Urban Design life cycle:

1)      Pre-Design

This stage involves an individual, organisation or group identifying a need for an urban development project. For example, in a neighbourhood where there is little public infrastructure, the local authority could decide that they need to build a community centre. Opportunities could also be identified, as in the case of the government’s plans for new homes along the Thames Gateway. Once a need or opportunity has arisen, decisions may be made about the potential location for an urban development project and about who best to work with so that the project can progress to the design and development stage of the urban design lifecycle.

2)      Design and Development
This stage is the core focus of the VivaCity2020 project’s urban design decision-making process and is where most of the urban design decisions in the urban design lifecycle occur. Decision-makers will be making concrete decisions in this stage of the lifecycle on both generic and detailed aspects of the designs of buildings and spaces. Decisions will also be made about the types of decision-makers and stakeholders to be involved throughout the process, what tools decision-makers should use in making decisions, how best to consult stakeholders, when and how to integrate sustainability into every part of the project and so forth. These decisions will have a crucial impact on the eventual use and management of buildings and spaces.

3)      Use, Management and Maintenance 
This stage pertains to the post-construction period of an urban development project, when people are using the buildings and spaces. To ensure that the buildings and spaces are used appropriately, that things do not break down and that people have a channel through which to discuss issues (e.g., complaints about noise, safety and security), decisions need to be made about beginning and continuing management and maintenance programmes. Urban design decisions are made long after an urban development project has been constructed (e.g., paving over much-need green space in a neighbourhood to reduce maintenance costs), so it is important that structures are put in place, such as a long-term management programme, that may help to slow down inevitable decline as a result of those decisions.

4)      Decline and Demolition / Regeneration 

At this stage of the urban design lifecycle, the urban development project has been used by people for a period of time and may have fallen into disrepair or is in a condition whereby an intervention is needed. Depending on the external and internal drivers (see Cities, Urban Development Projects and Their Drivers), the intervention could involve the demolition of the urban development project or the decision to regenerate part or all of the project.


One important aspect of the urban design lifecycle, key to making informed urban design decisions and represented by the inner circle in the diagram, is the legacy archive. A legacy archive may be used as a means of storing knowledge (e.g., residents’ understandings about the history of a neighbourhood), information (e.g., the number of bus stops and small businesses in an area) and recorded decisions (e.g., planning application evaluations) produced throughout the life of an urban development project. This provides a legacy of information and decisions for use both on the current project and future projects. 


Many Sustainability Issues, particularly those investigated by the VivaCity2020 project, need to be considered and explored in the Design and Development stage of the Life Cycle. This is when the project can fully integrate sustainability into every possible part of the development.




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© Images Copyright Andrew Wooton 2008

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