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Urban open space planning guide: 3 steps to follow

Here’s the guide to urban open space planning: 3 project phases, regulations, design elements and a practical example to download

Urban open space planning is a technical-creative process that consists in interventions on urban areas without a specific connotation, involving redevelopment plans to respond to community needs.

In this focus article we’ll be illustrating an example of urban green areas planning and provide a technical guide for your project. The project example comes together with a 3D BIM model available for you to download.

Urban open space planning guide: 3 steps to follow

Panoramic rendering created with Edificius

For more information on this topic, check our previous focus insights:

The 3 phases of the urban open space planning process

An effective urban green areas design can be divided into:

  1. a preliminary phase for territorial planning and context study;
  2. a design phase which, following a previous analysis, develops different hypotheses in order to identify the most suitable spatial arrangement;
  3. a technical analysis phase for determining the best solution.
Urban open space planning guide: 3 steps to follow

Urban open space planning- the design process stages

1 – The preliminary phase

The first phase begins with the current situation study.  At this stage, several inspections could detect possible site limitations due to the type of soil, exposure, climatic conditions and characteristics of the environmental and architectural context. All these elements need to be recorded and further analyzed.

In brief, the analysis phase consists of:

  • Analysis of client and community needs
  • Site surveying
  • Photographic surveying/direct and indirect geometric surveying
  • Data retrieval, projects and maps
  • Investigations on:
    • site location;
    • characteristics of neighbouring areas;
    • type and style of surrounding buildings;
    • land morphology;
    • type of soil and drainage;
    • existing vegetation;
    • climatic and micro-climatic conditions;
    • views and panoramas.

The last step of the preliminary phase consists in preparing a project program, that is a list of all the project elements and spaces that must be included in the open space planning.

2 – Urban open space concept

The design phase begins with the identification of a concept. The concept is the phase in which the designer gives shape to his idea.

When plannning urban green areas, a basic project idea is, first of all, identified and schematized, resulting in a first creative approach after the preliminary phase of the context study and analysis.

Basically, it is necessary to examine the impact that a public space redesign produces on the social and environmental fabric where it is created, so to develop a concept that is coherent with the design requirements. In fact, public spaces are increasingly acquiring a didactic role that contributes to promoting social relations, interaction, children playing, civic sense, physical activity and respect for nature and common spaces.

Urban open space planning guide: 3 steps to follow

Urban open space – View from above

The architectural concept needs to express both architectural requirements and the social and educational values to be pursued. The designer’s main challenge is the ability to transform abstract concepts and functional needs into shapes and geometries.

Once the basic idea is outlined, the next step envisages producing project and technical drawings.

3 – The technical operational phase

The final stage is the project execution phase. It consists in the definition of a higher level of detail of the project, involving the selection of materials, tree species and furniture while the project is enriched with drawings and construction details.

Urban open space planning guide: 3 steps to follow

Urban open space plan – Drawing model

Construction standards

For a proper open space planning, designers must refer to guidelines and regulations of their local reference municipality or to national standards.

Equipped public open space design

Designing a multifunctional equipped green area means providing an area of the city to the community that is primarily socially oriented and offers a range of leisure and recreation opportunities to users of all ages. Architectural elements are also designed to ensure harmony with nature.

Urban open space planning guide: 3 steps to follow

Green areas planning – Multifunctional space

Vegetation selection

To choose the right types of vegetation it is necessary to consider:

  • site
  • plot orientation
  • function to be assigned to vegetation (shading, visual screening, acoustics, boundary delimitation, etc.).

Vegetation should be chosen according to the chromatic variation effects desired. You can choose to either have limited flowerings in a certain period of time or progressively during the whole growing season.

In addition to flowering it is also good to calibrate the distribution between evergreens and deciduous trees to avoid completely bare areas in winter. It will also be necessary to evaluate the morphometric characteristics of the vegetation to assess their height and width growth.

Urban open space planning guide: 3 steps to follow

Cross-section made with Edificius

Materials selection

Materials should be chosen so as to ensure work durability, consistency with the design concept and a safe use.

For example, the flooring may be in natural stone or gravel rather than in self-locking or artificial stone, as long as it is suitable for outdoor conditions and it is non-slip.

Shading systems can be made of wood, iron or other materials that prevent rust. Ideally, they should be high resistant to atmospheric agents.


It is preferable to choose quality furnitures that:

  • ensure resistance to atmospheric agents
  • combine functionality and aesthetics
  • require low maintenance.

Colours and materials should be selected according to the basic idea that the project conveys.

Urban open space planning guide: 3 steps to follow

Elevation view made with Edificius

Water presence

Introducing water mirrors, fountains, small streams or ponds increases the quality of the space designed both from an aesthetic and emotional point of view, as well as for the microclimatic modifications that it generates. In fact, the presence of water helps to mitigate, refresh and humidify the environment and improve the conditions to help the vegetation taking root.

Irrigation system

There are different types of systems (rotating, oscillating, drip sprinkler, etc.) to consider based on space and vegetation arrangement.

Urban open space planning: a practical example

This week’s project reproduces the Magic Breeze Landscape Design by Penda Architectures. The initial lot covers a horizontal surface that is modelled through topographical level variations, with the creation of terraces and steps.

Urban open space planning guide: 3 steps to follow

Green areas design – steps modelling

This solution conveys a peculiar aspect to the area, creating a visual and acoustic separation between the various areas of the park and implementing a harmonious distribution of vegetation and integrated shading structures. These structures are modelled as large horizontal surfaces, with roof functions, and are supported by reinforced concrete columns. The roof surfaces have openings in several points that allow trees to grow. Furthermore, there are small areas equipped for children, permeable paved paths, green areas and rest areas.

Download section

Here you can download the project drawing DWGs and the 3D BIM model produced with an architectural BIM design software.

Urban open space planning: download the 3D BIM model (.edf file)