What is Urban Morphology?

In a narrow sense, urban morphology refers to the study of physical arrangement or structure of town. In a wider sense, it may be defined as a study of relationships of urban landscape with its occupiers in terms of patterns and distribution of socio-economic and political activities. Hence, urban morphology is not only a study of layout of buildings, roads, institutions etc. but it is also significant in defining socio-economic and political fabric of the urban landscape.

Let’s Simplify Urban Morphology

  • In general sense, morphology is study of shapes and structure.
  • So, it is a science of shapes and structure of urban areas.

Shape of Urban Areas

  • Shape of city refers to the general spread of residential and commercial settlements in the city.
  • The physical landscape plays most important role in determining shape of city. For instance, city on a conical hill stations is likely to have Nebular Pattern. The Ooty city in Tamil Nadu is a famous example of nebular pattern.
  • The transport and communication network defines the shape of a city, also.

Structure of Urban Areas

  • Structure of urban area refers to the spatial distribution and layout of administrative, commercial, industrial and residential buildings.
  • Usually, the locations of commercial and residential buildings are in proximity to each other to enable the workers to reach their workplace, easily.
  • Similarly, the industrial units are in proximity to the large roadways and railways to ensure easy import of intermediary goods and export of finished goods.

The theories of shape and the structure of the city has been explained in Concentric Zone Model, The Wedge/ Sector Model and Multiple Nuclei Mode.

Types of Models in Urban Morphology

There are two types of models which explain the morphology of a city or town.

  1. Specific Models: These models explain the certain type of urban structure or its hierarchy. For example, a model of road network in a city includes the pattern of layout of roads or different hierarchy. The hierarchy of roads refers to the different types of roads e.g. National Highways, State Highways, Double Lane and Single Lane roads.
  2. Holistic Models: These models explain the urban shape and structure in a comprehensive manner. These models show the socio-economic and political situation of city in conjunction with physical structure of the city. For example, Harvey’s study on black ghettoes in Chicago explain the relationship between spatial segregation of black population to exclude them from utilizing the urban amenities. Harvey’s study include social, economic, cultural and political aspects of urban structure of Chicago city.


Urban morphology is of special usage to planners and policy makers. They can use these models for targeted investment in urban infrastructure and to reduce socio-economic inequalities.