Space syntax is a science-based and human-centric approach, as well as a set of theories linking space and society, established in the 1970s by Prof Bill Hillier, Prof Julienne Hanson, and colleagues at The Bartlett, University College London. It examines correlations between the spatial organization and a variety of social, economic, and environmental aspects in buildings and urban areas. These incorporate phenomena such as patterns of movement, awareness, interaction, density, land use, land value, urban growth, societal differentiation, and safety and crime spread. Space syntax presents a set of theories and techniques for the study of spatial configurations of all kinds and at all scales through the medium of quantitative analysis and geospatial computer technology, along with addressing where people are, how they move, how they adapt, and how they talk about it.

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Map of Axial Lines in Brasilia © 

Thus, the theory of space syntax, primarily based on two fundamental statements, states that:

  1. Space is not a background to human activity but is central to it.
  2. Space is first and foremost configurational. In other words, what happens in an isolated area – a room, corridor, street, or public space – is fundamentally affected by the links between that space and the arrangement of spaces to which it is connected.

Additionally, space syntax comprises four fundamental components used in all space syntax applications, which are:

1. Representations of Space: 

Spatial elements are represented through their geometric forms and depict how people experience them. They can either be derived geometrically, for example, point, axial line, segment, convex space, and isovist, or functionally defined, for example, rooms in a building.

2. Analysis of Spatial Relations: 

Relationships between spatial elements result from their configuration. These relationships can be objectively analyzed using various measures, included among which are integration (figure A) and choice (figure B). These two measures reflect the two fundamental elements in human movement: firstly, the selection of a destination, and secondly, the choice of a route. One measures the ease of access, integration, whereas the other measures the passing flow, choice.

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Space Syntax Choice Pattern of Greater London © 

3. Interpretive Models

Spatial prototypes, developed to study, explain, interpret, and forecast different kinds of spatial and socio-economic events, practically examine empirical phenomena such as urban movement, urban crime, and centrality as a process, as well as general factors such as spatial intelligibility.

4. Theories

Theories stating relations between spatial and social patterns, established to explore how space is internalized into socio-economic processes through which the built environment is created, have been done in two ways. Firstly, theories can be used to examine commonalities in the pattern of models across functions and cultures. Secondly, they can use space syntax tools to explore what happens to spatial patterns if objects in space are deployed and shaped in different ways.

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Three Kinds of Spatial representations ©

Hence, the space syntax approach formulated to help architects comprehend the possible effects of their designs on the people who engaged and moved around in them, be they buildings or urban fabric, has since grown around the world in a variety of research areas and practical applications.  The areas of application include archaeology, criminology, information technology, urban and human geography, anthropology, and cognitive science. In the real world, space syntax provides a set of planning and design guidelines as well as a toolkit for the generation and evaluation of ideas. Live projects raise important research questions that are fed back from practice to university. The result is a process of knowledge exchange and co-creation that incites innovation and aids operation, ultimately benefiting our buildings and cities. Thus, research using the space syntax approach has shown how:

  1. The patterns of movement are powerfully influenced by the spatial layout.
  2. Patterns of safety and danger are affected by spatial design.
  3. This relation shapes the evolution of the centres and sub-centres that makes cities liveable.
  4. Spatial segregation and social disadvantage are related aspects of cities.
  5. Buildings can create more interactive organizational cultures.

However, space syntax’s scientific accuracy and reliability have come under investigation because of a seeming inconsistency that arises under a few particular geometric arrangements with axial maps, one of the principal representation techniques of spatial configurations. This paradox, proposed by Carlo Ratti at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was comprehensively disproved in an intense academic dialogue with Bill Hillier and Alan Penn. Subsequently, there have been attempts to link space syntax with more conventional transport engineering models, using intersections as nodes and constructing visibility graphs to connect them, by researchers including Bin Jiang, Valerio Cutini, and Michael Batty. Apart from this, there have also been a few research developments, combining space syntax with geographic accessibility analysis in GIS. One such example is that of the place syntax-models produced by the research group called Spatial Analysis and Design at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden. Recently, works by Vito Latora from 2006, suggesting a network approach to street centrality analysis and design, highlighting space syntax’s contribution to decades of prior studies in the physics of spatial, complex networks, were published.


Payushi is a final year architecture student from Ahmedabad who believes that architecture is an expression of celebration, individuality, and uniqueness. She is interested in minimalism, fascinated by history, inspired by photography, and aims at exploring the world, one city at a time.

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