Urban Design: Form and Function or Aesthetics? #CitiesSkylines Assists

I lean to the former


Transport Blog yesterday had a post on urban design owing to Auckland Council’s Design Champion recently saying that new apartments in Otahuhu looked ugly. The response was a debate that kicked off on the difference between form and practicality verses pure aesthetics of a development. The post and the following comments debate can be seen here: How should we pursue good urban design?


I remember chastising Ludo about the Otahuhu apartments on the grounds of:

  1. Aesthetic wise they actually match the industrial character that is Otahuhu
  2. Form and practicality (or function) in my opinion take precedence over aesthetics especially with residential, commercial or industrial developments.


That said with form that does not mean butt ugly enough that the development is entirely out of character with the surrounding area.

While I do believe in the sliding rule mentioned by Stephen as quoted in the Transport Blog post linked above for me personally unless it is meant to be an iconic building or something (and those should be sprinkled sparingly otherwise they are not iconic) form and practicality should take a higher priority.

Whether that form and function be of an urban development or the street itself where most social interactions happen I find once you have sorted the form and practicality matters out aesthetics will often naturally follow as people and communities start attaching identity to the area.


Cities Skylines with form and practicality

Some what ironically or rather coincidentally when Transport Blog had written their urban design post the night before I had just completed laying out Manukau City Centre and Wiri in Cities Skylines and let the two newest areas of Layton City develop.

It was coincidental that while the Light Rail Running Through Manukau! post was on the latest transit system installed it also (if you looked more widely) looked at urban design elements as well. Was Manukau City Centre and Wiri in Cities Skylines designed for aesthetics or was it designed for form and practicality with aesthetics coming later on as the two areas evolved. If you look at the slide show Manukau and Wiri were built on their form and practicality (function). That is a street grid pattern with a major boundary loop around (that has light rail tracks with it) the border of the two districts. The grid and loop form the bones to which the commercial and residential development would attach itself to. The grid and loop also allow efficient movement of goods, and people regardless of travel mode. Parks are dispersed throughout the districts while at the core of Manukau and Wiri is a major transport interchange (bus, heavy rail and light rail) that forms you could say the heart. While commercial and residential is mixed most large format retail is in its own precinct to avoid heavy goods trucks navigating through quieter residential streets.


Aesthetics takes the form of tree-lined streets, narrow laneways, the parks, the building facades themselves and the pedestrian malls or cycle boulevards. But the aesthetics came after the form and practicality (of moving people and goods in supporting commerce, visitors, and residential who reside in the area while fostering not discouraging social interaction) had being planned, built and taken shape.

I’ll let the slide show do the rest of the talking but for me form and function should take precedence over aesthetics as aesthetics will usually follow afterwards:


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3 thoughts on “Urban Design: Form and Function or Aesthetics? #CitiesSkylines Assists

  1. Sometimes aesthetics and functionality are not mutually exclusive.

    The otahuhu apartment developer seems to spend minimum on the aestheics and get away with it.

    Yes the end product will be affordable and functions. However middle and high income residences will find the design undesirable.

    Otahuhu had the chance to rejuvenate by redevelopment. However those kind of redevelopment will just attract low income people.

    At the end of day, otahuhu will not attract residences of different incomes – which is required for a thriving community.

    High concentration of extreme poor will just make everyone living in there more poor.

    1. I am going to disagree on all accounts here especially points 2 and 3.
      Middle income especially professionals who cant afford the Isthmus will be attracted to these utilitarian type apartments given Otahuhu sits right on major transit routes.

      As for higher income they could invest in one and overtime upgrade the apartments as money continues its march south.

      Otahuhu is already attracting those across the income spectrum looking at what asking prices are and hoe quickly the properties moved or did move until recently. I dont think Otahuhu will have a high concentration of any particular group as it under goes gentrification (which puts pressure on lower income groups in a negative manner anyhow)

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