Towards a methodology for flexible urban design: Designing with urban patterns and shape grammars

José P. Duarte, José Beirão

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Traditional urban plans use definitive design systems, without the flexibility required to deal with the complexity and change that characterize contemporary urban societies. To conceive urban plans with increased flexibility, a shape grammar-based design methodology is proposed which is capable of producing various design solutions instead of a single rigid layout. In this approach the plan is a design system encoding a set of alternative solutions, rather than a single, specific solution. This methodology was developed on the basis of the analysis of existing plans and on a series of experiments undertaken within the controlled environment of design studios. Results show that shape grammars produce urban plans with nondefinitive formal solutions, while keeping a consistent design language. They also provide plans with explicit and implicit flexibility, thereby giving future designers a wider degree of freedom. As a result, they are particularly appropriate for dealing with complexity and change throughout the legal lifespan of the plan. Finally, they provide students with a concrete methodology for approaching urban design, fostering the development of additional design skills.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)879-902
Number of pages24
JournalEnvironment and Planning B: Planning and Design
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • General Environmental Science


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