The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


DPU Working Paper - No. 177

Design for freedom: A paper examining urban design through the lens of the capability approach


11 June 2015


Author: Amar Sood

Publication Date: May 2015

ISSN: 1474-3280

Urban design theory has an ambiguous basis within the urban development praxis, and yet is the most flexible and amalgamative practice operating within and in between disciplines of architecture and urban planning, drawing from various other domains.

This paper explores a developmental basis of urban design theory through the lens of the capability approach propounded by Amartya Sen (1999). It attempts to draw parallels between the capability approach and urban design theory, proposing a framework of analysis for social and spatial processes towards expansion of ‘freedoms’ and ‘functionings’. The framework exhibits the dependency of ‘freedoms’ and ‘capabilities’ on one hand, and ‘capabilities’ and ‘functionings’ on the other. It shows that design is liberating when foreseeable ‘functionings’ are enabled, creating opportunities and aiding expansion of ‘freedoms’ towards ‘real and effective’ development.


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