Design with forms as well as patterns


Jiaxiu Cai
TU Delft, Architecture and the Built Environment
Keywords: morphological approach, design with patterns, design with forms


The research investigates How can the morphological approach in combination with the pattern language approach assist urban designers to achieve historical continuity in urban design both on theory and application levels.

This research overviews the developments and applications of the two approaches worldwide with a special emphasis on the Dutch school. The Dutch morphological reduction technique and the Dutch interpretation of a pattern language are used in the case study–Wuhan, a Chinese city–to study the transformation of urban form and life style. The multi-scalar historical morphological analysis results in an atlas that consists of four series of analytical maps on three levels of scale as well as 13 spatial structuring elements of the city; whereas the public life study results in a pattern book consisting of 20 individual patterns and three pattern languages. The practical implications and relevance for -- the design of -- the future of the city are discussed.

The research is set up in a systematic and symmetrical manner for comparison of and reflection on the two approaches. It concludes that:

The morphological approach can be used to interpret first space (perceived space) and convey its information into second space (conceived space), whereas the pattern language approach can be used to interpret third space (lived space) and convey its information into second space (conceived space).

The morphological approach has a tendency to work from large scale to small scale and the pattern language approach tends to be built up from small scale to large scale, whereas urban design works with multiple scales at the same time.

The morphological approach and the pattern language approach provide means for urban designers to systematically recognize historical layers so as to distill the meaning in the physical and non-physical contexts respectively. Consirately adding another layer that contains the contemporary meaning (design intervention) to these recognized layers is the way to pass down and simultaneously generate incremental change in the tradition of the context. This results in historical continuity and thus in permanence in urban design.

The morphological approach, the pattern language approach, and urban design are processes in themselves and can be combined into one integrated process.

The morphological approach, the pattern language approach and urban design are characterized by reduction, abstraction, interpretation, and communication.

Some properties of the two approaches can be seen as counterparts, because the roles these properties play in the design process tend to be similar:

—— Individual homogeneous areas vs Individual patterns;

—— Structural homogeneous areas vs Anchoring points/ Structuring patterns;

—— Secondary connections in homogeneous areas vs Linkages between patterns;

—— ? / Typology of homogeneous areas vs Clusters of patterns

Author Biography

Jiaxiu Cai, TU Delft, Architecture and the Built Environment

Jiaxiu CAI (1985) was born in Changchun, Jilin province, P.R. China. She obtained a Bachelor of Architecture (2008) and a Master of Architecture in Architecture Design and its Theory (2012) in the School of Architecture and Urban Planning in Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan. During her master studies, she was teaching in the bachelor design studio as an assistant and involved in a local architecture firm working on a series of market driven architecture and urban design projects. From 2008 to 2009, she participated in the Poverty Alleviation Relay Program of the Central Committee of the Communist Young League. It is a state-led relay program sending postgraduate students to the poorest villages in China to teach for a year.

In 2012, she received a scholarship from China Scholarship Council to support her Ph.D research at the chair of Urban Design in the Department of Urbanism, Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, Delft University of Technology (TU Delft), the Netherlands. From 2016, she has been teaching in design studios in the Urbanism Master Program and Minor Program.

She was the international collaboration coordinator of two municipal urban planning and design institutions in China, Wuhan Land Use and Urban Spatial Planning Research Centre (2014 to 2017), and Changchun Institute of Urban Planning and Design (2016 to 2017). She has been the international design studio coordinator and guest teacher of the School of Architecture and Urban Planning in Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST), Wuhan, China (2014 to 2017). She was awarded a half-year fellowship by the Urban Knowledge Network Asia (UKNA) at the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS), the Netherlands, to conduct research and give lectures in leading Chinese universities and institutions (2015 to 2016).

Being a curiosity-driven and internationally oriented person, with her Chinese and European educational background and working experiences, she feels the deep desire and strong wish to explore the world, especially in the urban design profession. She is always delighted and very enthusiastic to work together with colleagues and aim for any international collaborations in research projects and urban design practices.



March 27, 2020

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