There are two major subdivisions of the Group's research. The first concerns the processes shaping twentieth and twenty-first century urban landscapes. The second concerns the planning and development of the medieval and early modern town, especially using techniques of town-plan analysis.
Currently research is being done on changes to suburban environments, methods of development control, techniques for evaluating satisfaction with the built environment, the influence of individual residents and property ownership on the urban landscape, medieval urban landscapes, urban fringe belts and theories of residential development and change.
The Group also plays a major role in co-ordinating international research, in conjunction with The International Seminar on Urban Form (ISUF). Sponsors of the Group's research include the NERC, the ESRC, the Leverhulme Trust, the British Academy and the Sasakawa Foundation.
Research Review of 2013
A major feature of the year was the application of urban morphological research in practice, including urban landscape management, heritage planning and the design of residential areas. This work was mainly undertaken in Eastern Asia, Australasia, Europe and the Middle East. Much of the fundamental research, notably on morphological regionalization, fringe belts, the typological process, morphological periods and the history of urban morphology, has also had a major international dimension.
Research and practice
The Group continued to have a lead role in the international Task Force on Research and Practice in Urban Morphology and in synergies with housebuilders in the field of urban design. Contributions were made by three of the Group’s members to the UNESCO Forum on World Heritage Cultural Landscapes in East Asia. These included a keynote presentation on ‘Cultural Landscape Research as a Basis for Urban Heritage Management’. Research on urban landscape units, urban design and conservation provided the basis for applications in planning practice, for example at very local scales in the English Midlands. Based partly on previous reports prepared for English Heritage and CABE on the use of characterization studies in planning, further work has been undertaken on ‘character areas’ within both the UK and China. Research is in progress on the development of computational tools for application in urban planning. Funding has been received to compile an international repository of urban tissue as a resource for research, teaching and practice. A ‘Handbook of Urban Morphology’ is in preparation for use in planning practice and teaching.
Fringe belts and urban landscapes
China, New Zealand and Turkey continued to figure prominently in research on fringe belts. This involved collaboration with Peking University, Nanjing University, South China University of Technology, Shanxi Research Institute of Urban and Rural Planning and Design, Pingyao County People’s Government, the University of Auckland, the University of Chicago, the University of Florence and the Centre for Mediterranean Urban Studies in Mersin University. Work on comparative urban morphological regionalizations included studies in China, New Zealand, The Netherlands, and Italy. It is encouraging that past consultancies, including for UNESCO and in the form of a submission to the EU Presidency on ‘Regeneration policies in England’, have provided opportunities for fundamental research on aspects of the structure of urban landscapes.
Practical applications and comparative research
The practical application of urban morphological concepts and methods, including the informing of design guides, has continued. Advances were made in exploring the relationship between the typological process and the morphological period, including comparative research on England and part of east-central China. Work on the application of Conzenian methods in Eastern Asia was aided by further extended visits to Birmingham by researchers from China. Following the publication of the translation into Chinese of M.R.G. Conzen’s classic study of Alnwick, a number of Sino-British comparative studies are in progress, especially relating to urban landscape units. The translation into Chinese of Caniggia and Maffei’s book ‘Interpreting basic building’ is nearing completion. The concept of urban tissue was applied to the regeneration of traditional urban areas in China. Links were further strengthened between the Group and the Urban Morphology Research Group in South China University of Technology, kindred groups in Peking and Nanjing Universities and researchers in Portugal.
Historical urban morphology
Complementing these mainly international projects and collaborations, there has been further research on historical urban morphology within the United Kingdom. Work continued on traditional town plans, and a study of the inner fringe belt of Shrewsbury is building on the Group’s prominent role over many years in the field of fringe-belt research. Following on from publication of the Central Hereford Historic Townscape Characterization, the Hereford Urban Archaeological Deposit Model, and the draft Conservation Management Plan for Hereford City Walls, advice to English Heritage has continued. A co-authored book is in preparation on the Houses of Hereford, and work is being undertaken for Bristol City Council and English Heritage on Bristol Urban Archaeological Assessment. Delimitations of urban landscape units by urban morphologists have been compared with delimitations of ‘character areas’ by local authority planners and members of the public. This builds on previous research on Stratford-on-Avon by the Group. It also has commonalities with the work that is being undertaken on the history of post-war urban plans and planning in the UK, especially early post-war town-planning schemes. Notable among the publications to which this has given rise is the Introduction to the reprint of ‘When we build again and Birmingham – 50 years on’. This work shed new light on the preparation, significance and impact of books dealing with the planning of mid-twentieth-century Birmingham.