Urban Design

Architecture Urban design

The Urban Design Studies Unit (UDSU) is headed by Professor Sergio Porta and Dr Ombretta Romice

It has many years of experience engaging with public and private sectors, the Government and a number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Scotland and beyond. The main aim of UDSU is to pursue an evidence-based understanding of how cities work and develop in time as a matter of sustainable urban planning, combining physical and socio-economic aspects.

Our work was returned as an impact case study for the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and our research and teaching focuses on four areas:

  • Science of Urban Form & Evolution
  • Urban Design & Masterplanning for Change
  • Environmental Psychology, Wellness & Community Engagement
  • Radical Architecture Construction & Teaching Practice

Academic leaders

Collaborating academics & professionals

Our research involves working jointly with a number of academics throughout the UK, Europe, and North America and engages with collaborators across the boundaries of academia including public and private sectors. Please refer to our record of publications and research grants for further details.

One of our collaborators, David Rudlin, head of URBED in Manchester and winner of the 2014 Wolfson Economic Prize, recently wrote:

As you know I run the URBED office in Manchester and have been involved in many high profile urban design and masterplanning projects across the UK. URBED has twice won the UDG Practice award and in 2014 I also won the Wolfson Economics Prize. As a result of winning the UDG Practice award I was invited to judge the 2015 awards including the student awards. It was very noticeable in doing this that the students from Strathclyde were producing a very different level of work to the other entries, such that the short list could easily have been drawn entirely from the Strathclyde course. It is clear that this relates to the plot based approach to masterplanning that comes out of Strathclyde's research agenda. In my view this is important work in its own right. However it also seems that, as a process, it allows students of all abilities to produce a much higher standard of masterplan than is to be found in other schools.

Research grants & projects 

  • 2013-14: L’Abitare Futuro (The Future Inhabiting), Commission from National Consortium of Construction Cooperatives of Italy for a research on the future of construction cooperatives in Italy. Total: £8,000
  • 2013-16: GALE, Global Accessibility to Local Experience, EPSRC grant in partnership with University of Cambridge Computer Lab and the Queen Mary University Institute for Complex Systems. Total: £755.000; UoS: £250,000
  • 2011-12: Multiple Centrality Assessment (MCA) as a strategic modelling tool for use in urban regeneration, KTA grant in partnership with Robert Adam Urbanism. £55,000
  • 2016: Royal Academy of Engineers. Distinguished Visiting Fellowship awarded to Prof R Gifford (Victoria Canada) for 3 months of work on environmental preferences at urban scales. UoS: Total: £6,000
  • 2015: Plot Based Urbanism: Field Guide to Masterplanning, University of Strathclyde “Bridging the Gap” grant. £6,500
  • 2010: Under the Microscope. Small Scottish Towns. Research & Development and Architecture & Design Scotland grant. £18,000
  • 2007-2009: Gateways to Professions: Urban Design, in collaboration with RTPI, sponsored by Department for Education and Skills. Total: £209,000; UoS £89,000

Key publications by research area

Science of Urban Form & Evolution

Our work on urban science is an evidence-based investigation of urban form and how it changes in time. We seek to understand the contribution of urban form to the larger evolution of cities in their social, economic, institutional and environmental aspects.

Urban Design & Masterplanning for Change

Work in this area focuses on how we as urban designers can help generate a sustainable and resilient urban form. We study how to link building density, street centrality, transport, service and retail nodes and ecological networks in an innovative process of masterplanning that we call Plot-Based Urbanism. This research is strongly linked to our work in spatial analysis and modelling.

  • 2017 (in print) Feliciotti, A.  Romice, O. Porta, S. (in print), Urban regeneration, masterplans and resilience: the case of Gorbals, Glasgow, Urban Morphology
  • 2017 (in print) Romice, O. Feliciotti, A. Porta, S. (in print), The road to masterplanning for change and the design of resilient places, in: Archi+Tectonics: architecture, communities and cities under change, Proceedings of the 7th Annual Symposium of Architectural Research in Finland, 22–24 October 2015, Aalto University, Espoo Helsinki
  • 2017 (in print) Romice, O.  Porta S.  Feliciotti, A. Barbour, G. (in print), Masterplanning for Change: Design as a way to create the conditions for time sensitive place-making, in:  AlWaer, H. Illsley, B. eds., Placemaking: rethinking the masterplanning process, ICE Publisher, formerly Thomas Telford
  • 2015 Mehaffy, M. Porta, S. Romice, O. The ‘neighbourhood unit’ on trial: A case study in the impacts of urban morphology, Journal of Urbanism, International Research on Placemaking and Urban Design
  • 2014 Porta, S. Romice, O. Plot-based urbanism: towards time-consciousness in place-making, In; Mäckler, C., & Sonne, W. (Eds.), “Dortmund Lectures on Civic Art/Dortmunder Vorträge zur Stadtbaukunst”, Sulgen, DE: Niggli, p.82-111

Environmental Psychology, Wellness & Community Engagement

Whilst strongly encouraged by the UK government and now a compulsory feature of planning, user engagement in design is still not fully understood or effectively performed. Our expertise in the area of public engagement ranges from design to environmental psychology.

  • 2016 Romice, O. Thwaites, K, Porta, S. Greaves, M. Barbour, G. Pasino, P. Urban design and quality of life, in: Fleury-Bahi, G. Pol, E. Navarro, O. (eds.) “The Handbook of Environmental Psychology and Quality of Life Research”, Springer, ISSN: 2468-7227, p.242-273
  • 2014 Edgerton, E. Romice, O. Thwaites, K. (eds.), Bridging the Boundaries: Human Experience in the Natural and Built Environment and Implicaitons for Research, Policy and Practice. Hogrefe Publishing, Cambridge, MA

Radical Architecture Construction & Teaching Practice

This line of research is about processes of community-based housing production that puts human feelings first. Here community participation is brought to the next level combining direct end-users construction and person-centered interaction into one single process of community building that 'heals the people and heals the land', building on the foundations of Christopher Alexander’s legacy.

  • 2017 (in print) Moore Alexander, M. Zecchi, E. Russell, P. Vidoli, M Caperna, A. Romice, O. Porta, S. The Timeless Way of Educating Architects: A New Master in 'Building Beauty' in Naples, Italy, in: ‘Proceedings of the PUARL 2016 Conference’, San Francisco, 2016
  • 2016 Porta, S. Rofè, Y. Vidoli, M. The production of cities: Christopher Alexander and the problem of ‘System A’ at large scale, in: ‘Proceedings of the Pursuit of Pattern Language for Societal Change – PURPLSOC’, Krems, Austria, 2015
  • 2016 Porta, S., Rofè, Y. Vidoli, M. (2016). The city and the grid: building beauty at large scale, in: Mehaffy M. (ed.), ‘A city is not a tree, 50th anniversary edition’, Sustasis Press: Sustasis Press
  • 2014. Porta, S., Russell, P., Romice, O., Vidoli, M. Construction and Therapy: an Integrated Approach to Design Build, in: Cavanagh, T. Hartig, U. Palleroni, S. (eds.), ‘Working Out: Thinking While Building’, pp. 98-108, Halifax, NS: ACSA Press

Current research themes & PhD topics

UDSU has an international, diverse and very committed cohort of more than ten PhD students and has recently attracted Fulbright researchers. PhD students at UDSU are key contributors of, and are involved in teaching both undergraduate and postgraduate courses in a research-led teaching and learning process. Our topics include aspects related to:

  • User engagement
  • Spatial analysis/modelling of social profiles
  • Economic activities
  • Urban centres
  • Transport strategies/resources & design which encompasses all the above in a new approach to masterplanning, which we call Plot-Based Urbanism
  • Morphometrics & evolution in the urban form
  • Assessing urban design qualities in the streetscape
  • Modelling resilience in urban form
  • Urban form & change in informal settlements
  • Measuring & correlating urban form

For detailed information and material and links to each of these topics, please visit the USDU website.