05 Cluster

Urban metamorphology

The invisible form of contemporary city

“Meta” comes from the Greek prefix μετά-, meaning "after" or "beyond". In English it indicates a concept, which is an abstraction from another concept or set of types.

“Morphology”, means the study of urban form or shape and their types - be it in geography, biology, or urbanism.

By “urban metamorphology” we mean the form of the invisible image of the city, the footprint of our digital traces, the collective image of place emerging from cultural artefacts.

Urban form is a classic object of enquiry in architecture and planning. Currently, digital connectivity challenges the power of physical space in explaining how we use and experience urban places. Whole new patterns of local, city-wide, regional and international uses are emerging.

SPIN Unit provides a situated conceptual and analytic approach, metamorphology, to better understand the contemporary urban process and phenomena. Combining spatial configuration, known amenities and the everyday activities people engage in, the metamorphological approach paints a novel view to the city.


In architecture and urban planning, a rich tradition of analysis and practice foregrounds physical space and spatial configuration as the set of constraints that shape flows of people and direct the evolution of urban activity patterns.
We argue for a fresh view on urban dynamics, a view that puts the activities people engage in buildings and public urban space on par with space. We claim that architects, planners and developers can influence the evolution of cities as well through fostering new activities as through intervening in space. Temporary uses is one example of this type of urban change.

Interaction studies

We prioritise the use of data sources that are easily accessible, available, and that remains valid across countries and social strata.
Harvesting data from different sources allows us to abandon traditional survey methods, and rely almost exclusively on new technology. By sifting through the wealth of data collected by sensors across the city and social media, we can perform partially automated digital surveys that provide new insight into social patterns, as well as into the way the city is lived and perceived.

FIFA cities 3

Social-media data

This way we can understand not only the relationship between different groups and the city, but also the potential of certain locations and public spaces. We can highlight problems.

What appears as a design problem (shops in a certain neighbourhood only have one window, separated by a certain distance, do not attract passers-by and encourage them stop) may be an interaction problem (how can we re-engineer the way people interact with the environment, without necessarily affecting the urban fabric itself with architectural interventions?).

Perceptible cities

Our goal however is never to just build a complex, multi-dimensional data set to mine for potentially meaningful relationships.

Using digital surveys allows the same penetration as ordinary interviews and surveys, without however the influence and biases introduced by the interview itself, a strong deviation from the traditional Kevin Lynch perspective. In addition, using the same processes and techniques one can evaluate the impact of the project after it has been carried out. We hope to detect a perceivable impact on the urban population, including those who don’t use or are not necessarily affected by the urban features in question.

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Changing the planning practice

This approach can be used extensively across the entire planning, design, implementation, and evaluation processes. The take-away message is not about looking into existing scenarios for ways in which this new attitude to data collection and analysis can be deployed. Rather, we would like you to have a new awareness of new technologies and metamorphological tools, and how they can be used to tackle new problems alongside existing techniques next year, or in the next decade.

More than just urban design, it is a way to apply or change regulation, especially when designing or updating city plans.