Spatial Morphology Lab _ SMoL. International laboratory for comparative research in urban form


The world is currently facing an unprecedented global urbanization, where there will be three billion more people living in cities within the next 25 years. This is reflected in Sweden as well, where the government has launched a program aiming for 700.000 new housing units in 15 years. Similarly, the City of Gothenburg has launched the largest and most complex urban development in Sweden, expanding the city across the river Göta älv. These fundamental changes in people’s daily environments will set the frames for the future development of our societies in central regards; both when it comes to equity and sustainability. They will also bring great knowledge challenges to the practices of urban design and planning, not least when it comes to their central object, that is, the spatial form of cities.

Although there is a long tradition of studies in urban morphology, spatial analysis and urban modelling, there is a need to clearly identify how this research may inform the practice of urban design and planning and from that, build a more consistent theoretical and methodological framework for such research, with direct bearings to the profession.


Start date 01/02/2015
End date The project is closed: 30/11/2017

The objective of this project is to respond to these contemporary challenges through an international collaboration with the aim to develop comparative theories, methodologies and standards, when it comes to research and knowledge on spatial urban form.

To support a long-term development of these goals, a central objective of the project is the establishment of an international platform for comparative studies in spatial urban form; comprising European cities, such as London, Amsterdam, Stockholm and Gothenburg. This platform creates a research infrastructure open for new initiatives to studies of this kind by master students, PhD students and researchers at the collaborative universities: UCL, TU Delft, KTH and Chalmers.

The core objective of the project is to develop and test consistent and sound methodologies and techniques for measuring central variables of spatial urban form, focusing on the variables Distance, Density and Diversity, as well as the interplay between them. Describing and understanding how these spatial variables influence mobility in cities, as the central drive of urban dynamics, will help us better grasp how urban movement in turn underpins and structures broader urban processes of a social, economic and environmental kind.

The project in particular addresses the following:
•    The development of consistent and scientifically sound definitions of fundamental spatial variables and rigorous ways to measure them.
•    The formation of new typologies and concepts defined by such variables of spatial urban form, directly related to particular performativities that may facilitate a more effective discussion and debate on the topic, addressing the complexities of contemporary cities.
•    The formulation of stronger theories about how such variables and typologies interact and influence human behaviour, such as movement and co-presence, and also central urban processes, such as social segregation and local markets.

The central aims of the project are:
1)    To combine the interrelated spatial variables of Distance, Density and Diversity into a descriptive-analytical model of spatial form.
2)    To develop a valid theoretical and methodological framework for comparing cities, focusing on spatial urban form
3)    To form a new set of typologies of urban form to describe contemporary cities

The broader long-term aims are:
•    To contribute to a scientifically sounder foundation for the field of spatial morphology
•    To strengthen the theoretical framework that relates urban form and urban performativity
•    To develop applications which transfer knowledge into practice

Our method combines quantitative-analytic and qualitative-interpretative approaches. To build the methodological framework for comparing different cities, detailed descriptions of the variations in spatial form in the different metropolitan areas are needed. In short, this is structured by the following supporting objectives:
Step 1: Develop a framework for the analysis of spatial form based on the three fundamental variables: Distance, Density and Diversity, including their definitions and measures. Build on existing methodologies of urban morphology (e.g. Space Syntax , Spacematrix ).
Step 2: Use spatial analysis and spatial statistics to identify a new spatial typology for the European metropolitan areas and investigate their differences and similarities.
Step 3: Study the effects of the spatial form variables on basic variables of human behaviour, such as movement and the variations in co-presence it generates and on aggregated systems of human behaviour, such as social segregation and development local markets.
Step 4: Compare the results for various spatial types defined in Step 2 and compare the performativity of these types in the five case cities.

•    An international platform for comparative studies of spatial urban form
•    The Spatial Morphology ATLAS
•    A theoretical and methodological framework for comparing cities, including documentation, set of tools, references, reproducible technics
•    A descriptive-analytical model of spatial form in urban environments
•    A new set of typologies of urban configurations
•    A new QGIS-based software for analysis of spatial form

IMAGE 1: Network Betweeness Centrality (radius 10km) in Gothenburg, Stockholm, Amsterdam and London
IMAGE 2: Alternative representations of Stockholm network (Spatial measures: Betweeness, Integration, Reach, Accessible Density)

Funded by

  • Chalmers University of Technology (Site, Sweden)
  • Chalmers University of Technology (Publisher, Sweden)

Published: Thu 31 May 2018.