November 17, 2010

Understanding The Evolution of Urban Form

New Planners Press book provides an illustrated guide to how physical environments are created, changed, and transformed over time.

CHICAGO — Ever notice how communities across the country all look the same? The same strip malls, the same housing types, the same sprawl. Author and University of Utah dean Brenda Case Scheer, AICP, believes that this is because most of the built environment is constructed following a few physical building patterns that are repeated over and over — and that we can't effectively change these places until we come to terms with why these patterns are so persistent.

In her new book, The Evolution of Urban Form: Typology for Planners and Architects, Scheer offers the first analytical urban design book that describes how to use typology to look at a place, analyze it and understand the forces that affect what happens in it. It also spells out what typology is and why it matters.

The book is an illustrated guide to some of the most fundamentally misunderstood mechanisms in land use and building design. Scheer argues that too few planning and design professionals really understand the origination and evolution of types. She believes that without this knowledge, planners and architects cannot create useful change with the available tools and resources.

"Too many architects and planners fail to understand that types evolve and emerge; they are not wholly invented," said Scheer. "Designers must also give consideration to the cultural and economic circumstances that drive building types. Without developing this kind of knowledge, very little will change in the built environment."

Scheer stresses the importance of understanding how cities have physically evolved. "Common building types and their adoption over time by builders are significant keys to understanding how cities change and how this change is accomplished or controlled," said Scheer.

The Evolution of Urban Form provides a much-needed resource in understanding what urban design changes can be easily accomplished and what changes are far more difficult and perhaps inadvisable.

The Evolution of Urban Form: Typology for Planners and Architects is published by the American Planning Association's Planners Press. It is available immediately through for $46.95 ($31.95 for APA members).

ISBN: 978-1-932364-87-3
Hardcover: 144 pp.

About the Author

Brenda Case Scheer, AICP, is the dean of the College of Architecture + Planning at the University of Utah. Previously she was an associate professor of urban planning at the University of Cincinnati. Scheer received her bachelor's and master's degrees from Rice University. She was a Research Fellow for the Rice Center for Community Design and Research and a Loeb Fellow in Environmental Studies for the Harvard Graduate School of Design. She is a registered architect in Utah and Ohio and is a certified planner by APA's professional institute, the American Institute of Certified Planners.

Advance Praise

"One of the most thoughtful and penetrating critiques of form-based regulations and new urbanism. Scheer provides a fresh perspective on the relation between ideal forms and actual places. Essential reading for all thinking planners and architects."
— Christopher J. Duerksen, Managing Director/Principal, Clarion Associates

"Scheer's investigation of building types in the context of urbanism offers a rigorous introduction for students as well as a strong review for academics and practitioners. She brings the study of typo-morphology up to date by connecting it to the discourse on emergent systems — explaining how building types not only originate but also evolve. The book is especially valuable in that it avoids traditionalist nostalgia and tries to understand the most 'disordered' parts of our American urban fabric in a way that is honest and optimistic about possibilities for change in the contemporary metropolis."
— Marshall Brown, Illinois Institute of Technology


Roberta Rewers, APA Public Affairs; 312-786-6395;