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Spatial Morphology

​ACEX35, Masters’ thesis direction, 2019/2020​


"Evidence based design is needed to guide cities towards trajectories of greater environmental and social sustainability"

Description and aim​

The master thesis direction Spatial Morphology is engaged with the form and structure of cities and how this creates conditions for social, economic and environmental processes. The understanding of this intriguing relation between the city as we design and materialize it and the urban life that it affords is central for this direction. Literature and seminars will be provided at the start of the semester to build a solid base of understanding. Besides understanding, the focus is on intervening through design (actions) where theories and methods in analytical urban morphology, especially network analysis (Space Syntax) and density analysis (Spacematrix), are used to determine what actions should be taken, and where to implement these actions to maximise the benefits they provide. The thematic focus can differ across projects and span from decreasing social segregation, improving biodiversity to creating local markets. What connects the projects is the analytic approach where the role of architecture and urban design is made explicit as one of the ingredients to improve conditions in cities. An evidence base is required to ensure that the design proposal is taking measurable steps to improving urban areas for social integration, biodiversity or local markets, rather than acting as a ‘tick box exercise’ that meets policy obligations on paper, but divests funds away from more effective measures in reality. The intention of this master thesis direction is thus to strengthen students' understanding of how urban form and the physical structure of cities provides the framework and creates conditions for its functionality and how this knowledge can be used to design neighbourhoods and cities that really improve the qualities aimed for.

Sub-directions

There are three possibilities to develop the master thesis within the direction Spatial Morphology:

A design project in Gothenburg
The thesis will be realistic in the sense that the location is currently under development and addresses the challenges the city has defined. The research group SMoG has good relations with the city authorities in Gothenburg and projects can be designed in close cooperation with them to allow for real impact of the master thesis project. An extra supervisor from the municipality will be involved if possible. Possible projects are:

A research project in cooperation with SMoG
The thesis will be research oriented and the design part exemplifies how findings can be used in the design process and will be developed in “rules of thumb” and design principles. The project needs to be developed in close cooperation with the research team and should be part of an ongoing research project that can be found on the website of SMoG: https://www.smog.chalmers.se/projects or directly related to the main focus of the research group, that is:
  • Projects where the socio-economic performativity of cities is central and issues such as segregation, gentrification or local markets are addressed.
  • Projects that study the relation between density, building types and living qualities.
  • Project focusing on green/blue infrastructures and how the configuration of these public spaces can support ecosystem services.
An extra supervisor from the research team will be involved.​

An independent project
The student is rather free to develop the thesis, but needs to have a very strong idea and drive to develop the project independently. If for instance a city of the students own preference is chosen, there is an issue of data availability to think about. The topic should be strongly related to any of the above mentioned topics (see 2), but can be more design oriented.

Method and process

The use of quantitative GIS (Geographic information system) data is central for the work as it helps to provide the evidence that certain design interventions indeed improve the functionality the project is aiming for. Prior knowledge of GIS Software (Mapinfo, ArcGIS or QGIS) is recommended, but if students do not have this, they can still apply, but need to do a quick course in GIS. Tutorials and exercises will be provided and need to be handed in before the start of the master thesis semester.

This master thesis direction is closely related to the research group SMoG, which today consists of 10 researchers and teachers, see https://www.smog.chalmers.se/people. Supervisors will be chosen dependent on the chosen thesis sub-direction.

Specific evaluation criteria’s

The thesis will be assessed by its design qualities just as any other project, but especially the evidence base will have an important role. With this we mean both the analysis of the qualities of the site and how this, together with the aims of the project, gives input for the chosen design interventions as well as the analysis of the proposed interventions to show whether these indeed create the conditions to improve the area in the aimed for direction. The quality of the infographics and mapping is an important part of the evaluation.​

Specific submission requirements

The project plan should at least discuss the following aspects:
  • Type of project where the student clarifies what type of thesis we should expect: Gothenburg project, research project or independent project as described earlier in this document.
  • Problem description where especially the spatial dimension should be described (what is the role of the architect/urban designer?).
  • Purpose of the project with a clear link to the problem description including delimitations (that is, what will not be addressed in the thesis).
  • Background where the larger context should be described.
  • Theories and methods that will be used where the research field Spatial Morphology plays a central role; students need to clarify how they specifically use these in their thesis (related to problem and purpose).
  • Practical references to clarify the end product students have in mind (this depends on the type of project chosen).
  • Time schedule and students’ background and skills, relevant to the project.

Suggested literature​

Practice oriented reports
Legeby, A., Berghauser Pont, M., Marcus, L., 2015, Dela(d) Stad – Stadsbyggande och segregation I-V, (2015), KTH, Mistra Urban Futures, ISBN/ISSN: 978-91-7595-804-0 
Berghauser Pont, M., Gren Å., Ahrné K., Marcus, L., A. Kaczorowska, 2017, Bee Connected – Ekosystemtjänsten Pollinering - Gröna Kopplingar för Resilienta Städer, rapport från delprojekt inom forskningsprojektet C/O City.

Popular-scientific papers
Berghauser Pont, M., C. Caldenby, A-J. Klasander, O. Nylander (2018), Tät blandstad passar inte överallt I Göteborg, in: GP 7 januari 2018.
Marcus, L. and M. Berghauser Pont (2016), Är det verkligen kvarterstad vi vill ha?, In: Plan. 
Marcus, L., M. Berghauser Pont (2015), Grönytor som gör sitt jobb. In: Arkitekten.
Marcus, L., M. Berghauser Pont (2015), Vikten av rätt mått. In: Arkitektur, 04/15

Scientific papers and books
David Harvey, “Space as Keyword”, 2006, in, D. Harvey, Spaces of Global Capitalism - Towards a Theory of Uneven Geographical Development, Verso, Londres, pp. 119- 148.
Bill Hillier, ”Cities as movement economies”, 1996, in, B. Hillier, Space is the machine, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, pp. 149-182.
Leslie Martin & Lionel March,1972, ”The grid as generator”, in, L. Martin & L. March, Urban space and structures, Cambridge Unviersity Press, Cambridge, UK, pp. 6-27
Meta Berghauser Pont and Per Haupt, 2010, Spacematrix. Space, density and urban form, NAi Publishers, ch. 3&4.
Stephen Marshall and Olgu Caliskan, 2011, “A joint framework for Urban Morphology and Design”, in: Built Environment, vol 37, No. 4, pp. 409-426.

Exemplary thesis projects

Making squares. A Study of Urban Form and Co-presence by Kailun Sun (2016). This thesis was a research oriented project where Kailun also worked one day a week parallel to her master thesis project in the research group SMoG. Her thesis included spatial analysis, observations of how people use squares and resulted in design principles. See https://www.smog.chalmers.se/making-squares​.​

Urbanized Hjo. A Study of Rural Town’s Resilient Development Enhancing Urban Qualities by Jakub Dvorak (2017). The purpose of this thesis was to explore how Hjo, a small town in Sweden, can develop to create urban qualities of walkability and public life. The thesis included in depth analysis of the spatial structure and typologies and resulted in a masterplan. This thesis was of the type ´independent project´ where Jakub had established a connection with the municipality of Hjo prior to the thesis. Besides this, he also worked with the town in an earlier studio which allowed him to develop an advanced project.


Direction faculty

SMoG is part of the Urban Design and Planning division that researches and educates in urban design and planning in all scales, from single urban spaces to larger urban landscape and entire regions, with its’ main focus on built environment in relation to sustainable development. Cities and regions today are facing great challenges regarding sustainable development, with ongoing large scale urban development projects and a need to handle societal challenges such as climate change, urbanisation processes, increasing regional imbalance, segregation and gentrification processes. Thus, cities and regions today face large challenges that architects and planners need to handle in their daily practice and there is a great need for new knowledge within the field.​

Published: Thu 13 Sep 2018. Modified: Wed 11 Sep 2019