Researching Patterns of Self-Organization in Urban Structures: Case Study Isfahan Bazaar


  1. Ms. Rojiar Soleimani – TU Wien, Institute of Urban Design
  2. Associate Prof. Dipl.-Ing. Dr.techn. Angelika Psenner – TU Wien, Urban Design Research Unit


Design is an operational concern, dealing with various layers of information to solve a certain problem. When urban design is the preferred scope, so-called design problems need to be transmuted to society’s demands. Accordingly, urban design is a complex problem-solving task that can be compromised by oversimplification or chaos, both at the design stage and in its analysis.

As Kipnis put “heterogeneous space as a democratic space, is different from homogeneous universal space of modernism (Fordist Urbanism, determination without diversity), and incongruous heterogeneity in postmodernism.”[1]

As an urban showcase for „democratic space“, this research attempts to decode the spatial organization of a particularly resilient urban structure in Iranian cities, the Isfahan Bazaar. This particular urban site is an interwoven network of social, political, and cultural factors, representing remarkable adaptability to city transformation. In general, bazaars represent a subtle urban historical development that needs to be studied in terms of the demands, environmental forces and changes that occur in the social, cultural and political context of society. The concept of historical development and self-organization of society and its subsystems proposed by Niklas Luhmann is not particularly suited in the context of studying urban topologies. Therefore, we suggest introducing a morphological approach supported by an analytical space syntax study of the historical development of the Isfahan Bazaar structure. This takes advantage of knowledge management software and decodes the underlying logics of self-organization in the time periods under study for both movement and occupation patterns.

Problem Definition: Studying historical urban textures either with an intention of revitalizing the existing structure, or proposing new interventions, demands good analytical research on that context.

  • Unfortunately, in the case of Isfahan bazaar, that so-called analytical approach to understand the underlying pattern of sustainability and self-organization has not been at all a focus, especially when thinking of bazaar evolution over 2 millennia and over its 3 kilometers of vivid structure.

Need for research:

  • Scarcity in research on the phenomenon of self-organization in the context of social science (considering architecture and urban design as spatial framing of social activities)

Research questions:

  • What are the main attitudes in Bazaar of Isfahan that introduced it as an adoptive and sustainable urban structure for more than 1000 years?
  • Is it possible to extract patterns out of the bazaar structure, which will be based upon that _Self-organization_ and adoptive movement pattern of propagation, and apply them in various urban fabrics, particularly in the case of providing better correlation and correspondence between the _OLD and NEW, past and future?

To answer these questions Isfahan Bazaar offers a unique potential to compare and explore its vivid appearance in the evolution of the city in 3 major urban transformations over a millennium.

Research on the peculiar features of Bazaar of Isfahan as a self-evolving artifact proclaims the genre of urban growth with apparent commonalities in different historical eras. These analogies in growing habits will be tested along three essential stages of growth in the city of Isfahan:

  1. The early instance of the city generation in 772 AD.
  2. The first influential urban transformation in the 11-12th centuries
  3. The golden epoch of the city in the 16-17th centuries.

The analytical study on Bazaar takes advantage of knowledge management software as space syntax decoding the underlying logics of self-organization on both movement and occupation patterns of the city.

[1] Kipnis, J., January 1993. Folding in Architecture: Towards a new Architecture. Architectural Design, Page 97-117, AD, Profile 102, Wiley Academy, London.

Rojiar Soleimani

Rojiar Soleimani is a PhD candidate at the Institute of Urban Design at TU Wien, her research interest and experience cover the topics of historical, and analytical study on evolution of particularly Iranian cities. Her practical approach includes projects both in architectural and urban scale, with the focus on master plan and urban design on developing regions and countries.