Book Chapter

Rigour and comparison in urban morphology: Through the lens of JWR Whitehand


There are many reasons why we might want to deepen our understanding of urban environments, from the often quoted fact that over half the global population now lives in cities to the seemingly inexorable spread of common building types across the globe and the attendant loss of diversity. Or still, there is the spectre of moribund town centres and stagnating suburbs. The field of urban morphology has made significant contributions to our understanding of cities and has great potential to deepen it further. That contribution has been possible—and continues to be—in large part, because urban morphology provides a rigorous approach to the study of urban form. As argued in this chapter, the rigour of urban morphology derives to a significant degree from the active use of comparison as a core part of its methodology. The suggestion is that comparison is used not just in explicit ‘comparative studies’ but in a thoroughgoing way at a number of different levels. This suggestion is pursued through the lens of the work of Professor Jeremy Whitehand. Over his long career, Whitehand has made a significant contribution to the rigour of urban morphology through his clarity of language and terminology, consistent reference to testable general principles and his high standards of scholarship. In particular, the chapter will take Whitehand’s work on plan analysis, the fringe-belt and cross-cultural studies as topics to explore the different uses of comparison. The paper concludes by taking lessons from Whitehand’s work that point to ways in which urban morphology can consolidate and extend its contribution to our understanding of cities.

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Kropf, Karl

Oxford Brookes departments

School of the Built Environment


Year of publication: 2019
Date of RADAR deposit: 2021-04-26

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Related resources

This RADAR resource is the Accepted Manuscript of Rigour and comparison in urban morphology: Through the lens of JWR Whitehand
This RADAR resource is Part of J.W.R. Whitehand and the historico-geographical approach to urban morphology [ISBN: 9783030006198] / edited by Vítor Oliveira (Springer, 2019).


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