Book Review

The Handbook of Urban Morphology

Karl Kropf

This book is for serious urban designers: The Handbook of Urban Morphology is a detailed companion for the analysis of urban grain and character, one that illustrates the gold standard for analysis. It draws on Karl Kropf’s extensive experience in urban analysis and characterisation and is the richer for it. Kropf expertly illustrates how such analysis can provide a more objective understanding of places, and therefore a more robust basis for intervention. He wants us to ‘slow down the normative impulse’ and give time to proper analysis, to suspend our judgements long enough to understand what is really going on in places.

The handbook is divided into three parts: Part 1 is a short section on principles, exploring how we should define urban morphology and approach analysis. Part 2 is a substantial section on methods, and the meat of the book. The city of Bath is used to take us through the steps of desktop analysis. Helpfully, this section identifies the best data sources throughout. Methods for field survey are also covered extensively, with sample field survey sheets provided in an appendix. The final chapter in this section covers ‘synthesis’. Here Kropf, delicately brings together the products of the analysis drawing on different levels of resolution and timeframe. He introduces labels and definitions for different forms and characters. Part 3 is a series of case studies showing the application of the approach, taken from places that include London, Hereford, Brighton, Lisbon and Buenos Aires.

The book is well illustrated throughout, with maps and diagrams on every page. The language can be technical at times, but the book is more authoritative for it. For those undertaking urban design analysis and characterisation, this book is a sobering reminder of the depth of scientific analysis available. It is a great guide for those carrying out detailed morphology studies, and a very practical handbook for encouraging greater use of data in everyday urban design analysis. The examples used throughout show how detailed and objective analysis can help us to see places we think we know in a new light.

URBAN DESIGN 150 Spring 2019 Publication Urban Design Group

As featured in URBAN DESIGN 150 Spring 2019

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The Handbook of Urban Morphology Publication Urban Design Group
Reviewed By
Jane Manning, Director at Allies and Morrison Urban Practitioners