Professor Sergio Porta

Architecture

Personal statement

I am professor of Urban Design and Director of UDSU - Urban Design Studies Unit. I have been Head of Department of Architecture in 2011-14. I teach the MSc in Urban Design studio for students in Y5 with a background in Architecture as well as in various other areas.

I am interested in what makes our cities a great place to live in, raise children, learn stuff, run businesses 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 in time. Basically, it comes from history and evolution. Once you have digested this simple truth fully in all its aspects - and indeed it takes time - then everything changes. Adaptability becomes paramount, people become crucial, informal participation becomes 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 self-organize in a way that is good for all.

We at UDSU pull together urban morphology, environmental psychology, "classic" urban planning analysis, 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.

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

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
Big box, short life: little box, long life : the democracy of resilience: plot-based urbanism, evolution and informal participation
Porta Sergio, Romice Ombretta, Feliciotti Alessandra, Rudlin David
(2018)
The road to masterplanning for change and the design of resilient places
Romice Ombretta, Porta Sergio, Feliciotti Alessandra
Architectural Research in Finland Vol 1, pp. 11-26 (2017)

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/).

A fundamental frontier of research involves a quantitative approach to urban morphology in a truly evolutionary perspective. That is the statistical characterization of different types of urban fabrics taken from the history of cities in order to infer similarity and ultimately “parental” relationships between them; this is named Urban Morphometrics. A first working-paper has been released that defines the field of research (http://www.udsu-strath.com/5-publications/5-3-udsu-wp/working-papers-2011-urban-morphometrics/); moreover, a first analytical research on 45 UK cases is now also available (http://arxiv.org/abs/1506.04875). 

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).  

In urban design and masterplanning, our latest research links up to Urban Morphometrics by exploring the definition of procedures, attitudes and tools for sustainable/human/adaptive urban analysis and design, ranging from GIS-based space analysis to sustainable community design, mobility planning and traffic calming to strategies for safety and liveability in the public domain and community engagement in decision making. The theoretical development of my ideas on urbanity and change has been summarised under a notion of Plot-Based Urbanism (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
The Modern City: a Cultural Evolutionary Approach
Speaker
19/6/2019
CEE Spring Symposium 2019
Participant
13/6/2019
Ecological and Evolutionary Perspectives in Urban Morphology (EEPUM)
Participant
26/2/2019
Achieving Sustainability Through Inclusive heritage Based Development in Asian Cities
Invited speaker
12/2/2019
External Examiner
Examiner
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