Built form and cultural identity : exploring spatial information to understand different spatial cultures

Netto, Vinicius and Brigatti, Edgardo and Cacholas, Caio; (2022) Built form and cultural identity : exploring spatial information to understand different spatial cultures. In: Annual Conference Proceedings of the XXVIII International Seminar on Urban Form. University of Strathclyde Publishing, Glasgow, pp. 650-657. ISBN 9781914241161

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The idea that urban form embodies idiosyncrasies that express cultural identities seems to be a frequent assumption in urban studies. It has to do with the contextual role of custom and institutional settings, from regional idiosyncrasies assimilated to traditional ways of building to the dichotomies of planned and unplanned cities, shaped through topdown agencies or as chance-grown arrangements. However, can local cultures leave traces in urban space? Despite its persistence in the urban imagination, the problem of how built environments might embody specific cultural identities seems yet to be fully addressed in urban morphology. In this sense, historically- and culturally-informed quantitative methods are essential for uncovering forms and patterns resulting from city organisation processes. In this paper, we look closely into that assumption and address the question of whether cities find distinct regional characteristics or take on physically specific forms under certain cultural conditions. This problem implies examining the existence of contextualised ways of shaping cities – and features that might transcend context. We do so approaching the built environment's spatial configurations as a proxy of urban culture, looking into urban form's very constituents. Unlike emphases on street networks, our approach focuses on the elementary components shaping cities' tangible spaces: buildings and how they are aggregated in cellular complexes of built form. Exploring Shannon's information theory, we introduce a measure of information and entropy to analyse the probability distribution of cellular arrangements in built form systems. We apply it to 45 cities from different regions of the world as a similarity measure to compare and cluster cities potentially consistent with specific spatial cultures. Findings suggest a classification scheme that sheds further light on what we call "the cultural hypothesis": the possibility that different cultures and regions find different ways of ordering space.

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