Prof Sergio Porta


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.


Masterplanning for change : design as a way to create the conditions for time sensitive place-making
Romice Ombretta, Porta Sergio, Feliciotti Alessandra, Barbour Gordon Cleland
PlacemakingPlacemaking, (2017)
Urban regeneration, masterplans and resilience : the case of the Gorbals in Glasgow
Feliciotti Alessandra, Romice Ombretta, Porta Sergio
Urban Morphology Vol 21, (2017)
Correlating street network and urban blocks in the city centre of Tripoli
Remali Adel Mohammad, Porta Sergio
Urban Morphology, (2017)
Sustainable plot-based urban regeneration and traditional masterplanning practice in Glasgow
Barbour Gordon Cleland, Romice Ombretta, Porta Sergio
Open House International Vol 41, pp. 15-22, (2016)
Design for change : five proxies for resilience in the urban form
Feliciotti Alessandra, Romice Ombretta, Porta Sergio
Open House International Vol 41, pp. 23-30, (2016)
The road to masterplanning for change and the design of resilient places
Romice Ombretta, Porta Sergio, Feliciotti Alessandra
Architectural Research in Finland Vol 1, (2016)

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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 (

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 (; moreover, a first analytical research on 45 UK cases is now also available ( 

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" (  

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 (

Professional activities

Four talks in India on Building Beauty
The Innocence of Places: Chronicle of a Pilgrimage
Keynote speaker
Building Beauty: Ecologic Design and Construction Process
Keynote speaker
International PUARL Conference: The Regenerative City
UN Habitat III: Thematic meeting on public spaces
Invited speaker
ISUF 2015

more professional activities


A new dimension for data-driven urbanism: studying the form of preference
Romice, Ombretta (Principal Investigator) Porta, Sergio (Co-investigator)
Period 01-Oct-2016 - 31-Jan-2017
Doctoral Training Grant 2010 | Pasino, Paola
Agapiou, Andrew (Principal Investigator) Porta, Sergio (Co-investigator) Pasino, Paola (Research Co-investigator)
Period 01-Feb-2009 - 15-May-2016
Doctoral Training Center in the Built Environment Futures
Porta, Sergio (Academic) Agapiou, Andrew (Academic) Clarke, Joseph (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
Period 30-Jun-2014
L'Abitare Futuro (The Future Dwelling)
Porta, Sergio (Academic)
Commission from National Consortium of Construction Cooperatives of Italy for a research on the future of construction cooperatives in Italy.
Period 16-Oct-2013 - 31-May-2014
KTA - Multiple Centrality Assessment (MCA) as a strategic modelling tool for use in urban regeneration
Porta, Sergio (Principal Investigator)
The partner company is a leading proponent of traditional urbanism and advances the discipline through professional debate and research. The portfolio includes major urban extensions, new settlements and small-scale infill. By collaborating with the University of Strathclyde Architecture Department they will be able to embed Multiple Centrality Assessment (MCA) as a strategic modelling tool for use in urban regeneration, therefore delivering positive economic and societal impact for affected communities.
Period 01-Aug-2011 - 30-Sep-2012
Seminar on Evolution of Complex Transportation Systems
Porta, Sergio (Principal Investigator) Estrada, Ernesto (Co-investigator) Oppo, Gian-Luca (Co-investigator) Strano, Emanuele (Post Grad Student)
Overview Transportation networks play a fundamental role for the organization of natural, technological and cultural systems. The form and the properties of a number of systems are intrinsically linked with their underlying transportation networks: the growth of cities is shaped by their streets pretty much in the same way as the growth of organisms depends on the existence of a well developed circulatory or transportation system. Therefore transportation networks are more than just a set of channels where all kinds of goods flow between different places: they constitute the actual skeleton on top of which the systems develop and organize. Focusing on transportation, it is possible to address multi-disciplinary questions with a language and a level of description common to different scientific domains. In fact, network-like systems are found in many different urban, geographical, biological and physical systems and all these systems rise similar questions related to their local and global topological organization, the distribution of centralities, the spreading of information and their evolution across time. The seminar addressed problems associated with the evolution of complex transportation systems. While the main focus of the workshop was on urban systems, contributions from other fields, such as physics and biology were also welcomed, because of the intrinsically interdisciplinary nature of the questions to be addressed! It is now clear that describing and understanding the growth of transportation systems is one of big scientific challenges for the next years and this workshop will contribute to define the common advances and future challenges across a multidisciplinary area of knowledge. ECTN was an event supported by UDSU, Urban Design Studies Unit , and ICSS Institute of Complex System at Strathclyde, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow
Period 29-Aug-2011 - 30-Aug-2011

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