Integrated modification methodology

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Integrated modification methodology (IMM)[1] is a design methodology based on a specific process with the main goal of improving the urban energy performance, through the modification of its constituents and optimization of the architecture of their ligands. According to this view, the city, considered as a complex adaptive system (CAS),[2] is not solely a mere aggregation of disconnected energy consumers and the total energy consumption of the city is different from the sum of all of the buildings' consumption. This considerable gap between the total energy consumption of the city and the sum of all consumers is concealed from the urban morphology and urban form of the city. IMM is a multi-stage, iterative process, applied to urban components, for improving their environmental and energy performances, is fundamentally holistic, multi-layer, multi-scale; it investigates the relationships between urban morphology[3] and energy consumption by focusing mostly on the 'subsystems' characterized by physical characters and arrangement. In this methodology, a city consists of the superimposition of an enormous number of interrelated components, categorized in different layers or 'subsystems', which through their inner arrangement and the architecture of their ligands provide a certain physical and provisional arrangement. The constituents of the CAS adapt themselves to react to the newly imposed constraints, in order to improve upon the entire system's performance. The complex adaptive system is composed of heterogeneous elements, linked together either directly or indirectly, and the final system performance emerges from all of the elements as a whole. This adaptation occurs within or on members of a single subsystem, known as horizontal adaptation, and between the different subsystems, termed Vertical Adaptation.[4] In other words, the adaptation of existing members in a subsystem, or horizontal adaptation, as a response to the newly imposed conditions and constraints, changes the subsystem's performance, which will be the cause of the entire system's transformation over time.


Over half of the greenhouse gas emissions are created in and by cities; the majority of the population lives and works in cities, where up to 80% of energy is consumed. The onward march of the population growth rate has been reaching a dramatic measure and has created a series of questions regarding to the overall sustainability of the ecosystem. In fact, this unrestrained trend, which may lead the actual world population to 9.2 billion by 2050, and to 13.2 billion people by 2080, is an urban succession, which impacts directly or indirectly on other phenomena, such as:

  • Urbanization growth.
  • Planet’s deforestation with loss of wildlife habitat, as well as other natural resources.
  • Progressive expansion of the land occupation, for agricultural and dwelling purposes.
  • CO2 emissions increment.
  • Air, land and water quality deterioration.

In this scenario, it is clear how urban areas, as well as their urban design, play a key role in the definition of a long-term strategy for a sustainable development, despite other ephemeral remedies. Reconsidering the location where cities should be located and designed could reduce the CO2 emissions and energy demand, accordingly. In fact, the ultimate goal of our methodology is to identify useful principles and tools, aiming to direct the increasing world urbanization towards more sustainable long-term models, which are characterized by better energy performance and, consequently, better balance that would be achieved between the available resources and the required consumption The enthralling report of the US Energy Information Administration reveals that as the world energy consumption increased from 472 quadrillion Btu in 2006, it will increase further to 552 quadrillion Btu in 2015, and 678 quadrillion Btu in 2030, which a total increase of 44 per cent over the projection period. Also in all EU Member States, gross inland consumption of primary energy had increased throughout the period from 1999 to 2009, except for the United Kingdom (−10.1%). Additionally, the World Bank report illustrates that the modern patterns of city growth are increasingly land-intensive.[5] "Average urban densities (that is, the number of inhabitants per square kilometre of built-up area) have been declining for the past two centuries. As transportation continues to improve, the tendency is for cities to use up more and more land per person. The built-up area of cities with populations of 100,000 or more presently occupy a total of about 400,000 km2, half of it in the developing world. Cities in developing countries have many more people, but occupy less space per inhabitant. In both developing and industrialized countries, the average density of cities has been declining quickly: at an annual rate of 1.7 per cent over the last decade in developing countries and 2.2 per cent in industrialized countries". The significance impacts of urban form on energy performances of city, as well as emitted pollution, has been illustrated by different researches. The major part of mentioned studies explicates that the reduction of the residential density matches the steady increase in the amount of energy needs. In this scenario, it is clear how urban areas as well as urban design play a key role in the definition of a long term strategy for a sustainable development, despite the other ephemeral remedies: "Although cities embody environmental damage, namely, increasing emissions due to transportation, energy consumption and other factors, policymakers and experts increasingly recognize the potential value of cities for long-term sustainability, after all, the majority of energy is consumed in cities. Therefore, sustainability is an urban issue". Consequently, new demands have risen, and fundamental questions to which the city has to deal with, such as: How can the city contribute to overall urban sustainability? Can urban design contribute with an appropriate approach to climate mitigation and emission reduction? Is the urban form correlated with these issues? And eventually, how can the urban transformation be performed, in order to achieve a sustainable urban form? And moreover, how can a city address both its competitive status, development and its ecological stewardship? IMM theory considers the city as a complex adaptive system. Furthermore, it sketches out the relationships between urban morphology and energy consumption, providing some new basic design principles to re-shape urban assessment, as well as designing new sustainable neighbourhoods as an integrated part of the city. Morphology plays an essential role for any energy-saving policy, urban efficiency, liveability and, generally, sustainable urban environments to succeed. It is necessary to adopt new principles and new urban design methodologies. One of the main objectives of the research is to find, thanks to a holistic and multidisciplinary approach, new methodologies that can help to shape a better comprehension of the different performances of different urban assessment; then, to apply to the new design principles in order to improve the system's performance. A complex system,[6] to put it in a nutshell, is an arrangement of interconnected heterogeneous elements that, as a whole, shows one or more performances, and the fi nal result of the whole system is utterly different from every individual constituent's performance. The Complex Adaptive System (CAS)[7] is a particular case of the complex system with the ability to learn from prior experiences. System’s agents adapt themselves to improve their performance, in response to new internal and external constraints. CAS refers to a field of study and resultant conceptual framework for natural and artificial systems that defy reductionist (top-down) investigation. Such systems are generally interactions result is in non-linear complex dynamics, whose results are emergent system phenomena.[8] The system is composed of heterogeneous elements with several functions that should be classified in different ways. The members who both share the same function or a specific one are directly related to each other and categorized in a subsystem. The subsystems are often a complex adaptive system in their own right.


As mentioned above, the IMM is a design methodology with the aim to improve the performance of the CAS; the main characteristics of the IMM are based on three fundamental approaches: holistic, multi-layer and multi-scale. The complex adaptive system is composed of heterogeneous elements, linked together either directly or indirectly,[9] and the final system performance emerges from all of the elements as a whole. This adaptation occurs within or on members of a single subsystem, hereafter known as horizontal adaptation, and between the different subsystems, hereafter termed vertical adaptation. In other words, the adaptation of existing members in a subsystem, or horizontal adaptation, as a response to the newly imposed conditions and constraints, changes the subsystem's performance, which will be the cause of the entire system's transformation over time. They define a dynamic networks of interactions, and their relationships are not aggregations of the individual static entities. One can sharpen the performances of the entire complex system, utilizing the adaptive behaviors of the CAS, both horizontal and vertical. The entire complex system will be transformed by the mentioned symbiotic adaptive behaviors between the elements and subsystems, modification and integration, over time. By boosting the performance of one subsystem through the assistance of the transformation of another subsystem, one creates a collaborative relation, which ultimately leads to transformation of the complex system in an optimal way. To reiterate, modification happens when the members of one layer are optimized, in order to improve their own layer's performances. On the other hand, integration is a symbiotic relation between different layers, for better performance, which ultimately improves the entire system's performance. Due to the fact that the IMM investigates on the relationships between urban morphology and energy consumption,[10] the theory focus mostly on the ‘Subsystems’ characterized by physical characters and arrangement:

  • Urban Volumes (built-up mass layer)
  • Urban Voids (open spaces, streets, etc.)
  • Functional (land use layer)
  • Transportation and Mobility Layer

They are structurally organized and linked together in a provisional physical structure, outlining a distinctive and specific morphology. Actually it is the architecture of their ligands, which provides a certain physical and provisional arrangement of the CAS every time different. Moreover the CAS is also a single energy entity; accordingly with this assumption, a more efficient and sustainable urban form emerges through modification of its elements and integration of its subsystems over time. In IMM holistic methodology, the final system performance results from the whole elements; moreover, the city reshapes itself through a dynamic and on-going adaptation process of its constituents. The IMM process highlights the transformation of mid-scale areas, which is a determined area and acts as a bridge between the local scale and global scale. However, the limit of this area has to be mapped, as the intervention and project site by the designers and planners. The main criterion to confine the intervention's border is based on the wide-ranging contextual features, such as morphological aspects, social and functional layers. In IMM theory the modification of CAS elements, which causes the final transformation of the system, occurs in different scales. Equally, the urban interventions are operated in different scales. As the modifications of CAS are classified in the local, intermediate and global scale, any intervention effect has to be considered in the three mentioned scales. The intermediate interventions bridge the gap between local and global scales.[11] Hence, the IMM (Integrated Modification Methodology) acted to transform locally a neighbourhood in order to start a reaction involving the entire urban context and changing the CAS structurally.

A Phasing process[edit]

The IMM methodology is based on a multi-stage process composed by different but full integrated four phases, respectively:

  • Phase 1. Investigation/analysis.
  • Phase 2. Interpretation/assumption.
  • Phase 3. Modification, transformation.
  • Phase 4. Retrofitting and optimization.

Phase 1. Investigation/analysis.[edit]

This phase investigates the actual configuration of an urban system (CAS) considered in a provisional state and effects of an endless transformation process. This phase is devoted to investigation of the relationship between urban morphology and energy consumption of the CAS, which involve its own subsystems and their correlation, which affect the urban form as well as energy consumption. Actually the comprehension of the configuration of the involved subsystems and their links play a significant role in the IMM final result. Furthermore the current structure of the system can be considered as just a temporary configuration produced by a preceding process of integration of two or sub-systems, called superimposition process. Once the subsystems interact, their states are no longer independent and they start working, depending on the condition, such as catalyst or reactants. Through to the investigation phase the designer activates disassembling procedure of the CAS (horizontal investigation) into its mains physical components or subsystems, such as: voids, volumes (built spaces), functions, and transportations. Each subsystem will be firstly described on its own, to describe its individual structure and characteristics respectively on a morphological, typological and technological point of view.

Then the correlations/links or the architecture of the ligands between the subsystems will be analyzed in a more specific way, through a more detailed investigation named vertical investigation which works through special features named key categories are respectively: porosity, proximity, diversity, interface, accessibility and effectiveness. The main outcomes of this Investigation's phase are:

  • Comprehension of the physical arrangement of the CAS
  • Appraisal of the role and value of the key categories
  • Evaluation of the current energy performance of the CAS

One of the most important goal is this stage is the evaluation of the current energy performance of the CAS. Hence 12 Indicators will be used for achieving this result, and then the same indicators will be used in the CAS retrofitting process (Step 4a. Second measurement) necessary for the final evaluation of the system performance, after the transformation design process. It is important to emphasize that the 12 Indicators are also connected with a series of design principles, named design ordering principles (DOP), tools used to arrange later the structure of the CAS.

Phase 2. Interpretation/Assumption[edit]

The second moment of the IMM process called Interpretation/Assumption is halfway between investigation and design steps and it is essentially dedicated to establish a Supposition/Hypothesis, like a possible way for modifying structurally the CAS in order to achieve its improvement in terms of quality and energy performance. The consideration on how to fulfill the initial intentions and simultaneously to reach the final goal plays the main role in this Assumption phase. As mentioned, the configuration of the CAS emerges through local modification and integration of the system's components; therefore, the effect of the Local modification (on selected layers) plays a great role in the entire system's performances, changing the final CAS global configuration.

In other words, after the investigation phase, the IMM process comes out with an idea (assumption) about a possible local modification of the chosen subsystem (layer) and key category that make possible to act transforming globally the entire system (CAS). The choice of one subsystem (layer) and a ligands (key category) as a first driver of the transformation is the main goal of this phase, assigning respectively to the selected subsystem (layer) and to the selected ligand (key category) the catalyst role and to the others the reactants function. The principal outcomes of this Assumption/Interpretation phase are:

  • The choice of the horizontal and vertical catalysts as a supposition based on the knowledge obtained by the previous phase and dedicated to explain the CAS configuration as well as its behavior and performance.
  • The assignation to each subsystem the role of catalyst or reactants respectively.
  • The assignation to each key category the role of catalyst or reactants respectively.
  • A preliminary control of the local consequences of the choice.

Choosing the Catalyst[edit]

The CAS is composed by a hierarchy of multiple levels of organization. Considering that at any particular scale, the system is actually a sub-system, the cross-scale effects have a great significance in the dynamics of CAS. Meanwhile the chosen Catalysts plays a tremendous role in the IMM. From the selection of one layer as horizontal catalyzer and one key category, as vertical catalyzer the reaction of the system starts, driving the local modification and activating the system's transformation. It is clear that the choice of the catalysts depends on the investigation phase. The catalyzers choice as a first driver of the transformation is the main goal of this phase, assigning respectively to the selected subsystem and key category the catalyst role and to the others the reactants one.

The role of the DOP (design ordering principle)[edit]

In this second phase the DOP plays a great role, these tools are used to adjust the structure of the cas and its performance. The application of the DOPs is a fundamental stage of the IMM phasing process and a way for directing the modification process of the CAS towards a more sustainable and efficient form. It is really important to recall that the 12 DOPs are associated to the 12 Indicators previously used for the estimation of the actual energy performance of the CAS (data collection-step 1c) as well as for the CAS retrofitting process (Step 4a-second measurement). The DOPs role into the design process is significant for addressing the consequence of the investigation/analysis phase. As main players of the formulation phase, they work like active prescriptions, and, if combined, they produce an integrated action towards the final result. The DOPs are respectively:

  • Balance the ground use.
  • Fostering the local energy production; building as components of community energy system.
  • Promote walkability.
  • Fostering mixed used spaces.
  • Make biodiversity part of urban life.
  • Create connected open spaces system and activate urban metabolism.
  • Balancing the public transportation potential.
  • Promote cycling and reinforce the public transportation.
  • Change from multimodality to intermodality concept.
  • Convert the city in a food producer.
  • Prevent the negative impact of waste.
  • Implement water management.

as main players of the formulation phase they work as active prescriptions, which combined produce an integrated and combined action towards a final result.

Phase 3 modification/transformation, (intervention and design).[edit]

The third step of the IMM is a specific design phase that involves the FLS. and applies to a multi-layer and multi-disciplinary approach. Thanks to a driver (catalysts) a local modification (horizontal modification) marks the starting point of a chain reaction (horizontal and vertical modification) towards the global transformation of the CAS. Actually due to the fact that CAS is composed of four subsystems, we consider its state as a superposition of products of the subsystems' states. The main outcomes of this phase are:

  • The design/project of the chosen catalysts layer, and key category in order to achieve a local modification that will be transmitted to process to the reactants layers.
  • The local transformation towards a structural transformation of the CAS.
  • Preliminary evaluation of the transformation.

It is composed by two inner phases, respectively:

  1. Horizontal modification, the horizontal catalysts and horizontal reactants phase (step 3a)
  2. Vertical modification, the vertical catalyst and the vertical reactants (step 3b)

Thanks to a driver assumed as Catalyst the Horizontal modification starts a Local modification with the goal of makings the starting point of a chain reaction (Vertical modification) towards the global transformation of the CAS. Once the subsystems interact, their states are no longer independent. In urban term this phase is oriented to the local modification (neighborhoods/local nodes) with the aim of global transformation achievement. In this phase, the project work horizontally (modifying the local subsystems individually) and vertically (modifying the other subsystems and the architecture of their connections). Folding and superimposing the selected layers collaboratively, in a way in which the transformation of each layer changes the other one's structure/performance and characteristic, is the key factor of the main system transformation.

Horizontal modification; the horizontal catalyst phase (step 3a)[edit]

Horizontal modification is the first step of the design phase and its main goal is to modify the selected layer, elected as catalyst of the transformation and the response of the others layer seen as reactants. So the design process starts with local modifications of the catalyst's layer structure. The local modification as designed perturbation of a system causes a series of effects that lead to macroscopic consequences starting up a chain reaction, which can transform the CAS structurally.

Vertical modification; the vertical catalyst (step 3b)[edit]

The Vertical modification is a chain reaction of the system propelled by the project. The aim of this step is to make possible the propagation of local changes towards the distant parts of the system as a consequence of connectivity, and making this propagation the cause a global change. The Vertical modification is driven by the Vertical Catalyst (the chosen Key Category elected as Catalyst) and the response of the others Key Categories as reactants. The action modifies the architecture of the ligands thereby activating the reaction that transform the structure of the System.

Phase 4. retrofitting and optimization phase.[edit]

The last step is oriented towards the evaluation of the performance of the new CAS as a new energy-using complex system, which is composed of modified subsystems, in its own new formal configuration; thus, this new configuration will become the new context (formal structure) available for a new transformations, since the transformation is an endless process. The new provisional CAS will be evaluated and compared with the old one using the Indicators applied in the previous steps. The new provisional CAS will be evaluated and compared with the old one using the 12 Indicators applied in the Step 1b. After the retrofitting process the last phase Local modification/optimization is driven by the Key categories for achieving the conclusive optimization of the CAS. Morphological, typological and technological features, like the follows, express the new superimposition, or symbiotic integration. The main outcomes of this phase are:

  1. Testing the new structure of the new CAS’ state
  2. Final valuation and comparison of the CAS performance
  3. Optimizing the new CAS using the KC

New CAS measurement (retrofitting step 4a)[edit]

Once the transformation has occurred, a new CAS measurement as part of the retrofitting process starts. The process is based on the comparison between the new CAS performances and characteristics, and the previous one. This second measurement and comparison evaluates the transformed system’s performances. Thanks to these 12 Indicators, it is possible to compare the characteristic performances of the system, before and after the transformation process. Moreover, the Indicators help to lead the complex system transformation in a correct way, as well as the result of transformation process.

New CAS optimization (Step 4b)[edit]

The last phase is driven by the key categories for achieving the conclusive optimization of the CAS. Of course this minor and local change[12] affects again the architecture of the CAS’ performance, modifying it structurally another time but operating with a better control of the previous transformation’s reaction. The final result of this optimization process is a concluding but still provisional CAS, that configures itself as the new threshold of an endless transformation process.

Universal indicators (comparison step 4c)[edit]

Unlike the prior measurement processes, which evaluate the system’s performances before and after the design process, Universal Indicators are tools to make a comparison between the city’s performances and other cities.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ M. Tadi, S. Vahabzadeh Manesh, (2014) Transformation of an urban complex system into a more sustainable form via integrated modification methodology (I.M.M). The International Journal of Sustainable Development and Planning. Volume 9, Number 4. (WIT press Southampton, UK) ISSN 1743-761X (online) and ISSN 1743-7601 (paper format)
  2. ^ Brownlee, J., (2007). Complex Adaptive Systems. CIS Technical Report 070302A,: p. 1–6
  3. ^ Salat, S. and CSTB, (2011). Cities and Forms on Sustainable Urbanism: Hermann Editeurs des Sciences et des Arts
  4. ^ Vahabzadeh Manesh, S. and M. Tadi, Sustainable urban morphology emergence via Complex Adaptive System analysis. Procedia Engineering, 2011. 21: p. 89-97
  5. ^ IEA (2010). World energy outlook 2010. International Energy Agency, Paris
  6. ^ Ladyman, James; Lambert, James; Wiesner, Karoline (2013). "What is a Complex System?". European Journal for Philosophy of Science 3: 33–67
  7. ^ Complex Adaptive Systems. 2001. Retrieved 25 August 2012. by Serena Chan, Research Seminar in Engineering Systems
  8. ^ Brownlee, J., Complex Adaptive Systems. CIS Technical Report 070302A, 2007: p. 1-6
  9. ^ Paul Cilliers (1998) Complexity and Postmodernism: Understanding Complex Systems
  10. ^ Vahabzadeh Manesh, S. and M. Tadi, Urban Morphological Transformation Via Urban Constituent Optimization: A Sustainable Neighborhood Design Based On Integrative Modification Methodology, in GBOD 20122012: Shenyang, China. p. 10
  11. ^ H. Mohammad Zadeh, A. Naraghi, S. Vahabzadeh Manesh, M. Tadi, (2014). Environmental and energy performance optimization of a neighborhood in Tehran, via IMM methodology. International Journal of Engineering Science and Innovative Technology (IJESIT), ISSN No: 2319-5967. Volume 3,Issue 1: pp409-428.
  12. ^ G. Lobaccaro, D.Palazzo, M. Tadi, A. Wyckmans (2014). Green design strategies for urban heat island mitigation in a solar optimized access Example via IMM methodology". WSB (World Sustainable Buildings) ISBN 978-84-697-1815-5

Further reading[edit]

  • Ahern, J. (2006). "Green Infrastructure for Cities: The spatial Dimension". In Cities of the Future Towards Integrated Sustainable Water and Landscape Management, edited by Vladimir Novotny and Paul Brown, 267–283. London: WA publishing.
  • Anderson, P. (1999). Complexity Theory and Organization Science Organization Science. 10(3): 216–232.
  • Bennett, S., (2009), A Case of Complex Adaptive Systems Theory- Sustainable Global Governance: The Singular Challenge of the Twenty-first Century. RISC-Research Paper No.5: p. 38
  • Brownlee, J., (2007), Complex Adaptive Systems. CIS Technical Report: p. 1–6.
  • Backlund, A. (2000), "The definition of system". In: Kybernetes Vol. 29 nr. 4, pp. 444–451.
  • Clarke, C. and P. Anzalone, Architectural Applications of Complex Adaptive Systems, XO (eXtended Office). p. 19.
  • Crotti, S., (1991), Metafora, Morfogenesi e Progetto, E.D'alfonso and E.Franzini, Editors. 1991: Milano.
  • Hildebrand, F. (1999), Designing the city towards a more sustainable urban form. Routledge.
  • Hough, Micheal. (2004). Cities and Natural Processes: a Basis for Sustainability. London: Routledge.
  • Jenks, M., E. Burton, and K. Williams, (1996), The compact city, a sustainable form?: F a FN Spon, an imprint of Chapman & Hall. 288
  • Salat, S. and L. Bourdic, Urban complexity, scale hierarchy, energy efficiency and economic value creation. WIT Transactions on Ecology and The Environment,, 2012. Vol 155: p. 11.
  • Steel, C. (2009), Hungry City: How Food Shapes Our Lives, Random House UK.
  • Tadi, M. Vahabzadeh Manesh, S. A.Daysh, G. Kahraman, I. Ursu (2013) The case study of Timisoara (Romania). IMM design for a more sustainable, livable and responsible city. AST Management Pty Ltd, Nerang, QLD, Australia.
  • Thom, R., (1975), Stabilite Structurelle et Morphogenese. Massachusetts: W.A.Benjamin, Inc. 348.
  • Vahabzadeh Manesh, S. M. Tadi, (2013) Neighborhood Design and Urban Morphological Transformation through Integrated Modification Methodology (IMM) part 1. The Designer Architectural Magazine Vol.8. IRAN.