Welcome hero

Rob Cowan

Writing, editing, speaking, cartoons

Rob Cowan

  • Rob’s many books include The Dictionary of Urbanism; By Design (the UK government’s ground-breaking urban design guidance, co-authored with Kelvin Campbell), and Designing Places (the Scottish Government’s equivalent); Urban Design Guidance; and London After Dark (with the photographer Alan Delaney).

  • He is editor of Context, the journal of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation, and has been editor of Town and Country Planning, editor of Shelter’s housing magazine Roof, and deputy editor of the Architects' Journal.

  • Rob is a cartoonist and illustrator, and presents the Plandemonium series of online videos. He gave the Royal Town Planning Institute’s masterclasses on urban design for many years, devised Placecheck and was the first director of the Urban Design Group.

Rob Cowan hosting the 2019 RTPI Awards

Workstreams

Writing

Rob has written some of the most influential publications on urban design. His latest book Essential Urban Design will be published by RIBA Publishing in June 2021.

Editing

Editing

Rob works wonders making urban design, planning and conservation accessible to a wide audience. He is editor of Context, the influential journal of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation.

Speaking

Speaking

Rob is renowned as a highly entertaining speaker at events and after dinner, his inspiring presentations illustrated by his cartoons. He hosted the 2019 RTPI Awards and four annual conferences of the Nordic Urban Design Association.

Cartoons, illustrations, videos

Cartoons, illustrations, videos

Rob draws cartoons and illustrations, and shares them on Twitter. He makes and presents videos, including (in partnership with UrbanNous) the Plandemonium series. He takes commissions.

Placecheck

Placecheck

Rob devised Placecheck, and with Holistic City has created the Placecheck app. This creates an interactive online map and database, enabling users to assess a place or respond to consultations.

Lexicography

The first edition of The Dictionary of Urbanism was published to great acclaim in 2005. Rob has been revising and expanding it ever since: the second edition is almost ready for publication.

Essential Urban Design

Car-based housing development will build carbon profligacy into our way of life for generations. We can change our diet; we can put an end to single-use plastic; we can fly less; but once we have built our housing round the car, we’re scuppered. That is just one reason why we need to get to grips with urban design.

Rob Cowan’s latest book, Essential Urban Design, can be ordered from RIBA Books. It explains how to work with appraisals, briefs, policies, guidance, strategies, masterplans, design codes and development schemes. With over 250 hand-drawn illustrations and plans, the book is for students, local authority planners, councillors, developers, neighbourhood planners, and a wide range of professionals (urban designers, architects, planners, landscape architects, surveyors, highway engineers and building conservationists among them) who are, in the widest sense of the term, urban designers.

    “It’s from Rob. Says we should buy Essential Urban Design if we know what’s good for us.”