Urban Morphology: Introduction and Evolution

Urban morphology is the study of the form of human settlements and the process of their formation and transformation. The study seeks to understand the spatial structure and character of a metropolitan area, city, town or village by examining the patterns of its component parts and the ownership or control and occupation. Typically, analysis of physical form focuses on street pattern,  plot) pattern and building pattern, sometimes referred to collectively as urban grain. Analysis of specific settlements is usually undertaken using cartographic sources and the process of development is deduced from the comparison of historic maps.

Special attention is given to how the physical form of a city changes over time and to how different cities compare to each other. Another significant part of this subfield deals with the study of the social forms which are expressed in the physical layout of a city, and, conversely, how physical form produces or reproduces various social forms.

The essence of the idea of morphology was initially expressed in the writings of the great poet and philosopher Goethe (1790). However, the term as such was first used in bioscience. Recently it is being increasingly used in geography, geology, philology and other subject areas. In geography, urban morphology as a particular field of study owes its origins to Lewis Mumford, James Vance, and Sam Bass Warner. Peter Hall and Michael Batty of the UK and Serge Salat, France, are also central figures.

Urban morphology is considered as the study of urban tissue, or fabric, as a means of discerning the environmental level normally associated with urban design. Tissue comprises coherent neighborhood morphology (open spaces, building) and functions (human activity). Neighborhoods exhibit recognizable patterns in the ordering of buildings, spaces, and functions, variations within which nevertheless conform to an organizing set of principles.

This approach challenges the common perception of unplanned environments as chaotic or vaguely organic through understanding the structures and processes embedded in urbanization. Complexity science has provided further explanations showing how urban structures emerge from the uncoordinated action of multiple individuals in highly regular ways. Amongst other things this is associated with permanent energy and material flows to maintain these structures.

Urban morphology comprises the structure of a city and pattern or plan of its development. It is actually the layout of a city both in its history as well as geographical contexts which gives it individuality. Therefore, the internal pattern or structure of each city is “unique in its particular combination of details”.

Combinations involving the structure of most American cities have a business, industrial and residential districts. The cities of the Western world in their structure display generally city centre or downtown, Central Business District (CBD) including shopping centre, industrial estate, and housing estate giving it a spatial framework in order to make sense of the environment in which people live and work.

In case of an Indian town, E. Ahmad has identified some of the components of urban morphology as site characteristics, historical background, sky-line, green open spaces, and water bodies, physical and cultural dominants. In combination these elements from the ‘urban landscape’ which is actually the soul and spirit of physical morphology of a town.

Speaking precisely, the morphology of a town is a geographic and historical interpretation of its site, situation or modality and existing layout and arrangement of houses as well as streets and loads. It also includes within its purview the development of different parts of the town and analysis of its boundary in different phases of history as well as explanation of existing land use. Urban morphology 01 a town’s anatomy and physiology are mutually interrelated.

The town is both a historical and geographical entity. Its morphology represents various elements which form part of its structure, plan, and growth. Its relief and terrain on which its nucleus seeks origin form a base. Its expansion from the nucleus shapes its morphology through streets and roads, houses and buildings and finally develops its functions as a trading and commercial centre with all the complexities of its adminis­trative and cultural services. Its plan, during various phases of history, may change to cope with the changing scenario.

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About Rashid Faridi

I am Rashid Aziz Faridi ,Writer, Teacher and a Voracious Reader.
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