The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


Silk Cities


Reconnect population to urban heritage in the Middle East & Central Asia

Silk Cities 2017, 2nd Silk Cities International Conference

London, 11th -13th July, 2017

Conference Overview

Cultural heritage, in essence relate to both physical and social sciences. It intertwines with identity and connection to the world where culture is still seen in its concrete manifestation of expression in the physical space i.e. built environment as well as in its observance of social values, experiences, connection in its intangible dimension Urban cultural heritage, relates to urban elements (urban morphology and built form, open and green spaces, urban infrastructure), architectural elements (monuments, buildings) and community rituals and ceremonies, rooted in their histories and values.

The region, which is geopolitically called the Middle East and Central Asia, is the home of ancient settlements and early human endeavours to form their cities. Urban historic characteristics such as historical city centres still exist in many cities in particularly those along the historic trade routes across the region beside contemporary exercises of city formation. However, the urban continuity that once existed across generation in the physical and social paradigm have been interrupted in the midst of rapid urbanisation, globalisation and urban economic pressures, in addition to the conflicts and frequent destructive natural hazards. These have played a vital role in disrupting cultural connection of the city and its population. It is often a case that dealing with such pressing issues in a historic city is more complex than dealing with those in newly built cities and urban areas.

Taking a forward-looking approach, the conference takes both cross disciplinary and cross sectoral perspectives to examine contemporary historic cities in the region. The conference aims to bring researchers, practitioners to explore the discourse of this interruption and how to reconnect population to their urban cultural heritage in the Middle East and Central Asia. It also intends to explore the ways in which the knowledge of the subject matter, existing practical lessons and inspirational practices can be shared to inform other practices, from responsive urban projects to community based practices and creative solutions. The Conference envisions a high profile publication based on a selected number of papers.

Conference themes

  • Urban heritage and cultural identity
  • Governing urban heritage
  • Post-crisis urban reconstruction in historic contexts
  • Urban economy in an inclusive society in a historic city
  • Potential policy transfer on urban heritage?

Organiser: Silk Cities www.silkcities.org

Organisational partner: The Bartlett Development Planning Unit, UCL

Contact: info@silkcities.org



Our Story

Research network: Silk Cities

This network is the outcome of a UCL/Bartlett-hosted international conference held in early November 2012, focusing on urban change in Iran. Through knowledge sharing amongst peers, academics and practitioners alike, within the disciplines of planning and design, we aim to contribute to an improved built environment, which is: 

  • Safer and more resilient to disasters
  • Providing better quality of life for people
  • Positioned in its historical continuity

As cities grow and transform, they generate a multiplicity of challenges which require careful and responsive solutions to be explored. Communication and knowledge-sharing provide one means for improving the quality of the built environment - to discuss, challenge and stimulate ideas towards finding shared solutions.  The need for wider intellectual exchange necessitated the establishment of an independent platform amongst built environment professionals.  Such a network was launched by founder, Farnaz Arefian, during the International Conference on Urban Change in Iran in November 2012. 

The conference itself was an independent, bottom-up initiative and drew interest from a wide range of Iranian and non-Iranian built environment professionals, academics and students from around the globe.  A total of 625 abstracts were received in response to the call for papers with over 120 conference attendees.  The conference also received special attention from the UNESCO Director General, Irina Bokova, who acknowledged that Iran's unique cultural heritage carries vast potential to inspire future sustainable development.  The conference theme addressed socio-cultural drivers of urban transformation in the context of the impacts of exposure to natural hazards.  

We are in the process of publishing conference proceedings through this website, with more to come soon. Eventually a full e-book will be downloadable through this website, and via the Silk Cities platform

For more information:

Fatemeh (Farnaz) Arefiah
PhD candidate at the DPU
Email: fatemah.arefian.10@ucl.ac.uk


About Silk Cities

Silk Cities is an independent contextual platform for knowledge sharing and communication between built environment professionals (e.g. urban designers, planners and community developers) based within a country and their peers and established academics based abroad, who are interested in that country as a result of their ethnic origins or professional activities. 

The platform aims to bridge the gap between theory and practice by connecting existing knowledge and know-how in a country to high-profile, up-to-date international research. These interactions will raise awareness on prevailing issues and stimulate the search for solutions. The platform is also designed to facilitate the transfer of know-how and knowledge amongst academics and practitioners from different generations and disciplines. Those most concerned are urban design/planning, disaster risk reduction and reconstruction, community development, as well as urban management. Beyond this, there are many issues and solutions that need to be explored.

Silk Cities has strategic and operational partnership with The Bartlett Development Planning Unit (DPU), UCL.

Visit the Silk Cities website

Silk Cities 2016 Workshop

‘Silk Cities’ Exchange Workshop, Thursday, 29 October 2015

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Location: The Bartlett Development Planning Unit (DPU), University College London (UCL), 34 Tavistock Square, London WC1H 9EZ

info@silkcities.orgFarnaz Arefian

From the second century BC to the end of the fourteenth century AD, a great trade route, the Silk Road, linked China with the Roman Empire. The Silk Road was not only a trading route for goods; but exchanged the rich cultures of China, India, Persia, Arabia, Greek and Rome. Such knowledge exchange was influential on how cities along the Road were formed and maintained. ‘Silk Cities’ exist in many countries and have urban cultural heritages related to the Silk Road. With the demise of the trading role of the Silk Road however still many of its related urban historic characteristics exist in ‘Silk Cities’. In parallel, the world faces global challenges around cities and their development in general. This raises the question of how being a ‘Silk City’ plays a role in those challenges and the way they are dealt with, if at all. A common past unites these cities. We would like to explore if the past is the only common thing for talking about ‘Silk Cities’ or if there are some specific common urban related themes connected to that common past. For example, if there is such a case in heritage, reconstruction or environmental design. It is hoped the workshop contributes to exploring refining contemporary common themes for contemporary ‘Silk Cities’.

The aim of this event is to connect multidisciplinary urban researchers and practitioners working on ‘Silk Cities’ in order to understand contemporary urban implications of being a Silk City in 21st Century.

The ‘Silk Cities’ platform, supported by the Bartlett Development Planning Unit (DPU) and the Institute for Sustainable Urban Heritage at UCL is organising a one day cross-disciplinary workshop to connect researchers and practitioners working on the topic in isolation in different regions of the world in order to make critical contributions towards contemporary Silk Road related urban issues. The event will be hosted by the DPU.

The workshop is open to a limited number of participants who are welcome to share their experiences in panel discussions. This small number of participants should help in creating a deeper and more intense level of debate. The participants to the Workshop distinguished researchers, consultants and specialists working on the topic internationally. In particular, the workshop welcomes researchers, practitioners and policy makers from the countries along the Silk Road to share their insights. 


Specific objectives of this seminar are:

  • Explore what it means to be a Silk City in 21th Century.
  • Explore the complexities of ‘Silk Cities’ that are related to their existing historic urban elements towards linking them to contemporary urban debates in theory and practice (e.g. heritage, reconstruction and disaster risk reduction, and environmental design)
  • Explore implications and interconnections of the existing historic context in ‘Silk Cities’ to contemporary global challenges and the way they are dealt with in theory and practice (if there is any).
  • Develop a network of interested people and explore potential avenues for future work.

Draft Programme: A one-day event

This one-day workshop is organised around panel discussion sessions that explore specific issues related to the ‘Silk Cities’. Refreshments (coffee and tea) will be provided during the day. There are a number of places for lunch in or around UCL and around DPU. 

The final programme will focus on interactive and lively discussions among participants. Participants are encouraged to avoid lengthy PowerPoint presentations and the time slot for each individual presentation will be 10-12 minutes. 

The full programme can be downloaded here (pdf): 

Outreach and dissemination

Some of the seminar panel discussions and presentations will be uploaded to www.silkcities.org.

Advisory Committee: 

Prof. Yves CabannesProf. Julio Davila, Prof. Ali Modarres 

First Conference Proceedings

A book, Urban Change in Iran, based on conference excerpts has been published by Springer, investigating various aspects of contemporary Iranian urbanism.

Read the conference proceedings and full collection of abstracts using the issuu viewer below (click in the centre of the image to expand), or alternative you can download the file directly (pdf):



Our First Conference

Known as one of the oldest civilisations in the world run by a state government, many of the origins of urbanism can be traced back to Iran (or Persia as it was called until 1935). Iranian architecture and urbanism has been a major influence in shaping an urban tradition now generically considered as that of the Islamic city: a tradition also resonating in some cities not considered as parts of the Islamic civilisation.

Today Iran is a modern developing country with a more than 50-year long history of adopting town planning regulations, with the second largest population in the region covering the second largest area within the Middle East and West Asia. Iran has the greatest (7 out of 28) number of cities of more than one million in the region. Tehran, Iran’s capital is the most populated city in the region. As a result of Iran’s rapid urbanisation, 68.5% of people are now living in cities in areas with remarkable economic, cultural and climatic diversity.

The policies to respond to these demographic moves and diversities include those of developing new towns, inhabiting the excess population in existing cities, rehabilitating historic fabrics and creating public spaces. Importantly, the country is the fourth natural-disaster prone country in the world, with many of its cities frequently subjected to severe damages throughout their histories.

Of particular interest for the conference are the socio-cultural drivers of urban transformation along with the impacts of exposure to natural hazards on one hand, and the way in which they are dealt with on the other. The conference aims to bring together the knowledge of the dynamics of urban change and that of urban management in the Iranian built environment context. It also intends to explore the ways in which the knowledge of the subject matter can inform the practice.




disaster risk reduction urbanism heritage