Urban Identity Through Quantifiable Spatial Attributes

Sense Editor
August 30, 2012

ABSTRACT

“A city is a network of paths, which are topologically deformable”. The city is viewed as a system whose identity constantly emerges from the rearrangement of interrelations between its elements. Focusing on the urban neighbourhood as a set of building blocks, this view on urban identity is tested through the automated identification of the structure of relations between discrete blocks of labelled neighbourhoods.

The attempt to classify blocks according to a partial description of their attributes tests the possibility of discerning between sets of blocks that can, or cannot, coexist in the framework of a given neighbourhood. This would enable the illustration of an abstract synchronous view of the structure of relations from which urban identity emerges. It is not the measured attributes per se that reveal elements of spatial identity, but the belief that they are governed by and reflect patterns in a structure of relations from which identity emerges, renders these attributes partial indices of degrees of differentiation and identification between spatial units. However, the efficiency of these indices is limited and their interpretation ambiguous, since major issues concerning the formation and perception of spatial identity are not spatial or describable in spatial terms.

This analysis investigates whether and to what degree quantifiable spatial attributes, as expressed in plan representations, can capture elements related to the experience of spatial identity. By combining different methods of shape and spatial analysis it attempts to quantify spatial attributes, predominantly derived from plans, in order to illustrate patterns of interrelations between spaces through an objective automated process. The study focuses on the scale of the urban block as the basic modular unit for the formation of urban configurations and the issue of spatial identity is perceived through consistency and differentiation within and amongst urban neighbourhoods.

The main aim is to investigate the suitability of the specific set of methods for distinguishing between urban areas. The study case is being used as a test sample of known, labelled neighbourhoods, in order to enable the evaluation of the degree of conversion between the classification resulting from the methods under examination and the pre-existing knowledge about the given areas. This could contribute to the understanding of spatial perception by designating categories of spatial features that seem to be relevant to our experience of space. The combination of these measurements with information about the cultural history of places could contribute to the understanding of the relationship between the physical output of cultures and possibly to the development of methods for designing within particular cultural contexts.

Full Title: Urban identity through quantifiable spatial attributes: coherence and dispersion of local identity through the automated comparative analysis of building block plans