Polytechnic University of Valencia Congress, 24th ISUF 2017 - City and Territory in the Globalization Age

Font Size: 
Towards a ‘fractal’ typomorphology: integrating concepts of type, form and dimension
Stephen Marshall, Yuerong Zhang

Last modified: 18-05-2018


While the urban fabric has both three and two dimensional aspects, we rarely if ever experience urban form as a fully three-dimensional object nor as a two-dimensional ground plan. Rather, the urban fabric is experienced more in terms of places with a fractal dimension lying between two and three. Hence we can (re)interpret urban form elements from colonnades to streets as ‘fractal’ types. This in turn suggests the possibility for a ‘fractal’ typo-morphology, addressing elements that occupy a typological space ‘in between’ 3D architectural modelling and 2D urban plan analysis.

While Moudon could note that aspects of type were ‘vague and flawed with ambiguity’ (1994), it seems that there is still room for clarity; Dovey’s recent review of type (2016) invites further development and integration of the concept of type what may still be a disparate and ambiguous territory. Meanwhile, fractal approaches to morphology have been traditionally more concerned with larger scale urban patterns (e.g. Frankhauser, 2004) or measurement of architectural elements (e.g. Ostwald et al, 2015) with a fractal dimension less than two.

This paper explores the possibilities for establishing a ‘fractal typo-morphology’ that recognises the ‘2.x’ dimensional aspect of the urban fabric and its component types. The paper generates a solution-space of types, illustrated with empirical examples, and organizes these into a typology for onward use, so that ideas of type, form and fractal dimension can contribute more fully as ‘conceptual tools’ both for understanding the urban fabric and for use as building blocks for urban design.

References (100 words)

Dovey, K. (2016) Urban Design Thinking. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Moudon, A. V. (1994) Getting to know the built landscape: typomorphology, in Franck, K. A and H. Schneekloth (eds) Ordering Space: Types in Architecture and Design. New York: VNR.

Frankhauser, P. (2004) Comparing the morphology of urban patterns in Europe – a fractal approach, in Borsdorf, A. and Zembri, P. (eds) European Cities – Insights on outskirts. Brussels: COST.

Ostwald, M., Vaughan, J. and Tucker, C. (2015) Characteristic visual complexity: Fractal dimensions in the architecture of Frank Lloyd wright and Le Corbusier, in Williams, K. and Ostwald, M. (eds) Architecture and Mathematics from Antiquity to the Future. Switzerland: Springer.

Full Text: PDF