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Article Review on

British urban morphology:

the Conzenian tradition


The paper describes the origins, development and characteristics of the
school of urban morphological thought that is grounded on the work of
M.R.G. Conzen. Its illustrated on Conzens concepts of bur gage cycle, the
fringe belt, the morphological frame and the morphological region. It also
focused on the current research that builds on foundations laid by Conzen
are: micro morphology, the relationship between morphological periods and
the typological process, and the link between decision-taking and urban

Conzen, morphological concepts, German influence, micro morphology,
fringe belt, United Kingdom.


M.R.G. Conzenian was a German Geographer who migrated to England
before the second world war.
The Conzenian school of thought, founded by M.R.G. Conzen, has its
immediate antecedence at the end of 19th century.
The early work of Schluter & Fritz was the forerunner of morphogenetic
approach which was later to become a hallmark of Conzens work.


In 1918 the map of inner Danzig, contained distinguished in colour land

and building utilization and the number of stories in residential buildings-had
an influence on Conzen.
Conzens Staatsexamen dissertation in 1932 mapped in colour the
building types for twelve towns of west & north Berlin.
His cartographic representation creates high priority to the distinction,
among residential building, between morphological periods.

Views of Winterhur





Establishment of Conzens ideas & their influence.
Focused on recent research.
Placement of Planning decisions.


Conzens ideas & their influence

Conzen made tripartite division of the townscape, or urban landscape.

Process of Urban Development

The main focus was the relationship

between plots and the block plan
of buildings.
A detail was examined about the
boundaries and dimension of plots
for metrological analysis to
reconstruct the histories of plot

Metro logical analysis of Lower broad

Street, Ludlow, reproduced from Slater


Fringe belt, comprised of plots of a great variety of shapes and sizes

create lack in regularity for plot dimensions.
Fringe belt concept was developed within Berlin by Louis.

The Fringe belt of Inner

Berlin,1936-based upon Louis

Conzen had made a study on

English market town of Alnwick to
investigate the relationship between


All these dynamics are in relation with geography, when--

In case of Geographical

An innovation/building-cycle model based

upon Whitehand (1994)
Development cycles and urban landscapes


The fringe belt concept is linked to a basic tenet of M.R.G. Conzens

work: the concept of the morphological frame.

For Conzen the climax was:

The morphological regions of
Ludlow's old town, based upon

Though a map is a product to illuminate the historical development of an

urban area, but for Conzen -the past provided object lessons for the future.

Current research
Three strands of current research suggested by


Micro morphology:
Micro morphology is the
acknowledgement for the analysis to be
undertaken at the scale of individual
plot or within the individual plot.
Spatial relationship between the
physical changes to 20th century
dwelling houses.
Neighbour effect

Relationship between the strength of the

neighbour effect for house extensions
and original dwelling density in inter-war
suburbs in England.

High density pattern of original development is associated with more

imitative behavior by neighbours than low density pattern.


Morphological periods and the typological process:

The forms that are characteristic of one morphological period are
superseded by those characteristic of the next.
In England a sharp contrast between:

Gingerbread House,

House of Queen Anne,

Victorian style

Windsor house, England

Jackson heights

Italian Architects of Caniggian School have focused on typological processes in

which new building types are viewed as products of a process of learning from the
adaptation of previous building type.


Link between decision-taking and urban form:

Concerned inter alia with the way to combine decisions.
Fringe belt was the main concern for different decision making process:

Decision making process

Fringe belt articulates the identities of the different historical zones
of a city by separating the creations of different morphological
Rural-urban fringe character would be dominated by streets and
relatively small residential plots.

Planning decisions are currently been examined in the UK.

It based on

Preservation or Conservation of fringe belt.

This policies include:

Current planning policies in the UK:


The particular British school described- Conzenian is unambiguously
Its more geographical than the fringe belt concept and the morphological
More emphasis on cartographic representation.
The entire mode of conceptualization, approach to terminology and visual
representation is much more German than British.


The British landscape capture an industrial world

Taff Vale Railway, Rhondda Fach, 1993
provides the image of the uneasy mix of the
pastoral with the industrial (or ex-industrial).
A former mining village, once part of a region
with a strong religious and political culture.
Slowly the once sharply demarcated
industrial landscape is reverting to nature,
and rural pastimes come back into play.

Gas Street Basin, Birmingham,

photographed in 2000 reveals another
aspect of post-industrial place-making.
In this highly urban setting, the
industrial canal and boat-moorings
have become a stage set for the "new
economy": financial services,
administration, retail and leisure.

Taff Vale Railway, Rhondda Fach,

1993, John Davies

Gas Street Basin, Birmingham,

2000, John Davies

Currently research based on:


The range of topics covered -urban morphological regionalization, plan
analysis, urban landscape management, fringe belts and the history of
urban morphology.
Aspects of a comparative study of Conzenian and Muratorian ideas,
with particular reference to Reykjavik, were presented to the Fifteenth
International Seminar on Urban Form in Florence.
A feature of the Groups research in recent years has been its strongly
international complexion. This was maintained in 2008, with work on
aspects of urban form on five continents being completed or in
Over all the paper refer to an approach to the 20th century city scale
which influencing current research.


Thanks to all