Introduction to space syntax in urban studies - Open access book
In August 2021, the open access book appeared with an extensive introduction with a comprehensive introduction to space syntax method and theory for graduate students and researchers. It provides a step-by-step approach for its application in urban planning and design. This textbook aims to increase the accessibility of the space syntax method for the first time to all graduate students and researchers who are dealing with the built environment.
What is space syntax?
First of all, Space syntax is a spatial analysis tool, calculating and quantifying spatial relationships in built environments on all scale levels. In towns, cities and villages, space syntax calculates the degree of spatial integration of a street in relation to all others in a given system. Inside buildings, space syntax calculates the degree of spatial integration of all rooms in relation to all other rooms.
The results from the spatial analyses can be compared with a large set of socio-economic data, such as pedestrian flow rates, property prices, crime distribution, location pattern of urban functions (shops, dwellings etc), degree of building densities, etc. As worldwide research has shown, there are correlations between degrees of spatial integration and various socio-economic data. Therefore, space syntax is recent applied in urban design and regenerating of urban areas, and improving the way finding in complex buildings (such as museums, art galleries, hospitals etc).
To sum up, space syntax in urban studies consists of four things;
- a concise definition of the spatial elements used in space syntax,
- a set of analyses techniques to calculate spatial inter-relationships
- a set of methods for correlating the results from the spatial analyses to socio-economic data
- a set of descriptive theories on how cities function spatially and socio-economically
The method is developed and refined since the 1970’s. The pioneer of space syntax is prof. Bill Hiller from University College London.
This new holistic textbook explains how space syntax is built up, how it works, its theoretical foundation and how to apply space syntax in urban design practice. Until now a text book of this kind was lacking. So far, researchers from six continents use space syntax, whereas UK and Dubai are applying space syntax into urban design and strategic planning practice.
What kind of urban problems does space syntax solve?
A space syntax analysis gives a spatial diagnosis over well- as well as poorly functioning neighbourhoods or town centres. Here are some examples:
- The optimal location of a bridge or new road link (For example the location of the Millenium Bridge in London)
- Improving pedestrian accessibility and street life in urban squares and streets (For example the Trafalguas Square in London)
- Regenerating poorly functioning urban areas (For example strategic plan of KingsX in London)
- Making spatial diagnosis of problem neighbourhoods (For example space syntax analyses of the 40 ‘problem neighbourhoods’ in the Netherlands)
- Analysing the impacts of new road projects on existing urban centres (For example analyses of alternatives for the new Rijnland route in Leiden)
What is the societal contribution of space syntax?
Research and theory building on built environments is a very young discipline. Space syntax has so far succeeded in making an operational spatial analysis method that is tested worldwide on all kinds of built environments, independent on cultures and political systems. Space syntax gives scientists the mathematical support to understand and support their substantiate observations and to derive their conclusions with facts regards research on built environments.
The aim is to ensure that new urban planning and design proposals will function according to the intentions. We have built a sufficient high number of poorly functioning neighbourhoods after the Second World War. Some of these neighbourhoods are analysed with space syntax. In most cases, high correlations are found between levels of spatial integration and anti-social behaviour and the level of avoidance of people in streets.
When do you use space syntax?
Space syntax can be used for a wide range of disciplines. First of all, space syntax is used to analyse the current situation of any kind of built environment.
- For architects, space syntax is used for option testing of planning and design proposal.
- For archaeologists, space syntax is used for analysing the spatial layouts of excavated town and buildings and derive from the analyses where the most frequented streets was located and where the shops was located in the past
- For criminologists, space syntax is used for making a spatial diagnosis of neighbourhoods with high level of reported crime and anti-social behaviour.
- For property developers, space syntax is used for making indications on the property value on their properties as a result of future spatial changes in a neighbourhood.
This open access textbook is a comprehensive introduction to space syntax method and theory for graduate students and researchers. It provides a step-by-step approach for its application in urban planning and design. This textbook aims to increase the accessibility of the space syntax method for the first time to all graduate students and researchers who are dealing with the built environment, such as those in the field of architecture, urban design and planning, urban sociology, urban geography, archaeology, road engineering, and environmental psychology. Taking a didactical approach, the authors have structured each chapter to explain key concepts and show practical examples followed by underlying theory and provided exercises to facilitate learning in each chapter. The textbook gradually eases the reader into the fundamental concepts and leads them towards complex theories and applications. In summary, the general competencies gain after reading this book are:
- to understand, explain, and discuss space syntax as a method and theory;
- be capable of undertaking various space syntax analyses such as axial analysis, segment analysis, point depth analysis, or visibility analysis;
- be able to apply space syntax for urban research and design practice;
- be able to interpret and evaluate space syntax analysis results and embed these in a wider context;
- be capable of producing new original work using space syntax.
This holistic textbook functions as compulsory literature for spatial analysis courses where space syntax is part of the methods taught. Likewise, this space syntax book is useful for graduate students and researchers who want to do self-study. Furthermore, the book provides readers with the fundamental knowledge to understand and critically reflect on existing literature using space syntax.
- Authors: Akkelies van Nes, Claudi Yamu, department of Urbanism, Section Spatial planning and strategy
- Download the open-access book here.