Complex Adaptive Systems & Urban Morphogenesis: Analyzing and designing urban fabric informed by CAS dynamics

Sharon Wohl

Research output: ThesisDissertation (TU Delft)

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This dissertation builds upon research that considers how cities operate as Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS). It focuses on how certain characteristics of urban form can support an urban environment's capacity to self-organize, enabling emergent features to appear that, while unplanned, remain highly functional. The main thrust of the work is to unpack how elements of the urban fabric might be considered as elements of a complex system and then identify how one might design these elements in a more deliberate manner, such that they hold a greater embedded capacity to respond to changing urban forces. The research is predicated on the notion that, while such responses are both imbricated with, and stewarded by human actors, the specificities of the material characteristics themselves matter. Some forms of material environments hold greater intrinsic physical capacities (or affordances) to enact the kinds of dynamic processes observed in complex systems than others (and can, therefore, be designed with generating these affordances in mind). The Ph.D.'s primary research question is thus:

What physical and morphological conditions need to be in place within an urban environment in order for Complex Adaptive Systems dynamics to have an opportunity to arise - such that the physical components (or ‘building blocks') of the urban environment have an enhanced capacity to discover functional configurations in space and time as a response to unfolding contextual conditions?

The dissertation is based on a compilation of articles that have, for the most part, been published in academic journals.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Delft University of Technology
  • Nadin, V., Supervisor
  • Read, Stephen, Supervisor
Award date13 Jun 2018
Print ISBNs978-94-6366-046-4
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jun 2018

Bibliographical note

A+BE | Architecture and the Built Environment No 10 (2018)


  • Complexity
  • urbanism
  • morphology
  • design
  • emergence


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