Tag Archives: Space Syntax

Space Syntax for Dummies | Part 1 | Overview

tateSpace Syntax model of floor plan in the Tate Gallery, Millbank in London, UK.
(Image: Space Syntax Network)

Space Syntax for Dummies | Part 1
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

A couple of months ago, Steve Mouzon (author of The Original Green and New Media for Designers + Builders) asked me to write an easy-to-understand introduction to space syntax on The Outlaw Urbanist. I don’t think he actually used the words ‘space syntax for dummies’ but it’s a good title (and a purposefully provocative one), so I’m running with it. There is a lot of material available in print and online about space syntax. However, for someone unfamiliar with the principles of space syntax, it can be a daunting prospect deciding where to begin when there are 30 years of material freely available from multiple sources. If you don’t chose wisely, there’s the very real risk of accidentally diving into the deep end before getting your feet wet in the shallow waters of the space syntax pool.

When I say 30 years, I mark the beginnings of widespread space syntax research from the publication date of The Social Logic of Space by Bill Hillier and Julienne Hanson. However, there were about 10 years of groundwork involving many people preceding its publication in 1984. For example, the 40th Anniversary celebrations of the MSc in Advanced Architectural Studies course at University College London (of which I am a graduate and former Course Director) occurred this year and one can easily mark the beginnings of space syntax using this date. In the past, Bill Hillier has referred to me as the founder of International Space Syntax Symposia (now approaching its 20th anniversary) and, while that is generally true, like all things space syntax it was really a collaborative genesis involving myself, Tim Stonor and several others. The fact is I haven’t attended an International Space Syntax Symposium since the second one in Brasilia, Brazil (I was scheduled to present a paper at the third symposium in Atlanta in 2001 but was unable to attend though my paper on Savannah was still included in the proceedings).

What follows – I hope – is a simple, three-part introduction for those totally unfamiliar or only vaguely familiar with space syntax. For those familiar with space syntax (including its practitioners), this introduction will most likely be boring (perhaps in the extreme). Along the way, I will direct readers to other useful resources and additional reading if they want to learn more.

Part 1 draws upon home page of the Space Syntax Network, which provides a simple and direct 10,000-foot overview of space syntax (3,048-meters for those on the metric system) without getting too much into the details. It also includes a short, informative introduction video (embedded below) featuring Professor Alan Penn. Part 2 (Basics) and Part 3 (Results) draw upon distilled excerpts from the space syntax overview chapter of my forthcoming book, Relentless Magnificence: The American Urban Grid. As such, this means Space Syntax for Dummies is primarily intended for an American audience though I hope readers in other parts of the world will still find it useful.

Because space syntax is such a collaborative research program (remarkably so, in my opinion), Space Syntax for Dummies synthesizes the ideas and words of others over the last three decades as well as using my own words for introducing space syntax to a new audience. It would be almost impossible to compile an exhaustive list of people contributing to space syntax over this time period – and this introduction, in particular – but certainly the most important to cite are Bill Hillier, Julienne Hanson, Alan Penn, Tim Stonor, John Peponis, Nick “Sheep” Dalton, and Alasdair Turner.

Excerpt from the Space Syntax Network:

Space syntax is a science-based, human-focused approach that investigates relationships between spatial layout and a range of social, economic and environmental phenomena. These phenomena include patterns of movement, awareness and interaction; density, land use and land value; urban growth and societal differentiation; safety and crime distribution.

Space syntax was pioneered in the 1970s by Professor Bill Hillier, Prof Julienne Hanson and colleagues at The Bartlett, University College London. Today, space syntax is used and developed in hundreds of universities and educational institutions as well as professional practices worldwide. Built on quantitative analysis and geospatial computer technology, space syntax provides a set of theories and methods for the analysis of spatial configurations of all kinds and at all scales.

Research using the space syntax approach has shown how:

– movement patterns are powerfully shaped by spatial layout

– patterns of security and insecurity are affected by spatial design

– this relation shapes the evolution of the centres and sub-centres that makes cities liveable

– spatial segregation and social disadvantage are related in cities

– buildings can create more interactive organisational cultures.

Watch the UCL introduction video featuring Professor Alan Penn below:

Read the full article here: Space Syntax Network.

Additional resources: Tim Stonor’s blog, The Power of the Network, is a good resource for reading about the ideas and findings of space syntax expressed in layman’s terms without getting blogged down in the nitty gritty details of the research behind the words.

Stay tuned for Space Syntax for Dummies, Part 2: Basics!

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The city’s essential DNA | Mark David Major | The Journal of Space Syntax

cover_issue_7_en_US“The city’s essential DNA: Formal design and spatial processes in the urban patterns” by Mark David Major is now available in Vol 4, No 1 (2013) of The Journal of Space Syntax. Read an excerpt below:

Our descriptions of cities are often based on their physical form. In urban theory, these descriptions are usually expressed in terms of a dichotomy whereby meaning emerges from contrasting cities as organic or regular, unplanned or planned, natural or artificial, generated or imposed, and so on (Gallion and Eisner, 1963; Alexander, 1965; Moholy-Nagy, 1968; Batty and Longley, 1984). Kostoff (1991) suggests this dichotomy is ‘the most persistent, and crudest, analysis of urban form’. Hillier et al. (2012) even argue that ‘we should abandon the long-standing distinction between geometric and organic cities’ because it does not adequately address the deliberate use of geometry at different scales of the city (p.187). Notably, the first stresses process over time in terms of ‘unplanned evolution’ or ‘instinctive growth’, whereas the second stresses the conscious act of design in a ‘centrally planned scheme’ (Kostoff, 1991, p.43). This ‘shorthand’ provides a basic understanding of cities across different times, cultures, and geographical regions. The usefulness of descriptions such as ‘organic’ or ‘regular’ lies precisely in the fact they are theory-loaded terms. They seemingly convey a lot of information in an easy-to-grasp manner. We say ‘seemingly’ because these terms are so theory-loaded they can often lead to confusion, which can make their descriptive value ‘more a hindrance than an aid’ (Kostoff, 1991, p.43). For example, ‘regular’ seems to be an explicit description of both the physical form and design process that gave rise to that composition. However, the term ‘organic’ seems to only pertain to process. According to Batty and Longley (1994), organic cities ‘grow naturally from a myriad of individual decisions at a much smaller scale than those which lead to planned growth. Planned cities or their parts are usually more monumental, more focused, and more regular’ (p.8). The term ‘deformed’ is sometimes used to describe the physical form of organic cities, but more often than not, is tacitly understood to be a given about such cities. This explicit and implicit description of urban form and process forms the basis of their descriptive value, since most cities are easily classified as having common or different attributes when characterised as organic or regular.

Download a PDF of the full article here: The city’s essential DNA: Formal design and spatial processes in the urban patterns | Major | The Journal of Space Syntax.

UPDATE: The Journal of Space Syntax has now included the images in the article available at the link above. However,  they are also below for your reference.

DNA_figure_01The Urban Transect

DNA_figure_02Form and process in the urban pattern (left to right) grid expansion, block size manipulation, deformation, street extension, and discrete separation.

PrintPhiladelphia, Yesterday and Today: Philadelphia urban pattern in 1682 (left) and today (right) within bounds of William Penn’s original 1682 plan.

DNA_figure_04The Urban Pattern: Istanbul, Turkey (left), Paris, France (center), and New York in the United States (right) (Note: not to scale)

(Comment from Steve Mouzon) I’ve always found the classical-vernacular/refined-organic useful when considering urbanism. A couple quirks to consider: A highly talented planner can do a competent job with an organic plan, but a vernacular process will never produce a rigid grid. With that having been said, the best might do a bit better than competent, like Leon Krier at Poundbury, but Poundbury isn’t as good as dozens of Cotswold towns built by the townspeople. Most planners are not nearly so good as Krier, so each pole of the spectrum is obviously really good at what they do. FWIW, I regard Krier as the personification of classical planning, and Christopher Alexander as the personification of the vernacular process. We need them both, although neither of them realize that. I had a good conversation with Krier about that one night in South Bend. I’ve heard about Space Syntax for years, but have no meaningful knowledge of it. Someone (you, I hope) should blog a description that’s clear and descriptive to the rest of us.

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20 Must-Read Texts for Urban Planners (#1-10)

by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributorreps_covers

10. “The Origin and Spread of the Grid-Pattern Town” (1946) by Dan Stanislawski

An old text, perhaps obscure to many and only familiar to a few, “The Origin and Spread of the Grid-Pattern Town” is one of the earliest and most thorough reviews of the evolution of regular grid town planning in the world. Yes, Stanislawski subscribes the spread of regular grid town planning to a process of historical diffusion, which Spiro Kostoff (see below) correctly points out nobody believes in any more. Despite this flaw, Stanislawski’s review is surprisingly comprehensive, for the most part. Stanislawski does seem to gloss over medieval town platting, see Maurice Beresford’s 1967 New Towns of the Middle Ages: Town Plantation in England, Wales and Gascony. However, some later writers ignore all together clear examples of regular grid planning in certain regions of the world (the Orient, for example). Stanislawski’s article is still a valuable resource today for any reader interested in the regular grid as long as they are careful about filtering out some of his misplaced – discredited today – ideas (for example, historical diffusion or the importance of Hippodamus).

The article is available here

9. “Savannah and the Issue of Precedent: City Plan as Resource” (1993) by Stanford Anderson

John Reps in his historical narrative of American town planning (see below) is enchanted with the historical ward plan of Savannah, as are many architects, urban designers, and planners. Reps is equally mystified (and a little despondent) about why the Savannah plan was not more influential in the history of American town planning. In “Savannah and the Issue of Precedent: City Plan as Resource,” Anderson offers a succinct and brilliant analysis about how the ward plan of Savannah operated in terms of street alignments and dwelling entrance locations working together to structure the outside-to-inside ‘assimilation’ of strangers into the town (principally in relation to the port). In generic terms, Savannah appears to be quite typical of a lot of waterfront settlements in American planning. However, its detailed specifications for squares and constitution are rigid, making it an inflexible model for early American town development (for example, compared to the flexibility of the Philadelphia or Spanish Laws of the Indies models). Anderson’s article should be on the standard reading list for any academic program in planning.

The article is available on Google Books here

8. The Practice of Local Government Planning (2000)

It is one thing to complain about how planning works in the United States. However, it is hypocritical to complain without really understanding how planning works in the United States. The Practice of Local Government Planning offers a clear solution. For years, the various incarnations of the “green book” have been the go-to source for American planners to immerse themselves in the full scope of their profession in the United States. This Municipal Management Series book is the first one that any planner will open when seeking to pass the AICP exam. It is comprehensive and detailed. Warning: it is a very, very dry read. It is also extremely careful to remain neutral when presenting a picture about the way things work, i.e. this is what it is, not this is the right way to do things. In this sense, it is value-free and empty at its core. Nonetheless, it remains an invaluable resource for any planner, or anyone wanting to understand planners.


7. The City Assembled: The Elements of Urban Form Through History (1992) by Spiro Kostoff

6. The City Shaped: Urban Patterns and Meanings Through History (1991) by Spiro Kostoff

5. Cities of the American West: A History of Frontier Urban Planning (1979) by John W. Reps

4. The Making of Urban America: A History of City Planning in the United States (1965) by John W. Reps

Kostoff’s The City Shaped/The City Assembled are the crucial books about the history of town planning in the world for any urban planner to have on their bookshelves. Reps’ The Making of Urban America/Cities of the American West about the history of town planning in the United States are the crucial books for any urban planner to also have on their bookshelves. If an urban planner does not have these books on their bookshelves, it is reasonable to question the quality of said planner. There are other good historical narratives out there on the subject (Sibyl Moholy-Nagy’s The Matrix of Man or Eisner and Gallion’s The Urban Pattern, for example). However, Kostoff and Reps’ books are the most comprehensive and thorough for their particular subjects. All four books incorporate hundreds of plans/plats and photographs to tell the story of town planning in the United States and world at large. They also offer detailed historical information (especially Reps) about the people and events involved in building our cities. Sometimes they are insightful and sometimes they are mistaken. For example, despite his protestations about the dichotomy so prevalent in town planning, Kostoff remains firmly entrapped within that dichotomy, i.e. ‘organic’ and ‘regular’ cities. Reps correctly points out the historical importance of William Penn’s plan of Philadelphia but misstates the reasons, assigning to Philadelphia what should have more appropriately been given to the Nine Square Plan of New Haven and the Spanish Law of the Indies, which Kostoff correctly emphasizes (though we are discussing subtle but important degrees of difference instead of a chasm in thought between both writers). When he ventures away from historical narrative and facts into the realm of opinion, Reps is often prone to undervalue the functional power of regular grid. However, these are endlessly useful texts for anyone interested in cities and the collection of plans and other historical documents (bird’s eye views) are a wonderful resource for any planner to have readily at hand.

3. Space is the Machine: A Configurational Theory of Architecture (1996) by Bill Hillier

A purist could argue that anyone interested in space syntax should start with The Social Logic of Space (1984) by Bill Hillier and Julienne Hanson. The Social Logic of Space is an important book where Hillier and Hanson spell out a lot of groundwork for the theoretical and mathematical foundations of space syntax. However, they do so to a level of detail that some readers might find off-putting. Even Hillier and Hanson admit that one of its chapters is practically unreadable because it is so dry with technical detail. If you want to learn about the space syntax approach and some of its early, important findings without getting bogged down in the detail, then you will be better served by starting with Hillier’s Space is the Machine. Besides, Hillier is always careful about repeating the ‘big picture’ items that arose from The Social Logic of Space (beady ring settlements, restricted random process, and so on), so you won’t miss too much. For planners, the most important chapters in Space is the Machine to get immersed are about cities as movement economies, whether architecture can cause social malaise, and the fundamental city. There are plenty of goodies for architects as well. Space is the Machine is a must-read for anyone serious about a scientific approach to the built environment.

Space is the Machine is available here


2. The City: Suggestions for Investigation of Human Behavior in the Urban Environment (1925) by Robert E. Park and Ernest W. Burgess

One of the planning profession’s biggest problems is that the Chicago School (the sociologists Park and Burgess and their colleague, Homer Hoyt, see sector model of city growth, who together were the founders of human ecology) got so much right from the very beginning that there wasn’t anywhere for planning to go from there but down. Of course, planning theory proceeded to accomplish this downhill spiral with great vigor and spectacularly bad results (see the second half of the 20th century). With the advent of the computer processor, Park and Burgess’ approach may appear somewhat quaint to modern eyes. However, the essentials  about the city are there. More importantly, Park and Burgess never divorce the socio-economic nature of the city from its physical form but view them as intimately bound together. An important book and somewhat underrated in today’s world by planners, though it’s difficult to understand why or how that should be the case.

1. The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) by Jane Jacobs

Big surprise, huh? These days it seems like anyone interested in cities is obsessed with Jane Jacobs, either in implementing and promoting her ideas or in feverishly going to ridiculous lengths trying to refute them (one might call it Jacobs Derangement Syndrome). Indeed, this obsession in itself is a testament to the power of her book. Ironically, for its time, the most novel thing Jacobs did was she dared to look out her window and observe how things were really working out there on the street. It’s a sad statement on the planning profession that this was somehow viewed as a sacrilege when the book was first published and, to a certain extent, this perception endures even today. I mean, how dare she actually suggest we evaluate (and, by implication, take responsibility for) the social and economic consequences of our planning decisions. The Death and Life of Great American Cities is the essential book for any planner.

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20 Must-Read Texts for Urban Planners (#11-20)

by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist Contributor

Lists are often a handy tool to spark a discussion, debate, or even an argument. The purpose of this list is pretty straightforward, i.e. what should you have read. Of course, in limiting the list to a mere 20 texts (books and articles), there is no possible way it can be exhaustive. There are a lot of interesting texts out there from a lot of different perspectives (some better than others). It is also true that compiling such a list will inevitably reveal the particular biases of the person preparing the compilation (like revealing your iTunes playlist). In the end, it is only their opinion. There’s no way around it. This list demonstrates a clear bias towards texts about the relationship between the physical fabric of cities and their spatio-functional nature with a particular emphasis on first-hand observation of how things really work. Because of this, perhaps the most surprising thing about this list is how few texts there are by people who identify themselves as planners (or perhaps not, depending on your perspective). Finally, as with most lists, it is wise to reserve the right to amend/update said list in order to allow for any unfortunate oversights. Having said that, the list is an absolute good. The list is life. All around its margins lies suburban sprawl. Let the making of lists begin…p_book_cover_1


20. Learning from Las Vegas: The Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form (1972) by Robert Venturi, Steven Izenour and Denise Scott Brown

Venturi et al expand the arguments first outlined in Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture in 1966 to the urban level with their seminal study of Las Vegas. Only on these terms, it is an interesting read. However, dig a little deeper beneath the surface and into their wonderful series of figure-ground representations of spatial functioning on, along and adjacent to the Las Vegas Strip. You will discover Venturi et al concede – almost casually – the functional dynamics of how the strip operates to the realm of urban space and pattern in order to quickly focus on their arguments on what really interests them, i.e. the semantic nature of architectural form. A surface reading of only what Venturi et al writes misses a lot of the richness found within since there is a whole other book hidden based on what they are not saying but merely showing you.

19. The Concept of Dwelling: on the way to figurative architecture (1985) by Christian Norberg-Schulz

One always has to be careful with phenomenology because, by definition, almost everything written is subjective and open to vast differences in interpretation. However, much like the previous entry on this list, if a reader is willing to dig beneath of the surface and give thoughtful consideration about what, at first, appears to be purposefully opaque writing, then often there are rich rewards to be discovered. Norberg-Schulz’s The Concept of Dwelling is one of the best examples.

18. Ladders, Architecture at Rice 34 (1996) by Albert Pope

It is something of a mystery why this book seems to be sorely under-appreciated and underrated outside of Houston, Texas. Pope’s study about the physical pattern of the American urban fabric is a fascinating read. Urban planners – especially American ones – could do a lot worse than read an entire book examining the physical pattern of the urban fabric in cities they are suppose to be planning; in fact, they have and do so regularly.

17. Dreaming the Rational City: The Myth of American City Planning (1983) by M. Christine Boyer

Boyer’s The City of Collective Memory seems to overshadow her earlier book, which is a shame. Her history of the planning profession in the United States is a devastating and powerful critique that is as relevant today as when it was first published. It is also a much better book than The City of Collective Memory.

16. America (1988) by Jean Baudrillard

The best planners are good sociologists and the best sociologists are great observers. Baudrillard was one of the best and keenest observers of human society and its meaning. Baudrillard wraps his observations within a flamboyant, often elegant, and occasionally beautiful use of language. It is not always clear whether the flurries of linguistic gymnastics are really his or is the result of translating from French into English. However, the results often amount to genius. In America, Baudrillard’s compare and contrast of Paris, New York, and Los Angeles yields rich rewards to any planner who dares to pay attention.

15. Streets and Patterns (2005) by Stephen Marshall

The first half of Marshall’s book is a brilliant review and analysis of where we are and how we got here. The second half – focusing on possible solutions – descends into being only interesting.p_book_cover_2


14. City: Rediscovering the Center (1989) by William H. Whyte

Whyte’s study of informal, social interaction in public spaces is a case study in urban observation that any planner should seek to take into account and emulate. Yes, sometimes Whyte’s conclusions are too localized about the attributes of the space itself than how it fits into the pattern of a larger urban context. However, at other times, his findings are remarkable for their common sense. For example, people in public spaces will move chairs for the purpose of promoting interaction rather than locate their interactions where chairs are located or tend to locate social interaction in areas of high movement like street corners. Anyone who has ever tried to move their way through to party – mumbling to themselves “why do people have to stop here to talk” – will understand many of Whyte’s observations about human nature and informal interaction are rock solid. Whyte’s City can almost be read as a companion piece to Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

13. “The Architecture of Community: Some New Proposals on the Social Consequences of Architectural and Planning Decisions” (1987) by Julienne Hanson and Bill Hillier, Architecture and Comportement, Architecture and Behaviour, 3(3): 251-273.

Download the article here: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/5265/1/5265.pdf

There are many texts by a lot of people about why space syntax is important. However, few have driven home the point more powerfully and succinctly than this early article by Hanson and Hillier about the social consequences of design decisions for Modern housing estates (projects) in the UK. In doing so, Hanson and Hillier add considerable intellectual and quantitative heft to Jane Jacobs’ arguments about urban safety and “eyes on the street” in The Death and Life of Great American Cities. This article will probably be obscure to most planners, especially in the USA. The real crime is it’s rarely read outside of the space syntax community itself.

12. Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream (2000) by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Jeff Speck

A purist will probably argue when it comes to New Urbanism, start with The New Urbanism by Peter Katz. If you’re not really keen on appetizers, then go straight to the main meal. Suburban Nation is not only about what is the New Urbanism but also delves into the argument about why we need the New Urbanism today. New Urbanism does not always get it right. Does anybody? However, there shouldn’t be any doubt that it is heading in the right direction and that is a huge achievement in itself.

11. “Transect Planning” (2002) by Andres Duany and Emily E. Talen. APA Journal, 68(3): 245-266.

Duany and Talen elegantly translate a fundamental aspect about the spatio-functioning of streets tailored to urban form into understandable terms for public officials, urban designers and planners who are still trapped in – or refuse to leave – the box of the Euclidean zoning model and the arbitrary roadway classifications almost universally associated with it over the last half-century. In terms of the prevailing planning paradigm afflicting our cities, transect planning is the metaphorical equivalent of Duany and Talen pushing a Trojan horse inside the city gates. The more applied, the less tenable becomes the roadway classifications associated with the Euclidean zoning model. Beware of New Urbanists bearing gifts (i.e. methodology).

Coming Soon: 20 Must-Read Texts for Urban Planners (#1-10)!

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Space Syntax | 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremonies | London

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 13: Aerial view shows the construction starting for the Olympic opening stage designed by Danny Boyle at the Olympic Stadium on June 13, 2012 in London, England. PHOTOGRAPH BY Jason Hawkes / Barcroft Media UK Office, London. T +44 845 370 2233 W www.barcroftmedia.com USA Office, New York City. T +1 212 796 2458 W www.barcroftusa.com Indian Office, Delhi. T +91 11 4053 2429 W www.barcroftindia.com
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM – JUNE 13: Aerial view shows the construction starting for the Olympic opening stage designed by Danny Boyle at the Olympic Stadium on June 13, 2012 in London, England. PHOTOGRAPH BY Jason Hawkes / Barcroft Media UK Office, London. T +44 845 370 2233 W www.barcroftmedia.com USA Office, New York City. T +1 212 796 2458 W www.barcroftusa.com Indian Office, Delhi. T +91 11 4053 2429 W www.barcroftindia.com

A lot of people did not notice it at the time. Heck, even I did not notice it in the moment. But what was that on the stadium floor during the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremonies in London… after they took up the turf masquerading as a ‘green and pleasant land’? Why is was none other than the space syntax model of London itself! Pretty cool, if you ask me. See a beautiful aerial photograph of the space syntax model on the stadium floor during rehearsals below, courtesy of The Sun.

More information here from University College London.

Read more about it here at The Daily Mail.

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