Analyzing urban morphology with large-scale vector data and high-resolution satellite imagery: a metric-based approach

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingMeeting abstract (Book)


Approximately half of the world population is living in urbanized areas, and that number is about to rise in the next decades. As a result of rapid urbanisation cities undergo morphological transformations that change the form of the urban fabric. While urbanisation manifests itself most clearly through urban sprawl, also within the urban fabric, at the level of street blocks, changes take place that impact the spatial organisation of the city and the way urban spaces are used. Many studies have focused on the use of remote sensing data for monitoring urban sprawl. More recently, with the availability of high-resolution satellite data, the potential of remote sensing for describing and monitoring urban form at more detailed scale levels is being investigated.
A promising approach for analyzing urban morphology is by defining urban metrics that describe the composition and the spatial relationships between the different elements that constitute the urban fabric, similar to the use of spatial metrics in landscape ecological research. Recent studies have shown the potential of this approach for identifying distinct types of urban form and function, within relative homogeneous areas that define the urban fabric, e.g. street blocks. The spatial relationships between constructed and open spaces within street blocks, as well as the arrangement of individual buildings within the constructed space, play a fundamental role in the analysis of urban form, and may also provide information on the use of urban spaces. Urban metrics, specifically developed to describe these relationships may be interesting tools for analysing urban form and for studying morphological transformations of the urban fabric at the synoptic level.
Recent work on the application of urban metrics on large-scale vector data describing the built-up area already demonstrated the potential of the method. Although the widespread use of GIS-based tools makes that nowadays for many cities large-scale vector data sets are produced, containing detailed information on the structure of the built-up area, these data sets are not available for every urban region, or their temporal resolution may be inappropriate to adequately monitor changes in the urban fabric. Furthermore, these data sets are often restricted to plot boundaries and/or building footprints and do not include information on the physical appearance of the matrix surrounding the built-up area. High-resolution remote sensing imagery may be an interesting data source for morphological analysis of urban areas in the absence of large-scale vector data, and may also offer complementary information on the physical appearance of urban spaces that is not included in large-scale urban plans (e.g. on sealed surface cover or vegetation characteristics). Although a clear delineation of (individual) dwellings is not feasible when solely using satellite imagery, the temporal resolution and spatial consistency are clear advantages, stimulating efforts to extract information on urban form/function directly from satellite data.
This research focuses on the potential of high-resolution satellite imagery, solely and in combination with large-scale vector data, for describing and mapping urban form and function, using metrics, specifically developed for urban form analysis. The study focuses on the Brussels Capital Region, for which a typology of urban form was defined, and makes use of the UrbIS large-scale reference data base of the region, and of Ikonos high-resolution satellite imagery.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBelgian Geography Days 2010
Publication statusPublished - 22 Oct 2010


  • remote sensing
  • urban form
  • urban morphology
  • spatial metrics


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