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interview ISSN 2175-6708


Nesta entrevista concedida à Alessandro Rosaneli, a arquiteta e paisagista Anne Vernez Moudon apresenta importantes considerações para aqueles interessados no estudo da forma urbana e nos possíveis desdobramentos metodológicos

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ROSANELI, Alessandro Filla; SHACH-PINSLY, Dalit. Anne Vernez Moudon. Entrevista, São Paulo, year 10, n. 040.01, Vitruvius, oct. 2009 <>.

Anne Vernez Moudon
Photo Alessandro Filla Rosaneli, 2008

Urban form in which way?

The architect and landscape architect Anne Vernez Moudon is adored by her graduate students at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle, US. Her sympathy, professor patience and provocative insights are certainly the main reasons among those students who valued attend their classes since 1981. And behind her good humor, she is a researcher of high caliber, whose interest focuses on the investigation of the physical space and the built environment. In recent years, always with the support of urban morphology, she has been undertaking various interdisciplinary studies, especially focused on issues of urban mobility and health. And her contributions to urban morphology can also be felt in her positions as president of ISUF (1) between 1997 and 2005, and as coordinator of the Urban Form Lab (College of Architecture and Urban Planning at UW).

In Brazil, the urban morphology as an investigative method has lately arisen great interest among researchers. Perhaps the greatest measure was the massive participation of Brazilian scholars in the 14th ISUF of Ouro Preto, in 2007, whose success was highlighted in the ISUF’s publications. In fact, the research possibilities within this approach are numerous and promising. However, the challenges for the consolidation of research lines in this area are still exist because of the methodologies used, originally created for other contexts (2).

The urban morphology is established as a field of study in mid-twentieth century, reasoned from the contribution of European scholars committed to building a methodology that supports the study of physical and spatial structure of cities. However, during the nineteenth century, significant movements were already starting to propel for subsequent structuring, with the founding reason focused on the topographic maps as history source (3). First, in France, Antoine-Chrysostome Quatremere de Quincy (1755 - 1849) identified the usefulness of maps in the interpretation of the history of cities, monitoring the progress and changes in their physical structure. On the other hand, in Germany, the pioneer scholar to understand this possibility was the historian Johannes Fritz, whose work "Deutsche Stadtanlagen" (1894) would exert a profound influence on other authors, especially in Germany itself (Kretzschmar, Keyser, Schlüter) and France (Lavedan, Poet). Thus, by mid-century, the foundations of urban morphology were gradually being built, a fact that facilitated the subsequent, independent and almost simultaneous development of different "schools” of thought: Italian, English and French.

However, despite some inappropriate interpretations, such linguistic diversity and also a disciplinary diversity addressed cultural and methodological issues that still affect decisively the construction of a competing approach (4). The urban morphology could be seen as "the study of the physical (or built) fabric of urban form, and the people and processes shaping it" (5), generally accepted definition for ISUF that, however, provides greater detailing.

In fact, regarding the relevance of subfields "micromorphology" and "macromorphology", the approach of urban morphology "make explicit that elements in the built landscape are organized hierarchically in space" (6). The same author, when presenting in detail the construction of interdisciplinary theoretical base in the field, whose basic premise is that "the city can be read and analyzed for its physical form”, shows the three fundamental principles of morphological analysis:

1. Urban form is defined by three fundamental physical elements: buildings and their related open spaces, plots or lots, and streets. 2. Urban form can be understood at different levels of resolution. Commonly, four levels are recognized, corresponding to the building/lot, the street/block, the city, and the region. 3. Urban form can only be understood historically since the elements of which it is comprised undergo continuous transformation and replacement. (7)

Nevertheless, these three principles - "shape, resolution and time" - can come together in different ways, because of the inquiring purposes and the subject of analysis. The construction of these common propositions, however, was constituted from various collaborations, often concurrent in time, but almost with no exchange. Thus, the diverse original intent that each school has built its conceptual base promoted different theoretical directions (8).

The European experience, after all, has been fleshed out in other contexts. In the United States, the urban form is configured as a direct reflection of the "commercialism" predomination in a liberal capitalist environment, which makes the cities 'economic machines' aimed to producing material abundance, favoring the utilitarianism at the expense of "beautification". This fact would allow easy identification of the absence of certain common attributes to European and Asian cities (9). As a result, much of the historical and geographical studies tend to be oriented towards the understanding of the original plans, in an attempt to identify physical principles and different typologies. M. Conzen’s studies, son of the geographer M. R. G. Conzen, are important references in applying the principles of the English school in the United States. They help to alleviate what he considers “the lack of a geographical analysis of the structure of urban plans" and "systematic study of regional distribution of American town planning types by period and region, detailing the geographical diffusion of plan ideas, dimensions, geometries, and decision-making” (10). At this point, these studies unveil important contributions to the establishment of a comparative view of urban form that the U.S. will certainly invite Pan American scrutiny.

During this interview - made on two occasions in the month of May 2008, at the facilities of the UW - Anne presented important considerations for those interested in the study of urban form and the possible methodological developments. Moreover, like any good conversation, it offered a variety of provocations; the preserved here are intended to promote a wider discussion about ways of thinking and action in the city. In this sense, the discussion about the relevance of design spaces or places, the presumptions of New Urbanism Movement and the scope of the work of Kevin Lynch in academic life and career of architects and planners allow enrich the existing debate.

Anne also taught at the University of California, Berkeley (1973 - 1975) and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1975 - 1981). She earned her master's degree at the University of California, Berkeley (1969), and her PhD at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland (1987). She collaborates with several journals, as author and member of scientific committee and editorial.


The International Seminar on Urban Form is an international organization established in 1994 and headquartered at the University of Birmingham, England, which the yearly publication "Urban Morphology," since January 1997, constitutes one of the leading publications for the dissemination of work in this field of study. To understand the genesis and goals of this institution, see MOUDON, A. V. Urban morphology as an emerging interdisciplinary field. In: Urban Morphology n 1, 1997, p. 3 - 10 and

ROSANELI, A. F. New Towns of Coffee Frontier: History and Urban Morphology of Towns Founded by Real Estate Companies in Northern Paraná State. São Paulo, 2009. Thesis (Ph.D.), College of Architecture and Urban Planning, University of Sao Paulo.

GAUTHIEZ, B. The history of urban morphology. In: Urban Morphology v. 8, n. 2, 2004, p. 71 -89.

MOUDON, A. V. Getting to Know the Built Landscape: Typomorphology. In: FRANK, K. A. & SCHNEEKLOTH (ed.). Ordering Space: Types in Architecture and Design, 1994; WHITEHAND, J. W. R. British urban morphology: the Conzenian tradition. In: Urban Morphology v. 5, n. 2, 2001, p. 103 -109; LARKHAM, P. J. Misusing ‘morphology’? In: Urban Morphology v. 6, n. 1, 2002, p. 95 -97; GAUTHIEZ, B. The history of urban morphology. In: Urban Morphology v. 8, n. 2, 2004, p. 71 -89.

LARKHAM, P. J. & JONES, A. N. A Glossary of urban form. Birmingham, England: Urban Morphology Research Group, School of Geography, University of Birmingham, 1991, p. 55.

MOUDON, A. V. Thinking about micro and macro urban morphology. In: Urban Morphology v. 6, n. 1, 2002, p. 37.

MOUDON, A. V. Urban morphology as an emerging interdisciplinary field. In: Urban Morphology n. 1, 1997, p. 7.

MOUDON (1994; 1997); SAMUELS, I. Conzen’s last bolt: reflections on Thinking about urban form. In: Urban Morphology v. 9, n. 2, 2005, p. 136 - 144.

CONZEN, M. P. The study of urban form in the United States. In: Urban Morphology v. 5, n. 1, 2001, p. 4 - 5.

Idem, p. 9.


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