Understanding urban forms as results of a conditioning system of interrelated factors : some thoughts on the issue of morphologically defining the city

Ley, Karsten

Aachen : Publikationsserver d. RWTH Aachen Univ. (2010)
Conference Presentation

In: 7th Conference International Seminar on Urban Form (ISUF): "Formation and Persistence of Townscape"; 20.-23. August 2010, Hamburg/Lübeck
Page(s)/Article-Nr.: 13 S.


Since the beginning of a theoretical occupation with the »city« there is a large uncertainty in defining what urban form is and what it eventually consists of. As a matter of fact, we somewhat instinctively attribute morphologically completely diverse urban entities with this term, notwithstanding their often utterly unlike topographic settings or cultural backgrounds. Moreover, we do so not only with properly existing entities, but expand our »idea of the city« also over the past. And yet, until today we do not find considerable comprehensive definitions for the »city«, which cover all its aspects. Moreover, the growing uncertainty of how to plan and design cities today eventually aggravates the assignment. Yet, despite the definitory quandary, our »idea of the city« is seemingly settled on a commonsensical formal conception than on scientifically verifiable functional features: We recognize cities by taking a look at their layout from an airplane window or by approaching a city's skyline in a vehicle. We perceive urban space by strolling through its streets and places, or even by visiting deserted archaeological sites of long gone civilizations. For this perception, arguably, the sheer formal appearance is sufficient, to which we then of course add functional relations according to our contemporary understanding of urban life. Ultimately, one might speak of a »formal urban continuum« that for us exists since the Bronze Age and carries on until today and which without further thought is inscribed in our common knowledge as reference for any urban entity we encounter. The aim of the proposed presentation is to suggest an approach towards this formal urban continuum, by examining its phenomenological condition and by investigating for its possible parameters, whose systemic interrelation might, in spite of the common formal idea, eventually explain the grand diversity of cities.