URBAN MORPHOLOGY: HOW OUR CITIES CAN TALK

Constructive Deconstruction explains what Urban Morphology is and what tools you can use in your own professional practices to make your cities talk.


So, what is Urban Morphology?

Urban Morphology is the process of employing analytical techniques and tools in order to understand the structure, function and processes of human settlements. Studying the past and present spatial patterns of an urban environment – at both the macro and micro scale – can lead to some of the following outcomes:

  • Urban features: helping highlight features that are consistently apparent in the urban framework;
  • Urban characteristics: helping identify characteristics that are a symbolic of an environment’s unique sense of place; and
  • Urban assessments: can assist with the assessment of positive and negative urban form making.

“Through mapping, observations, analysis and research into historical recordings, a clearer picture will begin to develop as to why a city presents itself to the world in its current manner.” – Constructive Deconstruction

Image: New York City and its well-documented love affair with skyscrapers is a prime example of a unique urban characteristic that most people associate with the city globally.

The ability for a building proposal or a masterplan to become a successful participant in an existing urban environment can be greatly determined by engaging with the process of Urban Morphology. Through the acquisition of evidence from our past and present, a stronger and more confident case can be put forward for the future when proposing to make a significant change to the existing urban environment.

Urban Morphology is evidently an act of pattern making through past and present clues. It has the efficacy to make cities talk – quite literally.” – Constructive Deconstruction 

Urban Morphology sounds useful – how do I do it?

There are a number of techniques that can be employed in order to build a repertoire of characteristics specific to any given urban area. Through mapping, observations, analysis and research into historical recordings, a clearer picture will begin to develop as to why a city presents itself to the world in its current manner.

Technique 1: Figure Ground Mapping

This is the mapping of individual buildings and open space where building footprints within the urban fabric are blackened and the surrounding or adjoining open spaces are left pure white. By creating this stark graphical contrast, the types of urban forms and structure that are the make-up of the city can begin to be more closely dissected and analysed.

Image: an example of the figure ground mapping technique being employed to help analyse the city’s forms and its structural layout.

Technique 2: Typological Analysis

Typological analysis takes the technique of figure ground mapping further by delving into more detail regarding urban forms and structure. A catalogue of types are defined by a combination of plans, dimensions and activity characteristics, putting buildings, lots, streets, blocks and open spaces into similar or dissimilar groups. This technique complements character study explorations in particular, but is also helpful in determining what forms and spatial arrangements are most suited for any given urban environment being analysed.

Image: Typological analysis has the ability to draw attention towards what forms and spatial arrangements contribute towards an urban environment’s sense of place.

Technique 3: Material and Component Analysis

A Material and component analysis is the most detailed and observant technique out of the three, where building elements and material selections, including construction detailing are recorded. This is great way of informing the material and colour finish selection process for a proposed development, and whether certain building design components being considered would be out-of-place or well placed within their surrounding environment.

Image: Materials and how they are detailed become part of a Material and Component analysis, helping to justify potential design proposal considerations, even design decisions.

Urban Morphology is evidently an act of pattern making through past and present clues. It has the efficacy to make cities talk – quite literally. Thus, by employing this act through one or more of the techniques mentioned above, future building and masterplan proposals within an urban context can be better informed and integrated, making their chances of getting appraised by authorities much more plausible.


Written by Thomas Denhardt – Author and Creative Director of Constructive Deconstruction


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