Classifying urban form at national scale : the British morphosignatures

Fleischmann, Martin and Arribas-Bel, Daniel; (2022) Classifying urban form at national scale : the British morphosignatures. In: Annual Conference Proceedings of the XXVIII International Seminar on Urban Form. University of Strathclyde Publishing, Glasgow, pp. 895-905. ISBN 9781914241161

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In this paper, we use the recent spatial signatures framework to develop morphosignatures, a characterisation of space based on urban form, and we apply them to the whole of Great Britain. Identification of recurring patterns in the built environment is deeply embedded within all schools of urban morphology. A long-standing challenge in this context has been the ability to scale the analysis to cover large regions. In effect, advancing the systematic study of urban morphology has been limited to the ability to deploy granular methods to large portions of the urban landscape. The recent rise of morphometrics, and its ability to scale while retaining detail, has given urban morphology a fundamentally new toolkit to analyse the form of urban fabric at metropolitan or even national extents. In this tradition, morphosignatures are conceptually defined as an aggregation of granular elements into contiguous areas based on similar nature. We adopt the enclosed tessellation cell (ETC), the result of combining street networks and other urban "delimiters" with building footprints, as the core spatial unit. For each ETC, we calculate a wide range of characters that capture aspects of their spatial organisation, from dimension and shape of individual features to their spatial distribution, intensity or connectivity. We then group these ETCs using the K-Means algorithm, effectively deriving a comprehensive typology of urban form. We employ this approach on the case of Great Britain, illustrating both the potential and limits of the analysis of urban form at scale. Our resulting classification identifies 19 types of morphosignatures that can be organised into three macro groups: countryside, suburban low density development, and dense city centres. The main contribution of the proposed method, with respect to traditional morphological studies, resides in the scalability of the analysis while retaining granularity. We argue national-scale classification such as that of the British morphosignatures allows us to ask fundamentally new questions and provide complementary answers to those asked in smaller scale studies.

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