Last edited 04 Sep 2020

Urban fabric

The term ‘urban’ relates to cities and settlements of high population and infrastructure density. Urban areas are distinct from rural areas which are more sparsely spread, often surrounded by open countryside or agricultural land, and with lower population densities. The Home Quality Mark suggests an urban area is one with a population of 10,000 people or more, located within a tract of predominantly built-up land.

The term ‘urban fabric’ describes the physical characteristics of urban areas, that is, cities, and towns. This includes the streetscapes, buildings, soft and hard landscaping, signage, lighting, roads and other infrastructure. Urban fabric can be thought of as the physical texture of an urban area.

The term does not include traffic, people or socio-economic or political considerations.

Urban fabric may be more easily considered in a typical medieval town with more limited components than the modern city. These components included the enclosing wall, its towers and gates, the streets and interconnecting circulation spaces, the market place (and hall if there was one), other commercial buildings, churches, general town buildings and private garden spaces.

In modern parlance, the term ‘urban fabric’ may have become overused. Typical contemporary usage includes:

  • ‘The building’s façade is not in keeping with the urban fabric’ – suggesting a discordancy with the surroundings (context), and
  • ‘The urban fabric of the inner city presents a tough environment for children’.

Architects typically give consideration to the urban fabric when designing buildings in towns or cities, sometimes preparing drawings that emphasise the layout of an area and the interrelationships between its elements rather than the buildings themselves.

See also: Urban grain.

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