Book Chapter

The minimum unit of built form: A sketch


It is by now a truism to say that cities are complex. In our efforts to make sense of the complexity, we often look for comparisons, metaphors and analogies: the city as organism, the city as language, the city as a set of mathematical relations. It is a mark of the profound and pervasive complexity of cities that they are amendable to all three of those comparisons. Cities are alive, they speak to us and can behave in mathematical, law-like ways. Cities are the product of a living species and, like language, have emerged and co-evolved with that species. Like mathematics, cities remain the subject of active and conscious construction, investigation and creative manipulation. And yet, it is arguable that we do not understand cities to the same level of detail and nuance that we understand organic life, language and mathematics. It is also arguable that, in the face of growing urban populations and our increasingly adverse effects on the planet, we should have an equivalent level of understanding of the built environment, as a matter of urgency.

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Kropf, Karl

Oxford Brookes departments

School of the Built Environment


Year of publication: 2021
Date of RADAR deposit: 2022-07-06

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

Related resources

This RADAR resource is Part of The morphology of urban landscapes: History, analysis, design [ISBN: 9783496016489] / edited by Andri Gerber, Regula Iseli, Stefan Kurath, Urs Primas (Dietrich Reimer, 2021).


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