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 2016

Building on developments in 2015, 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, also had a major international dimension.

Research and practice

Central to the year’s work has been the practical application of urban morphological concepts and methods, including the informing of design guides.  The Group continued to have a leading role in the international Task Force on Research and Practice in Urban Morphology and in synergies with housebuilders in the field of urban design.  Research comparing house builders’ approaches to urban design in the UK was funded by the Urban Design Group. Further contributions have been made on the application of urban morphology in heritage planning and conservation, notably in China.  Research on urban landscape units, urban design and conservation provided the basis for applications in planning practice. This included building on a previous study for the City of Bath, UK.  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 has continued on the development of computational tools for application in urban planning and on the compilation of an international repository of urban tissue as a resource for research, teaching and practice.  A ‘Handbook of Urban Morphology’ for use in planning practice and teaching is scheduled for publication early in 2017.

Fringe belts and urban landscapes

Research on fringe belts continued in China, New Zealand, Turkey and the UK. 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

Exploration of the relationship between the typological process and the morphological period included 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 World Heritage Research Centre in Peking University, and kindred groups in South China University of Technology, Nanjing University, Xi’an University of Architecture and Technology and the University of Porto. Research is progressing on the relationship between urban morphology and ecosystem services.

Historical urban morphology

These mainly international projects and collaborations have been complemented by 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 and the National Trust has continued.  Work on the ‘Houses of Hereford’, and the ‘Archaeological Assessment of Bristol’ (undertaken for Bristol City Council and English Heritage) has been completed.  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 has been 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 gave 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 Birmingham in the mid-twentieth-century. 


For further information please contact Jeremy Whitehand.