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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Anne Vernez-Moudon
URBDP 479
Seattle Campus

The Urban Form

Elements, patterns, and evolution of urban form. The forces that shaped cities in history. Contemporary trends. Methods of urban morphological analysis as related to urban design and planning practices. Required for MUP graduate students.

Class description

City form, and its corollary, city building, are essential components of the urban planner's and designer's vocabulary. Urban designers and planners regularly help to create parts of cities or modify existing cities, piece by piece. In so doing, they must have a vision of the whole, of the distribution of land uses, employment, housing, transportation, related land values, and other socio-economic issues. They must also have an understanding of common building practices and of the ways the different actors (the builders, land owners, developers, bankers, policy makers, and others), act on the city, and why they do so. They must be familiar with the products of these actions: buildings and spaces that typically get shaped at given times and in given locations within the city. City planners have developed ideas and normative theories, some of which have remained on paper, while others have been effective in shaping special communities (as, for example, in the case of the Garden Cities and the Modernist cities). Yet other theories have had multiple impacts (as those enacted in land use zoning). For theories to be effective, however, urban designers and planners need to know what forces shape the city and how these forces then manifest themselves in the reality of the physical city. How are cities built? What are they made of? This course reviews the elements that structure urban form and the principles that shape the urbanization process. The city emerges bits by bits, area by area, project by project, house by house. Thus the course will review common land subdivision practices, and typical building forms for different times and places. The impact of natural settings and the relationship with agricultural production will also be studied, using examples of North and South American, European, and Asian cities. Urban form is not a static object, but an on-going process of land development and building. Urban morphology, the study of urban form and its related theories, will constitute the core approach used in the course.

Student learning goals

Conceptualize urban form as the physical dimension of human habitats and the socio-temporal processes that shape it

Become familiar with the theoretical basis of urban morphology

Develop skills to analyze urban form

Become familiar with the tools available to analyze urban form

General method of instruction

The course consists of lectures, guest lectures, field trips, readings, research/writing assignments, in-class quizzes, and a final take-home examination. Students are required to attend all class sessions. Required readings and assignments will be distributed in class. Discussion sessions are an integral part of the course. Students are required to participate in class efforts, and encouraged to ask questions, to make suggestions, and generally to broaden or to specify the material treated.

Recommended preparation

In addition to the material in the reader, students should be familiar with the following texts: Ford, Larry R. Cities And Buildings: Skyscrapers, Skid Rows, And Suburbs. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press 1994.

Hartshorn, Truman. Interpreting the City: An Urban Geography. New York: Wiley 1998 (or previous editions)

Class assignments and grading

Field trips to experience urban forms Neighborhood analysis combining field-based observations and parcel-level data in GIS

Assignments Assignments : Readings, research, quizzes, and presentations 65% Exam 25 % Participation in class 10 %


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Anne Vernez-Moudon
Date: 09/20/2008