Morpho Porto

Cities are places of inequality. This project argues that, within a city, one particular territorial area (for instance, a neighbourhood or a set of street-blocks) with higher social disadvantages will tend to have greater economic and environmental weaknesses. Not only there is a cumulative effect in terms of location but also in terms of time, as urban inequality tends to be amplified over the years. Several policies and programmes, of a different nature, can be designed to deal with the issue of disadvantaged territories because this is, indeed, an extremely complex problem. This project focuses on the contribution of urban morphology. Can changes in urban form have a positive impact on reducing urban inequality? The project addresses this major question. It has three main goals. The first goal is to simplify the Morpho methodology through the enhancement of the explanatory capacity of its town-plan elements. Morpho offers an innovative way to capture the complex physical characteristics of a city by using a very reduced number of elements of urban form – streets, street blocks, plots and buildings. The second goal is to provide evidence that different degrees of urbanity, as classified by Morpho, can be associated with different measurable levels of performance of a social, economic and environmental nature. The last goal is to explore how Morpho can be integrated in the preparation of the most important planning document in Portugal, at the municipal scale, the Plano Diretor Municipal (PDM). The main input that Morpho can offer the PDM is an understanding of the main urban form dynamics enabling the identification of a small number of actions on the physical form with a potentially great impact on the social, economic and environmental dimensions. The project uses the city of Porto as a testbed.
How to describe something so complex as the physical form of a city? In answering the question Morpho addresses the physical characteristics of the urban landscape that are more permanent in time and that can offer the most relevant information on the city’s form. Morpho emphasises four characteristics, or criteria, that are related to the town plan. These are the spatial accessibility of the street system, the dimension of street blocks, the density of plots, and the coincidence between building and plot frontages. While the focus on the town plan as the key element for the description of the urban landscape is shared by some of the main morphological approaches, what is specific of Morpho is the selection and measurement of this particular set of characteristics, and the innovative nature of the fourth characteristic – the coincidence between building and plot frontages. Being selective and offering a structural reading of urban form, Morpho does not aim to run out all the relevant aspects of that physical form. This first analysis (or the first layer of a morphological reading) can be then complemented by other tridimensional elements of the building fabric, particularly in areas of relevant built heritage. Morpho has already been applied in different cities in America (North and South), Asia and Europe.

Morpho was first applied at the street scale, in three streets of New York (Oliveira, 2013). It then moved to the city scale, in Porto, addressing not only the present form of the city but also the evaluation of planning proposals for its future development (Oliveira and Silva, 2013). More recently, the methodology has been used in the comparison between different cities, involving samples of increasing size (Oliveira and Medeiros, 2016; Oliveira et al. 2020).

Oliveira V, Medeiros V, Corgo J (2020) The urban form of Portuguese cities, Urban Morphology 24, 145-66.
Brazil: Valério Medeiros, Bruno Zaitter, Giselle Pinho, Arlete Francisco, Silvio Soares Macedo, Giovanni Moura, Mateus Oliveira
Colombia: Carlos Roldán
Italy: Marco Maretto
Iran: Mazyar Abaee
Japan: Shigeru Satoh
Portugal: Mafalda Silva, Manuel Guimarães, João Corgo, Silvia Sousa
Russia: Egor Kotov
Spain: Sergio Pérez (UR-Hesp)
Turkey: Tolga Unlu
United States: Howard Davies