Reviews / Comptes rendus
Cities and design by Paul L. Knox
Article first published online: 4 JAN 2013
© Canadian Association of Geographers / L'Association canadienne des géographes
The Canadian Geographer / Le Géographe canadien
Volume 57, Issue 1, page e7, Spring / printemps 2013
How to Cite
Bunce, S. (2013), Cities and design by Paul L. Knox. The Canadian Geographer / Le Géographe canadien, 57: e7. doi: 10.1111/j.1541-0064.2012.00470.x
- Issue published online: 22 FEB 2013
- Article first published online: 4 JAN 2013
Cities and design by , Routledge , London and New York City , 2011 , vii + 279 pp., paper $46 ( ISBN 9780415492898 )
Cities and design is a comprehensive account of the history and current implementation of design in urban places and spaces, and the inter-relationship between design and social practices in the production of the urban built landscape. In eight detailed chapters, Knox adeptly integrates an outstanding breadth of research material to demonstrate how integral the role of design has been in the formation of cities. Further, he shows how “design is a process that is enmeshed in social relations” (p. 41). While Knox takes a wide interpretation of design to account for the socio-economic and socio-cultural processes that constitute the built form environment of cities, he hesitates to separate other practices from the realm of design. The research ranges from the design of material objects for individual consumption to the rise of design magazines dictating urban lifestyles to master scale urban planning projects. In short, Knox contemplates design practice of all kinds—“architecture, urban design and planning, interior design, product design, furniture design, fashion, photography, graphic design” (p. 5). As such, this wide definitional scope allows design to serve as a container for a variety of practices that have been subject to their own specific and already existing research investigations in the academic context.
From Chapter Three onwards, the discussion focus is on the design of built form in cities with examples such as Greek and Roman city building, Renaissance and Baroque urban design, Haussmann's redevelopment of Paris, and nineteenth century British urban projects. In later chapters the discussion moves towards the impact of modernity on design, particularly in the form of iconic architectural designs in cities, such as Le Corbusier's Villa Savoie and Bunshafts’ Lever House. In Chapter Five, “Design for new sensibilities,” Knox traces the current role of design in urban redevelopment projects, such as those on the shoreline of major waterfront cities, and the application of design in public spaces through the presence of increased securitization in the neoliberal era. The third part of the book is a particularly informative section on the contemporary integration of design into what Knox calls the “experience economy” of cities in a period defined by the globalization of design characteristics, ‘starchitecture,’ and urban branding.
The choice and breadth of research and examples are impressive in detail and scope. Yet, the conflation of urban planning with design makes it difficult to discern if a separation can be made between planning and design. A challenge of the book for the reader is to understand where design might end and where planning begins, or vice versa. A discussion of the differences between the fields of planning and design would have been a helpful inclusion, as well as an explanation of how each of the examples is constituted by both approaches.
The book will be an informative read for urban design faculty and students, as well as professional urban designers. It will serve particularly well as a textbook for a university urban design program due its chronological presentation, the choice and use of iconic design examples, and accessible chapter formatting. Urban planners and urban geographers, however, might find the use of examples to be already well documented elsewhere, particularly in the trajectory of western urban planning research and writing. In this regard, the inclusion of more unique and non-western examples would have been useful for further encouraging a broader academic readership outside of the urban design field. As an informative read on the history of urban design and its relationship to social practices, the book is thoughtful and engaging with a breadth of knowledge that fully demonstrates the author's long-term scholarly understanding of cities.