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Urban morphological study as a method of urban design assessment in the historic context of Iranian cities: a case study on Urmia

Soleimani, Meysam
A controversial large-scale project at the historic core of the city of Urmia in Iran, has been the starting point of the present study. The Imam Square project was enthusiastically proposed as a solution for the revitalization of the decayed areas in the historic city center. However, the failure of the first phase of the project has given rise to serious doubts about its progress for approximately eight years. The present study argues that without understanding the morphological logic of a city and its evolution through time in relation with its socio-cultural structure, any interventions on the historic urban context can be problematic. Urban morphology is used as a tool to analyze the traditional urban structure of Urmia and its transformation up to the present time. The analyses are done based on four periods of time and in different scales from the city level to the scale of the urban block. The analytical methods of Space Syntax are used to better understand how the morphological characteristics of the traditional town of Urmia have changed. A comparative study is conducted on the current Imam Square and the traditional Bugda Meydan located next to the project area. The Axial Map, Segment Map and Visual Graph analyses are used to prepare the models of measures: Integration HH and R3, Choice, Step Depth, Visual Integration and Visual Clustering Coefficient. The comparison of models and numerical values illustrates that the traditional urban structure of Urmia has been radically transformed since the early 20th century as a result of urban modernization. While the traditional Bugda Meydan possessed a unique place in the historic city, what are the reasons that Imam Square cannot achieve the same success in the contemporary Urmia? The methodology proposed in the thesis has been rarely applied to study an urban design project in the Iranian context. In order to provide the consistency and reliability of the results, the methods are applied to evaluate seven case studies from the Iranian cities. Meaningful results have been achieved particularly by the correlation between the measures of Visual Integration and Visual Clustering Coefficient by which the areas with maximum centrality and the potential for a place to be a node where activities concentrate can be identified. It is demonstrated that the methods can also be applied to other Iranian cities. The case studies have contributed to further development of the methodology of the research and to identify two configuration patterns according which the traditional meydans were organized. These patterns guaranteed the success of meydan as a multi-functional urban space in the traditional cities of Iran that needs to be considered in any contemporary intervention. The present study reveals the significance of urban morphology for a traditional city and provides a methodological approach to evaluate new urban design projects in the historic context.