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AI in Urban Design

Everyone is talking about AI, but how it will affect urban design is still unclear. While this technology is developing, understanding it now will ensure we are primed to take advantage of emerging tools as they become available to us. 

We sorted the most relevant current tools according to three broad uses: writing, ideation and visualisation. 

Writing: Writing help comes with a low barrier to entry: simply chat to ChatGPT, Bard or Copilot, and thanks to Natural Language Models their applications are limited only by imagination. For urban design, AI can suggest a report structure, turn bullet points into paragraphs, summarise text, or act as a phrase thesaurus. We found that good results require thoughtful prompts, substantial editing and thorough fact checking. Remember that your input could become another user’s output, so never disclose confidential or sensitive information. Issues of bias and copyright can also be problematic. It is good practice to check with clients before using AI, and to disclose any writing that has been AI generated. 

Ideation: Some AI platforms can analyse datasets and can generate site specific design options. While the outputs are often imperfect, they can help urban designers explore numerous and varied scenarios very quickly. Experienced designers can pick the right options to develop further, but the danger is that the raw outputs can be used to bypass designers, creating unrealistic designs. 

Visualisations: We have all seen examples of amazing AI artwork. While these AI imaging platforms can be useful, prompt engineering is a real art (excuse the pun), and the further refinement of output images can take time. AI platforms that are built specifically for architecture and landscape design, such as PromeAI, can produce results that are more tailored to urban design applications. AI can also be useful to simplify and streamline image adjustment, with Adobe now integrating AI tools in some of their products. Therefore, while AI visualisation tools can quickly express rough ideas, or alter existing images, polished, detailed and specific visualisations are still relatively difficult to produce and benefit from the input of artists and designers. Users should also be aware of unresolved problems with visualisation engines, including copyright, privacy and intellectual property issues. 

Love it or hate it AI is here and it will only become more prominent as technology and infrastructure improves. Some AI tools can help streamline urban design processes, but – at least so far – they have not replaced the need for experienced designers. As with all tools, AI is only as good as the hand that uses it. 

With thanks to my phrase thesaurus, ChatGPT 3.5, and my image generator, DALL-E 3. 

By Simina Simaki
Senior Urban Designer

Asphalt scars

Urban designers strive to create successful places for people’s enjoyment and delight. Successful places that are active, inviting, lively and attractive. We invest countless hours designing, and redesigning spaces within places for people walking, people cycling, people resting and people exercising. These parks, plazas, footpaths and cycleways are a perfect balance of carefully conceived form and effective function.

From time to time, these places experience change, sometimes well planned and designed and at other times less so. The installation of new services, the repair or replacement of underground infrastructure and new connections to provide residents with phone, TV, internet, gas, electricity and water often leave scars in our beloved places. Once the workers, machinery, traffic controllers, temporary barriers and bright cones have left, the impact becomes all too evident. The once carefully thought through and impeccably laid pavement is now visibly scarred, replaced by poorly laid asphalt waiting to cool.

Given the visual aspect and uneven finish of these scars, one could think this new material is temporary, Days, months and even years go by, and the temporary looking job has become permanent. A shock to the eye at the beginning, it starts to blend in with similar-looking interventions up and down our footpaths, cycleways, parks and plazas. Eventually, there are so many scars that the original well-laid pavement starts to feel like a foreign, uninvited, unwanted material.

These poorly laid scars don’t only look unappealing, affecting the aesthetics of a place, they also present a risk to all users, especially for the elderly and those with reduced mobility. These interventions also commonly appear on cycleways, often overnight, creating a critical risk as people cycling at speed may lose control and risk serious injury. People driving cars are less likely to be impacted in the same way bicycles, but people cycling also use roads and therefore the need for carefully designed surface treatment on roads is equally important.

The repairs and interventions that create these scars are necessary to sustain the urban lifestyle and services we all enjoy, however, all stakeholders must work together to ensure they are carried out in a sympathetic manner and preserve the aesthetics and physical integrity of a place and the safety of the people using it.

By Rod Sepsot
Urban Designer/Planner

Post Covid public art is more important than ever

Public art is one of the most accessible formats of expression for artists – a highly visible gift to inspire and challenge the public, all free to experience. In a city awakening from COVID-19 restrictions, innovative and exciting public art proposals provide an attractive focus as we emerge from lockdowns and re-engage with our friends and communities in outdoor public settings that are safe and enlivened.

Like so many industries, the pandemic had an unprecedented impact on the art world, with traditional art galleries, museums and exhibitions closed for many months. While some artists may have been able to adapt to exhibit works online, the virtual medium rarely compares to experiencing an artwork in the flesh. There is now an opportunity to re-invest in local communities and local artists who have the power to create vibrant artworks that ignite the imagination of the public as we venture back into public spaces. 

The consecutive cancellations of Sculpture by the Sea and Vivid Sydney in 2020 and 2021 saw the loss of two of Sydney’s largest public art exhibitions. The anticipated return of these cultural institutions in 2022 will provide critical keystones in Sydney’s public art calendar, providing reminders that life in our cities and open spaces will also return and adding much needed economic dividends to the economy (the 2018 Vivid event was reported to contribute $173 million in tourism related spending to the NSW economy)1.

As we look across the globe for examples of safe and effective re-opening strategies, we can also look at international examples of public art being used as a spectacle and symbol for re-opening. Personally nothing captures this more clearly than the striking wrapping of the Arc de Triomphe in France by the late artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude. This dramatic installation was unmissable for locals wandering through the streets of Paris and equally inescapable in social media feeds across the world.

All public art interventions, from small to large to monumental, all contribute to a more vibrant and engaging public domain. Whether it is a crowd of wooden spoons emerging in local parks painted by school kids or state funded art spectacles, public art can bring people back into the city and put a smile on all our faces.

  1. Destination NSW, 2019, https://www.vividsydney.com/
    Image by Jacques Gaimard from Pixabay

By Adam Natoli
Urban Designer

East Village Shopping Centre, Zetland

The silence of the (pandemic) sidewalk

“A successful place is sensual. All our senses are awakened, invited to take the site in, to touch the space in many ways… Sights, sounds, and scents foster immediate and direct impressions and remind us of past experiences that have their own emotional content. Great places call us to alertness, aliveness, full use of all dimensions of our humanity.”

-Edward T. White

The urban realm is a stage, a blend of the aural, visual and tactile that create a multidimensional experience for each individual. Designing spaces to stimulate these senses humanizes urban spaces and gives them a story, a story that is collectively shared by the community. One of the most significant social impacts of COVID-19 has been the inability to share these stories.

During the pandemic only few mourned the loss of blaring car horns, while many rejoiced in the songs of winged creatures (the occasional airplane included), but there has been a discernible silence felt within public spaces, spaces now void of the sounds we usually take for granted. With this lack of sonic diversity, we are now more conscious of some sounds than others. The incessant noise of construction activity in my suburb now seems louder than ever!

The movement of people forms part of the soundscape of the everyday, a cumulation of sounds that help instil a sense of safety as we move around the urban environment. The soundscapes of social interactions are essential in creating successful ‘third places’, which are described by urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg as places that ‘host the regular, voluntary, informal, and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of home and work’. With fewer people on the footpath and no chatter in urban centres, the sound of my city has changed, reflecting this decline in social energy.

Recent events also provide an opportunity to redefine the sounds that characterise our neighbourhoods. We can ask if we still want the most discernible sound in our neighbourhood to be that of a siren or a plane? In the wake of the pandemic we have been gifted a portal to the future, and provided an insight into a city not dominated by the sounds of cars, but a city where you can hear the distant sounds of the church bells or the Azaan from a mosque.

Our longing to hear the buzz of the city and life in the streets makes us realise the significance of social life and appropriate soundscapes in these ‘third spaces’. But the delight in the new sounds of our neighbourhood also highlights the potential of letting some of these previously drowned sounds become a permanent part of our future.

By Chinmayi Holla
Urbanist/ Urban Planner

Meadowbank Education and Employment Precinct Preliminary Masterplan

Studio GL has been working with the Greater Sydney Commission to prepare a preliminary Masterplan incorporating ideas for an integrated, accessible and liveable Meadowbank Education and Employment Precinct. This precinct will include the relocation of Meadowbank Public School and Marsden High School, along with an investment of $154 million from the NSW Government to transform TAFE NSW Meadowbank into a technology-focused campus with brand new, purpose-built education facilities by 2022. 

The Masterplan is available for view online, and the Greater Sydney Commission is currently seeking community feedback from 24 October to 20 November 2019.  The link can be accessed as below:


For more information please visit:


The preliminary Masterplan identifies potential ways to create a highly connected Precinct that complements Meadowbank’s heritage and environment. It identifies open spaces within the Precinct; opportunities to locate industry and business in and around the Precinct; links to industry and local employment; potential infrastructure to support the Precinct over the long term, including public and active transport options; and ways to revitalise surrounding sites and grow productivity. The Masterplan will also deliver on the Greater Sydney Commission’s District Plan priorities – infrastructure and collaboration, liveability, productivity and sustainability.

Global #ClimateStrike

This Friday on September 20, three days before the UN Emergency Climate Summit, people around the world will join forces at the Global #ClimateStrike to confront the climate crisis. Studio GL supports the global climate strike and will be joining the march held in Sydney at The Domain from 12-2pm.


Australia is experiencing climate crisis in its various forms including drought, flooding, bushfires, severe cyclones, and heatwaves. Thousands of people are planning to take time off school and work to band together in solidarity for everyone who is affected and everyone who will be impacted if we don’t act.


For more information click here and to join the strike click here


A more unusual project, Studio GL were engaged by Molino Stewart to prepare photomontages in support of a Visual Impact Assessment for a proposed ‘Animatronic Dinosaur’ Exhibition at Scenic World in the Blue Mountains. The main aim was to ensure that proposed exhibition pieces would not compromise or impact on the heritage value of the area.

Studio GL worked with Molino Stewart to determine key vantage points and developed a technique that ensured the ‘dinosaur’ was carefully placed in its location with photomontages identifying the accurate height and orientation, and therefore visibility from public vantage points around the escarpment and along the popular Prince Henry Cliff Walk.

The exhibition titled Dinosaur Valley took place as a part of Scenic World experiences during Summer 2018-19, taking visitors on a journey through time to experience dinosaurs in their natural environment.

Community Engagement in Kiama

Studio GL has been engaged by Kiama Council to undertake a Kiama Town Centre study. The study will assist with Council’s planning and development work and to inform the direction of future strategic planning studies and policies.

An important part of the study was conducting stakeholder and community engagement activities, which focused on understanding what people like, what they consider as challenges, what their ideas for improvements are, and changes they would like to see in the town centre.

Our team at Studio GL are firm believers that the community are experts on their local area, its unique characteristics and quirks and what it’s like to live there. In line with our expectations from this community of engaged and concerned citizens, pouring rain and inclement weather did not deter the community from attending the drop in engagement event and providing their input.

Diana Griffiths presented at Local Character Symposium

The NSW Department of Planning and Environment hosted a one-day symposium to discuss key themes around local character. Diana Griffiths from Studio GL presented a framework to help define the physical components of local character. Over the years Studio GL have developed a Character Assessment Tool (CAT) to understand the role of the key contributors in shaping the character of a place. This tool serves as a guide for designers, planners, architects and community members to better identify what contributes to the physical elements of local character.