Currently the Group’s research includes studies of 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 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 2020

The international emphasis of the Group’s work has continued. Most research was undertaken in Europe, Eastern Asia and Australasia, much of it entailing collaboration with members of the Group based overseas. Prominent topics of investigation were fringe belts, morphological regions, building types, the typological process, morphological periods, and the role of agents and agency in the urban landscape. The application of urban morphological research in planning practice included urban landscape management, heritage conservation, and the detailed design of residential areas. Contributions were made by several members of the Group to a book on morphological research in planning, urban design and architecture.

Research and practice

Research on urban landscape units, urban design and conservation provided a basis for applications in planning practice. Drawing on previous reports prepared for Historic England and CABE on the use of characterization studies in planning, further work was undertaken on ‘character areas’ in both the UK and China. There has been further growth in the application of the Conzenian approach in the conservation planning of historico-cultural areas in China. The joint project on Post-Socialist Urban Form supported by ISUF, Krakow University of Technology and Belgrade University continued – its final publication is due in 2021. Advice was provided to KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm on a project on daylighting of perimeter blocks and to the University of Haifa on inter-war Jewish settlement in Łódź. Research is progressing on green belt urban growth patterns, past, present and future. Draft conservation area management plans for parts of Birmingham have been completed and are now being considered as examples of how to increase public participation and the use of concepts of urban morphology in the conservation planning process. Work is in progress on the gap, and possible bridging of the gap, between local-government decision-making in the UK and the Conzenian approach. The relationship between planning and the way housebuilders are shaping new development is being studied. Morphological units are being examined as a basis for contributing to socially just planning. Papers have been published based on an ESRC-funded project exploring planning education in South Africa and the strategies pursued by planners driving change in that country. A project using GIS to examine the quantity of green space inside and in the vicinity of UK prisons has demonstrated a link between increased presence of green space and reduced violence. A book chapter on how memorial landscapes can be reproduced in virtual reality has been published in a collection on the emotional and affectual qualities of heritage spaces. A paper in Planning Practice andResearch has explored how disabled people negotiate official efforts to create secure open spaces.

Practical applications and comparative research

The application of Conzenian methods in Eastern Asia was aided by further visits to Birmingham by researchers from China. The filip provided by the translation into Chinese of M. R. G. Conzen’s classic study of Alnwick has further underpinned Sino-British comparisons. Conzenian thinking, which has maintained a most important place in the Group’s work, has until recent years been developed primarily on a European basis, whereas the urban landscapes of China have been formed, and generally investigated, in the context of very different social and cultural settings. Bringing together the two perspectives has continued to be a key endeavour and one in which visiting Chinese researchers have played an important part. This work is adding significantly to the growing collaboration of the Group with the World Heritage Research Centre in Peking University. Links also continued with kindred groups in South China University of Technology, Nanjing University, Xi’an University of Architecture and Technology and the University of Porto. In the latter case, comparative studies of different approaches to urban morphology have proved especially rewarding. In addition there has been a continuing commitment to the development of computational tools for application in urban planning and the compilation of an international repository of urban tissue as a resource for research, teaching and practice. Various extended visits by academics and research students from overseas have been hosted in Birmingham.

Historical urban morphology

Participation has continued in the production of the European historic towns atlas series. An increasing emphasis is on the use of digital media, for example in the Irish Historic Towns Atlas: a recent fascicle on Drogheda, was the first to have atlas mapping created using GIS. Research has continued on the form and processes of post-war reconstruction, including consideration of the form of urban conservation and design problems. Papers have been published on British reconstruction planning after the Second World War, the governance of conservation area boundaries, and rethinking placemaking. Historical cross-cultural connections have continued to be explored in a Sino-British comparison that is being made of suburban historical areas, with emphasis on green spaces and having particular reference to parts of Birmingham, UK and Zhengzhou, China. A second season of public research excavations at Shrewsbury Castle, UK has been directed for the Castle Studies Trust and a number of other bodies, including Historic England. Much of the further research undertaken on fringe belts in the UK, China, New Zealand and Turkey has been historico-geographical.  It has included collaborations with Peking University, Nanjing University, South China University of Technology, the University of Auckland, and the University of Chicago. Several papers have been published on the significance of green space in fringe belts. Work in Nanjing has underlined the implications of the changing spatial structure of fringe-belt landscapes for the management of urban form in ways sensitive to historico-geographical development. It is encouraging that past consultancies, including for UNESCO, have provided opportunities for fundamental research.


For further information please contact Jeremy Whitehand.