Urban Design Lab

Research Labs + Centers

Fall 2012 + Spring 2013

Richard Plunz, director

Founded in 2005, the Urban Design Lab (UDL) is a research center affiliated with Columbia’s Earth Institute. It extends many of the research priorities associated with the MSAUD curriculum. The Urban Design Lab connects the Earth Institute expertise in the natural sciences with issues related to contemporary global urbanization. Its focus includes infrastructure, climate change and public health. It serves as a resource for curriculum development and teaching in the Urban Design Program as well as teaching support for the Urban Ecology Studios made jointly between the Graduate School of Architecture Planning and Preservation and the Fu School of Engineering and Applied Science. Recent or ongoing projects include: urban food shed studies at the local, regional and national levels; development of urban green infrastructure studies for New York City. Recently the following economic and spatial development studies for Haiti and Ghana were completed:

Re-Cultivating the Garden City of Kumasi

The project was developed with the Earth Institute Millennium Cities Initiative in conjunction with a Spring 2012 post-graduate Urban Design Studio at the Graduate School of Architecture Planning and Preservation in collaboration with the Departments of Planning and Architecture of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana (KNUST), and the Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly (KMA). Kumasi is Ghana’s fast-growing and second largest city, within one of the fastest growing GDP’s in the world. Kumasi remains identified with its historical position notable for its location in the “garden” of the lush Ashante sub-tropical forest. Today the literal “garden” has long since been vastly comprised by rapid growth. This study researched the possible new meanings of “garden city” within a changing context. Seven urban design explorations proposed a new urban ecology emanating primarily from numerous infrastructural concerns: from the stewardship of water and processing of waste; to restoration of vegetation as part and parcel of a production economy; to harnessing the energy of market economies; to retention of the invaluable older investments like the railroad; to envisioning a new social net.

Destination Sud: Haiti

As part of the Côte Sud Initiative (CSI), a multi-institutional, multi-sectorial research and development initiative in the Côte Sud (South Coast) region of Haiti, the Urban Design Lab was tasked with researching the implications of a current push for tourism development in the region. Included in this work has been the involvement of a Spring 2012 Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation Urban Design seminar that studied how the proposed construction of a visitor center might be effectively coupled with ongoing research and aid initiatives in the region. The report of findings and recommendations contains an inventory of relevant sites, identifies key stakeholders, and builds upon existing visions for the region’s future. The overview is followed by proposal for a new development framework suggesting a nodal approach to developing sustainable tourism. It encourages coordinated infrastructure investments to build a regional network rather than isolated, stand-alone projects. The application of this framework is then applied to the identified sites in the form of a design speculation and concludes with a look at how this approach might impact immediate and long-term economic development for the Côte Sud region.

Re-Cultivating the Garden City of Kumasai A/B
Urban Design Lab Haiti C
Destination Sud Haiti D