Professor Sergio Porta

Architecture

Personal statement

I am professor of Urban Design, Director of UDSU - Urban Design Studies Unit, Course Director of the MSc in Urban Design, and former Head of Department at the Department of Architecture.

I am interested in what makes our cities a great place to live in, raise children, learn stuff, run business and have fun, for us as well as for the next generations, still remaining human. At the core of it all there is one game-changing lesson: the quality that makes our cities sound and enjoyable does not come by design. It comes by the uncoordinated efforts of people and organisations in time. Basically, it comes from history and evolution. Once you have digested this simple truth fully and in all its aspects - and indeed it takes time - then everything changes. Adaptability becomes paramount, people crucial, informal participation more important than formal participation, and you as a designer begin thinking differently. Ultimately, "design for change" becomes much more than a buzzword: it means that your mission is just to ensure the conditions (primarily spatial and environmental, in our case) for those uncoordinated efforts to emerge and evolve in a way that maintains the systems in operation (resilience) and is good for all (sustainability).

We at UDSU pull together urban morphology, environmental psychology, "classic" urban planning analysis, advanced spatial analysis and community engagement into a science of urban design for change. We do all what we can to do that through an evidence-based approach across everything we do. For example, we are developing a new ground for understanding urban evolution by taking the long-standing analogy with biological evolution to a higher level, that of the empirical science. By doing that, we exit the analogical, and enter into the ontological level of the relation: both living and urban spatial systems, along with cultural, social, economic and ecologic, are complex adaptive systems. 

And yes, we love making masterplans, good-old masterplans that work in time by informing a truly democratic process of urban change in time.

Publications

Masterplanning for Change : Designing the resilient city
Romice Ombretta, Porta Sergio, Feliciotti Alessandra
(2019)
Morphological tessellation as a way of partitioning space : improving consistency in urban morphology at the plot scale
Fleischmann Martin, Feliciotti Alessandra, Romice Ombretta, Porta Sergio
Computers, Environment and Urban Systems Vol 80 (2019)
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compenvurbsys.2019.101441
On the origin of spaces : morphometric foundations of urban form evolution
Dibble Jacob, Prelorendjos Alexios, Romice Ombretta, Zanella Mattia, Strano Emanuele, Pagel Mark, Porta Sergio
Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design Vol 46, pp. 707-730 (2019)
https://doi.org/10.1177/2399808317725075
From system ecology to urban morphology : towards a theory of urban form resilience
Feliciotti Alessandra, Romice Ombretta, Porta Sergio
International Forum on Urbanism (2018)
Urban form resilience urban design practice : masterplanning for change
Romice Ombretta, Feliciotti Alessandra, Porta Sergio
International Forum on Urbanism (2018)
Main street plot scale in urban design for inclusive economies : Stockholm case studies
Danenberg Rosa, Mehaffy Michael, Porta Sergio, Elmlund Peter
Proceedings of the ICE - Urban Design and Planning Vol 171 (2018)
https://doi.org/10.1680/jurdp.18.00031

more publications

Research interests

My research sits in three areas: 1. Urban Morphology and Street Network analysis, 2. Construction and Therapy, and 3. Urban Design. Overall, I am trying to set up a scientific approach to urban form production and evolution, with a focus on people/environment relations and direct community construction.

More in detail:

I conduct joint research on street networks and spatial centrality with physicists like Vito Latora, Luciano Da Fontoura Costa and Marc Barthelemy. This research is about mapping centrality in urban spaces and establishing correlations with relevant dynamics such as land-use, vehicular or pedestrian flows, crime and real-estate values. A summary of this stream of research has just been published (http://www.udsu-strath.com/5-publications/5-1-articles/articles-2010-networks-in-urban-design-six-years-of-mca-research/).

I also like to think of street network as one of the many characters of urban form. My recent work is increasingly about the quantitative, systematic and comprehensive approach to urban morphology in a truly evolutionary perspective. That entails the statistical definition and characterization of different types of urban forms (urban form taxa) in order to measure their similarity and ultimately infer “parental” relationships between them; this is named Urban MorphoMetrics. Our first foundational paper in this area is here: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/2399808317725075, and the link to urban form resilience is here: http://www.urbanform.org/online_public/2017_1.shtml. But the best is coming up soon. Stay tuned! 

I work with students and communities to the real construction of buildings through a process of direct and collective design/construction, named Construction and Therapy, inspired by Chris Alexander. The involvement of end-users throughout three phases (Land Exploration, Pattern Language and Conception&Construction) is a crucial step towards "healing the people and healing the land" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ksQ3DSu-X44). This generates a radical re-think of architectural education, that I am experimenting at: www.BuildingBeauty.org.  

In urban design and masterplanning, my latest research links up to Urban MorphoMetrics by exploring sustainable/human/resilient urban analysis and design. The theoretical development of my ideas on urbanity and change, as developed thrpugh about 15 years of academic work with colleagues at UDSU (http://www.udsu-strath.com) is presented in Masterplanning for Change, our new book soon on shelves (June 2020) for RIBA Publishing. Preliminary papers are here: http://www.udsu-strath.com/3-research/masterplanning-for-change-design-as-a-way-to-create-the-conditions-for-time-sensitive-place-making/; http://www.udsu-strath.com/5-publications/5-3-udsu-wp/working-papers-2011-plot-based-urbanism/).

Professional activities

International Seminar on Urban Form
Organiser
29/6/2021
International Seminar on Urban Form
Chair
29/6/2021
World Architecture Festival
Speaker
4/12/2019
Uppsala University
Visiting researcher
2/12/2019
Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (External organisation)
Advisor
10/2019
The Modern City: a Cultural Evolutionary Approach
Speaker
19/6/2019

more professional activities

Projects

Urban Form Resilience: Morphometrics Foundations and Urban Design Practice
Porta, Sergio (Principal Investigator) Le Roux, Michelle (Researcher)
ISP International Strategic Partnership, Joint PhD Cluster with Polytechnic of Milan
15-Jan-2018 - 15-Jan-2021
The Urban Form Resilience Project:
Porta, Sergio (Principal Investigator) Romice, Ombretta (Co-investigator)
01-Jan-2017 - 30-Jan-2020
A new dimension for data-driven urbanism: studying the form of preference
Romice, Ombretta (Principal Investigator) Porta, Sergio (Co-investigator)
01-Jan-2016 - 31-Jan-2017
Doctoral Training Center in the Built Environment Futures
Porta, Sergio (Academic) Bradley, Fiona (Academic) Agapiou, Andrew (Academic) Clarke, Joseph Andrew (Academic) Bellingham, Richard (Academic)
The projects achieved funding for the creation of a new Doctoral Training Center in the Built Environment Future at the Department of Architecture
30-Jan-2014
L'Abitare Futuro (The Future Dwelling)
Porta, Sergio (Academic) Vigano, Federica (Academic) Rosina, Alessandro (Academic)
Commission from National Consortium of Construction Cooperatives of Italy for a research on the future of construction cooperatives in Italy.
15-Jan-2013 - 31-Jan-2014
BRE Framework Collaboration / S130160-103
Porta, Sergio (Principal Investigator)
01-Jan-2013 - 30-Jan-2020

more projects