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Department of Spatial Planning

Capturing and understanding the compositional logic of housing estates through place-based GIS

Our understanding of urban form is conditioned by ways in which we see and conceptualise it through the use of scientific methods. The latter often dictate which features to grasp and which to omit, being it for the sake of feasibility of formalisation or for any other reasons. In addition, cities, being highly complex and dynamic entities, are in constant flux, which demands equally flexible and up-to-date methods. Approaching these matters from an urban morphology perspective naturally gives rise to considering urban form primarily through investigation of its physical, material, and geometrical properties. This way of looking at urban form is strongly reflected in the principal visualisation tools of urban morphology: figure-ground plan. This project tries to go beyond this perspective and to take the study of urban morphology one step further towards investigating how people actually live in and perceive different kinds of urban morphologies.

The urban fabric of the contemporary city becomes increasingly fragmented. Open spaces are thereby particularly affected, as their role is advancing from being a mere "leftover" towards the forefront for displayal of social, cultural, and other characteristics of the urban fabric. This way, interrelations between the typology of spaces and their corresponding urban morphologies become mediated and changed by vast amounts of voids. This renders inefficient our ways to conceptualise urban forms by means of interdependent street networks, plots, and buildings. Such relations were characteristic of traditional types of urban form, but they no longer hold explanatory power in conditions where the urban fabric becomes interrupted and interspersed with actively used open spaces blurring the boundaries between public and private space. The common figure-ground plan fails to do justice to housing estates characterised by this outlined blurring up: free-floating black footprints of detached buildings surrounded by whiteness do not help to reveal the spatial organisation, types of spaces, their functions and status within the public-private spectrum. The increasingly prominent role of undifferentiated space in such relations pushes us to seek proper conceptual frameworks allowing for realistic formalisation and representation, instrumental in investigating contemporary urban form. Place-based GIS might suggest a way to address this matter. This methodological approach attempts to capture spatial semantics and meaning with the goal of formalising it for analyses. Important topics found under the umbrella term place-based GIS include investigations of place names, spatial cognition, discourse and text-based analysis, among others. With respect to urban form, combining these approaches towards treating a place through the lenses of function, use, and intention seems particularly promising and instrumental. It is our goal in this project to reach a holistic understanding and redefinition of the housing estate typology using place-based GIS to analyse the composition of places formalised not only by their geometries but also by their non-physical and particularly human aspects.

Associated researchers