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 2018

The predominantly international emphasis of the Group’s work over the past decade 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 major new book on the teaching of urban morphology which drew considerably on experience gained over many years on the interrelationship of research and teaching.

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. A project was completed on form-based codes and planning research based on urban morphology. Technical support was provided to the Chinese delegation at the 42nd session of the World Heritage Committee held in Manama, Bahrain. Work on the master plan of the World Heritage cultural landscape of Hangzhou West Lake, China was completed. A book was co-edited on authenticity, architecture and built heritage. Journal articles included those on the replanning of post-war Birmingham published in Architectura and Storia Urbana, and several book chapters were published on aspects of post-war planning, including that of London. Various extended research visits by academics and research students, including from the Czech Republic, Poland, New Zealand, Portugal and Turkey, were hosted. Among the topics considered was the revitalization of industrial city centres. Contributions were made to the Birmingham City Planning Department’s production of community-led Conservation Area Appraisal and Management Plans. These included work with the Moseley Society and two residents associations. Advice was provided for a project on post-socialist urban form at the University of Belgrade and Cracow University of Technology with financial support form ISUF.


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 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.

Fringe belts

Further research was undertaken on fringe belts in the UK, China, New Zealand and Turkey. This involved collaborations with Peking University, Nanjing University, South China University of Technology, the University of Auckland, the University of Chicago, and the Centre for Mediterranean Urban Studies in Mersin University. Among the studies of fringe belts that were published was one that explored the Sino-Portuguese environment of Macao. Work on the fringe belts of Foshan, China was close to completion. Research begun 3 years ago on the fringe belt related to the medieval wall of Visby, Gotland was completed, with invaluable assistance from the World Heritage Manager, Hanseatic Town of Visby and the staff of the Gotland Museum. Two papers on the relationship between urban morphology and ecosystem services were accepted for publication in the international journal Urban Morphology, one stemming from a recently completed PhD thesis on the historico-geographical study of fringe belts and urban green spaces in south-west Birmingham. It is encouraging that past consultancies, including for UNESCO, have provided opportunities for fundamental research. Work in Nanjing has underlined the implications of the changing spatial structure of fringe-belt landscapes for the management of urban forms in ways sensitive to historico-geographical development.

Historical urban morphology

The launching of a book on the historico-geographical approach to urban morphology, to which several members of the Group contributed and which encompassed a wide geographical span, was accompanied by presentations by the authors at a gathering in Birmingham. This brought together some forty researchers, including from China, the United States, Turkey and Iceland, many of whom had maintained links with the Group over long periods. The year was also notable for the publication of a major volume focusing on a much more restricted geographical span. This was on the historic houses of Hereford. It brought to fruition research that had been in progress over a great many years, including by authors from outside the Group. It was supported by numerous organizations, including Historic England which grant-aided production of the volume. Advice to Historic England has continued, 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. In addition further work has been done on a book integrating the historico-geographical and archaeological findings on Bristol, Worcester, Gloucester, Hereford, Shrewsbury and Birmingham. Fringe-belt research with a historical emphasis has continued in cities as diverse as Newcastle upon Tyne, Kaifeng, Guangzhou and Mersin.


For further information please contact Jeremy Whitehand.