The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


Silk Cities

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?

Draft initial programme (in progress)  

The programme will be around keynote speeches, thematic roundtables for individual presentations and informal discussions (10-15 minutes each), and plenary panel discussions. Additionally, the conference will provide extensive networking opportunities and visits. Below is the initial overview of the programme. More detailed information on this setup will follow after abstract submission and selection.

  • Plenary keynote talks
  • Thematic breakout academic sessions (roundtables)
  • Special sessions
  • Film display (to be confirmed)
  • Walking tour: London’s experience
  • Networking opportunities


Conference Committee

Conference Convenor

Dr Farnaz Arefian

Silk Cities; The Bartlett Development Planning Unit, University College London


Advisory Group

Prof. Julio Davila

Director, The Bartlett Development Planning Unit, University College London

Prof. Ali Modarres

Director, Urban Studies, University of Washington Tacoma

Prof. Yves Cabannes  

Emeritus Professor, The Bartlett Development Planning Unit, University College London

Dr. Hassan Karimian  

Department of Archaeology, University of Tehran, Iran


Silk Cities


The Bartlett Development Planning, UCL


Scientific Committee

UCL Affiliates

Dr. Alexandre Apsan Frediani

The Bartlett Development Planning Unit

Mr. Alexander Macfarlane

The Bartlett Development Planning Unit

Dr. Giovanna Astolfo

The Bartlett Development Planning Unit

Dr. Kalliopi Fouseki

UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage

Dr. Cassidy Johnson

The Bartlett Development Planning Unit

Silk Cities Affiliates

  • Communication

Mahya Fatemi, MSc Building and Urban Design in Development

Sobia Kapadia, International development planner

  • Social Media

Ehsan Fatehifar, Architect & Researcher

Maryam Eftekhar Dadkhah, MSc student

Hassan Estaji, PhD researcher

  • Website & Student Engagement

 Eva Coleman, PR professional

  • General Support

Sara Amini, Urban designer

Mona Jabbari, PhD researcher

Mahya Fatemi, MSc, Building and Urban Design in Development

  • Design

Fatemeh Khatami, Architect & Designer

Scientific Committee

Scientific Committee

Dr. Mansoor Ali

Water, Engineering & Development Centre, Loughborough University, UK

Dr. Farnaz Arefian

Silk Cities; The Bartlett Development Planning Unit, UCL, UK

Dr. Camillo Boano 

The Bartlett Development Planning Unit, UCL, UK

Prof. Yves Cabannes  

The Bartlett Development Planning Unit, UCL, UK

Dr. Estella Carpi

The Bartlett Development Planning Unit, UCL, UK

Prof. Mohammad Chaichian  

Department of Psychology, Sociology and Social Work, Mount Mercy University, USA

Prof.  Kate Darian-Smith   

Faculty of Architecture Building and Planning, University of Melbourne, Australia

Prof. Iraj Etessam

Emeritus Professor, University of Tehran, Iran

Dr. Kalliopi Foseki  

Institute of Sustainable Heritage, UCL, UK

Mr. Arif Hasan  


Dr. Cassidy Johnson  

The Bartlett Development Planning Unit, UCL, UK

Dr. Gai Jorayev

Institute of Archaeology, UCL, UK

Prof. Muhammed Kadhem

School of Architecture and Built Environment, German Jordanian University, Jordan

Dr. Hassan Karimian  

Department of Archaeology, University of Tehran, Iran

Prof. Ramin Keivani

School of the Built Environment, Oxford Brookes University, UK

Dr. Luna Khirfan

School of Planning, University of Waterloo, Canada

Prof. Ali Modarres

Department of Urban Studies, University of Washington Tacoma, USA

Dr. Iraj Moeini

Faculty of Architecture and Urban Development, Shahid Beheshti University, Iran

Dr. Farhad Mukhtarov

Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Utrecht University, Netherlands 

Mr. Benjamin Henri Mutin

Department of Anthropology, Harvard University, USA

Mr. Babar Mumtaz

URBANNOVATION, DPU Associates, Turkey & Pakistan

Dr. Elena Paskaleva

Leiden Institute for Area Studies, Leiden University, Netherlands

Dr. Shahid Ahmad Rajput

Department of Architecture and Design, Comsats Institute of Information Technology, Pakistan

Dr. Rania Raslan

Architectural Engineering Department, Alexandria University, Egypt

Ms. Judith Ryser


Prof. Ashraf Salama

Department of Architecture, University of Strathclyde, UK

Ms. Anna Soave

UN-Habitat, Afghanistan

Dr. Anar Valiyev

ADA University, Azerbaijan

Guiding Questions
Urban Heritage and Cultural Identity


Knowledge exchange and learning are crucial and inevitable in a connected world, however, urban heritage which is rooted in the history of a place and people’s culture is strongly context based. What are pros and cons with regard to policy transfer? How policy relevance can be linked with a contextual approach? How international urban agenda that acknowledges the importance of urban heritage in its broad meaning be contextualised in the Middle East and Central Asia? What are good practices on linking international agenda to local policy formulation? What are the practical lessons learned? What are the potentials and the way forward?

How can urban heritage and cultural identity be a driver for city’s development that engages with broader population and its residents in oppose to tourist-driven heritage preservation. What are good practices in the region and what are lessons learned? How the economic value of historic urban fabrics, neighbourhoods and buildings can support local people and residents of the historic city centres? How can qualitative aspects of urban heritage support local people’s economic well-being? How can financial potentials of historic urban centres and the fabric around it be explored and unleashed towards better urban governance? How managing urban heritage can be viable from economic perspective, if at all? What are good regional practices, or practical lessons learned? What are the potentials and the way forward?

Governing Urban Heritage

Cities are complex systems interconnecting economic, social, cultural, physical and administrative systems simultaneously in one place. Local and municipal governments are a key part of any activity on historic urban fabrics and neighbourhoods, morphology, buildings, they are often under-resourced and ill-structured within quantitative criteria, regulations and processes. How can measures and strategies for respecting urban cultural heritage be integrated to ‘business as usual’ for everyday urban governance? To what extent are flagship projects and programmes able to facilitate a positive change on recognising the importance of urban heritage?  What are good regional practices, or practical lessons learned? What are the potentials and the way forward?

Potential policy transfer on urban heritage?

While dealing with urban reconstruction - even in non-historic urban context – in the uncertain traumatic aftermath is complex, the existing historic context of the city adds further layers of complexities to the issue. With ever growing threats to historic cities in the region, this theme seeks to address how the history of a city, its built environment and its people inform urban reconstruction? What are the area for manoeuvre and attention for organising and managing such reconstruction in historic cities? How people’s sense of belonging to the place and historic urban continuity can be restored in post crisis urban reconstruction, if at all? In what ways can people’s imaginations of place be captured in reconstruction planning? How can present crisis-related damages play role and become a reference point in the future history of the city?

Urban economy in an inclusive society in a historic city

Cities are complex systems interconnecting economic, social, cultural, physical and administrative systems simultaneously in one place. Local and municipal governments are a key part of any activity on historic urban fabrics and neighbourhoods, morphology, buildings, they are often under-resourced and ill-structured within quantitative criteria, regulations and processes. How can measures and strategies for respecting urban cultural heritage be integrated to ‘business as usual’ for everyday urban governance? To what extent are flagship projects and programmes able to facilitate a positive change on recognising the importance of urban heritage?  What are good regional practices, or practical lessons learned? What are the potentials and the way forward?

Post-crisis urban reconstruction in historic contexts

This theme will identify/ explore/ the connections between historic urban landscape and people’s intangible culture identity and their interpretations. The correlation of cultural identity to its historic era and its relevance to our ever-changing globalising region, Further, exploring the process of reconciliation between urban heritage and cultural identity in the middle of  forces of globalisation and standardisation. How cultural identity and sense of belonging can become a driver for advocating and preserving urban heritage beyond the museum approach and exhibitory objects.  How people’s way of life, customs and ceremonies can influence their relation with urban heritage?

Important Dates

Important Dates   

  • Mid December 2016 - Call for abstracts
  • 1st week of January 2017 - Abstract submission open
  • 3rd March 2017 - Abstract submission deadline (extended until  5th April)
  • 23rd April 2017 - Notification of selected paper
  • 1st week of April 2017 - Conference registration open
  • 2nd week of April 2017 - Full paper submission open
  • 3rd week of June 2017 - Conference registration deadline 3
  • 3rd week of June 2017 - Full paper submission deadline
  • July 11th-13th, 2017 - Conference
Special Sessions

Silk Cities 2017 Conference Update:

Silk Cities is pleased to announce that three workshops have been added to the Conference programme. They are listed below.

1- Preservation and Urban Planning in Practice

The panel will discuss practical issues of preservation and urban planning in historic cities.  What are the overlapping issues, challenges and opportunities? Invited panellists will share their experience and insight on practical aspects of linking cultural heritage to urban development planning and the interconnected roles of international, national and local institutions.

2- Reconstruction of War-torn Silk Roads Cities

The panel will discuss Silk Roads cities ravaged by war that will require reconstruction. Aleppo and Mosul are two examples of those cities. Beyond monuments, the challenge of post-war reconstruction exists on destructed traditional buildings, neighbourhoods and historic city centres which had specific characteristics, from morphology to architectural typology. These cities could be further damaged by haphazard planning decisions. Can we connect the past, present and future of those cities in an extremely complex and uncertain situation if at all?

3- Silk Roads Cities as Smart Cities

The panel will connect the notion of smart cities and urban historic characteristics. Invited panellists will discuss if and how existing historic Silk Roads cities can be used as a basis to becoming smart cities. The panel examines a suggested smart pedestrian network modelling in the context of Silk Roads cities that envisions an intelligent and integrated urban growth where economic, social and environmental concerns must be carefully balanced.



  • Full paper submission guideline:

Full paper submission system will be open to authors whose abstracts have been accepted after the review process. You should use the account you created before and upload the paper in Word format. We have prepared a formatted template for this. Please download the template and put your paper and revised abstract in it.

Language: English

Length: 2500 to 4000 words (Excluding title and references)

Download the full paper template here


Full paper submission link here    https://easychair.org/conferences/?conf=silkcities201


  • Abstract submission guideline:

Language: English

Length: 300 to 500 words (Excluding titles and footnotes)

You should submit your abstract through an online system.  You need to create an account first and make sure you type your email address correctly. The system will send you an email with a link to verify your email and complete the account creation.

Submissions will be reviewed by the Scientific Committee. The Conference uses blind review process.  Thus you should also upload an anonymous abstract to the online system.  We have prepared a fully formatted template for this. Only abstracts which followed the template will be reviewed.

Abstract submission link here    https://easychair.org/conferences/?conf=silkcities2017

Download the abstract template for blind review here

Group authorship: Kindly note that printed participation certificate will only be prepared for the registered author/co-author. 

  • Full paper submission guideline: Will be announced in due time.




Delegates will need to register in advance. Registration fees are as follows:


Authors (first paper)

Students                               £90

Academics/professionals     £180

Authors (second paper)

Students                               £50

Academics/professionals     £100


Students                               £50

All others                              £180

The online registration system is now open. Visit www.silkcities.org. Late registrations are subject to availability of places only for attendees. Accepted papers must have at least one registered author in order to be considered for the conference final programming and publication. All attendees must register and only registered authors/attendees will receive certificate.

If you require an invitation letter to apply for the UK visa in order to attend the conference, you are strongly advised to register early and leave enough time for operational procedures.

The fee covers admission to all sessions and workshops, conference kit, printed participation certificate for the author or printed attendance certificate for the attendee, guided London walking tour, refreshments on 11th-13th July 2017 and two lunches.


We endeavor to provide operational support for students based in the region whose papers are accepted but unable to attend because of visa issues. Registration fee will not be affected:

  • In case of difficulties for online registration and payment from countries in the Middle East and Central Asia please soon to discuss other payment options.
  • If you encounter difficulties for obtaining UK visa and are unable to attend in-person contact us on email us as soon as possible for exploring possible bespoke arrangements.

Refund policy:

Participants who cancel their registration within14 days or less to the conference are not entitled to a refund. Participants who cancel their registration up to 15 days before the Conference, are entitled to a refund with a 20% admin charge.




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. 

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.