Urban design is a complex problem-solving activity that commonly requires the aid of a variety of methods to support the process and enhance the quality of the outcomes. How to help designers with suitable methods to deal with ill-defined urban problems constitutes a major challenge in the urban design domain. In this regard, the use of urban design patterns is considered as a method that can contribute to urban design problem-solving. However, this tool was never investigated to understand its role in the task-related activities that take place during the design process by designers working in a team, and its influence on the creativity of the final design outcome as perceived by urban designers and students. Therefore, an empirical research based on a controlled experiment was carried out to explore the aid provided by design patterns during the conceptual stages of the process. Sixty-three master students working in teams of three were assigned a set of patterns to solve an urban design task. They were requested to use this material to produce as many creative conceptual solutions as possible. At the end of the sessions, they evaluated the creativity of their outcomes, and they completed a questionnaire about the aid afforded by the patterns. The solutions were also assessed by two independent urban designers. The study contributed to gain a better insight into the main design activities derived from the use of patterns as problem-solving tools and to unveil their contribution to urban design. The aid provided by the urban patterns was mainly concerned with task-related activities, and thereafter with team interactions. Overall, the use of patterns was seen to enhance the functionality of the design. Implications for design practice and design education are discussed.
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