Urban Design is in our DNA

Urban design is a relatively new design discipline in South Africa, but it’s been part of our practice DNA for more than 20 years. This has fundamentally shaped our design philosophy. The urban design team’s work is crucial: it informs how buildings and spaces interact and lays the foundation for how those spaces are used. It leads the design of a building, rather than being a belated add-on once the building concept has been defined.

Tanya Busschau, Head of dhk Urban Design
Tanya Busschau, Head of Urban Design. 

The Urban Design Institute of South Africa (UDISA) counts only 150 practitioners formally registered in the country – of which two are part of the dhk team. Since he joined dhk in 2012, Guy Briggs has been reinforcing the urban design mindset within the practice and building a growing portfolio of projects that showcase how urban design principles can be successfully applied. In 2023, Tanya Busschau was appointed Head of Urban Design, as Guy’s role evolved into leading the strategic business development for the practice, while continuing to entrench urban design as a pivotal discipline. Tanya joined the practice in 2018. Together, Guy, Tanya and the team develop visionary masterplans and urban design strategies, formulated to meet the project’s specific contextual demands. They also provide valuable input into how urban design can be integrated into our architectural projects.

Guy Briggs, Partner and Executive Director

The practice of urban design sets out the long-term plans for a development, adding not only commercial value to the buildings and the land, but also preserving the social good for all who work, visit and live in the environment. It is the subtle, almost subliminal elements that makes a space work. A bench under a tree, an artwork at a building’s entrance, a pathway through a park.

More than that, urban design determines how a city is put together. It coordinates the multiple combinations in which streets, cars, people, public spaces and buildings interact with each other. An urban design framework encompasses the over-arching masterplan and considers how buildings integrate into their surrounding context, from street edges to mobility passages. It includes how spaces are created, defined and connected to the buildings and other areas within the environment.

Our urban design offering provides clients with various opportunities to maximise the value of their projects. The process starts at the beginning of a project, in many cases even before the architects have conceptualised their scheme. We consider the feasibility of a project, assessing the most economically viable configuration on the land. We are also skilled at determining development capacity to assess functional productivity. This includes devising the strategic vision for the project in terms of usage, mix of tenures, pedestrian movement and vehicular passage, as well as the interplay between public and private spaces. These conversations apply at all scales, from smaller, tight urban precinct frameworks to large-scale institutional, urban regeneration proposals or city-scale masterplans.

Ultimately, urban design thinking is all about laying the groundwork to build better: better cities, better neighbourhoods and better buildings.

Oxford Parks, Johannesburg, South Africa