Journal of Geographical Systems

, Volume 21, Issue 2, pp 271–293 | Cite as

Applying two fractal methods to characterise the local and global deviations from scale invariance of built patterns throughout mainland France

  • François Sémécurbe
  • Cécile TannierEmail author
  • Stéphane G. Roux
Original Article


In the early twentieth century, a handful of French geographers and historians famously suggested that mainland France comprised two agrarian systems: enclosed field systems with scattered settlements in the central and western France and openfield systems with grouped settlements in eastern France. This division between grouped and scattered settlements can still be found on the outskirts of urban areas. The objective of this paper is to determine whether the shape of urban areas varies with the type of built patterns in their periphery. To this end, we identify and characterise the local and global deviations from scale invariance of built patterns in mainland France. For this, we propose a new method—Geographically Weighted Fractal Analysis—that can characterise built patterns at a fine spatial resolution without making any a priori distinction between urban patterns and suburban or rural patterns. By applying GWFA to the spatial distribution of buildings throughout mainland France we identify six geographically consistent types of built patterns that are distinctive in the way buildings are either concentrated or dispersed across scales. The relationship between the local built textures and the global shape of twenty metropolitan areas is then analysed statistically. It is found that the proportion of dispersed (or concentrated) outer suburban built patterns in metropolitan areas is closely related to the distance threshold that marks the morphological limit of their urban areas.


Built textures Fractal analysis Suburban fringes Scale invariance Mainland France 

JEL Classifcation

C63 C80 Y80 



The authors would like to thank Armelle Couillet, cartographer at the research laboratory IDEES (Rouen, France), for her help in making maps readable by people with red–green colour blindness.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ThéMA, UMR 6049, CNRS-Univ. Bourgogne Franche-ComtéBesançon CedexFrance
  2. 2.Laboratoire de PhysiqueUMR 5672, CNRS-Ecole Nationale Supérieure de LyonLyon Cedex 07France

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