The concept of space in architecture

Space is defined as the area within and around an enclosure. It is one of the most important elements of design in architecture. A critical and sensitive aspect of space is that it affects and appeals to its user’s emotions. Space can only be discussed successfully with form, as the relationship between both is central to creating functional and aesthetical buildings. Space defines our visual field and allows us to express our architectural thoughts. Space can be found in all scales of the built environment.

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Spatial analyses. Croquis Architecture_©


The design begins by transforming ideas into specific spatial and geometric formations. These formations are generated by the spatial functions using their syntax. While space syntax focuses on describing and analysing the relationships between spaces in buildings and urban areas, spatial genetics is the distinct parameters, attributes, qualities, or patterns that form the bedrock for that description, nomenclature, or functionality. 

Spatial genetics identifies the core attributes and reasons an enclosed area should be named. It is an aspect of investigative architecture that queries the spatiality of a design proposal. Spatial genetics uses the concepts of anthropology and anthropometry as a basis for identifying the uniqueness of a spatial provision. Is it the name, size, or activities defining a space and giving? it uniqueness? Example: An exit or entry foyer designed for 400 persons can be a different size than that designed for 100 or 1500 persons; why?  What is the idea behind the operation of an exit door? Why should it open outwards, not inwards? What makes a domestic store in a residential apartment different from a kitchen and a store in a commercial warehouse? Why is a bedroom distinct from a living room? If space is tagged “dining”, what makes it work as dining? What is the idea behind room height selection? How is a single room in a public apartment different from a flat and a self-contained apartment? They are all single rooms but operate in different settings. That setting affects the level and extent of furnishing, which ensures the proper functioning of that space. The furnishing is done based on the patterns of activities that go around that space over time. It is on this depth of analysis that the concept of “Space follows function” was postulated by Edet Samuel in 2019. 

The quality of space in architecture

The quality of the enclosure is between the spatial and formal configurations. Spatial qualities in architecture are defined by their form (outline boundary) and texture (size), i.e. The degree of enclosure and the nature and reason for the enclosure. The study of space genetics is an aspect of investigative architecture, where the quantity of a space is measured by the extent of the value of that space, and the level of workability measures the efficiency of the space. If a hall is designed for an event, how accommodating is it?

The space’s quality determines its psychological effects on its users during and after the interaction, E.g. compare the feeling of a prisoner in a small and tight cell with the same prisoner in a large and spacious cell. In both cases, one might assume the prisoner in the larger space to be happier, but a man alone in a space larger than his visual field has the same impact of dread in a smaller space. In this case, the reason for the cell design hen impacted the inmate.

Another antecedent in spatial genetics is the Chinese courtyard system, where courtyards signify harmony with nature and social relationships, so they surround buildings with a space to maintain that heritage. Regarding the quality of a space, we must understand the typology of spaces provided in a building. 

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Spatial typology_©Francis D.K. Ching: Architecture Form, Space, & Order

Characteristics and Analysis of Spatial Genetics

This method evaluates the space intensity and attributes using spatial data obtained from anthropological or anthropometrical studies.

  • Proportion and Dimension

We may have functional or formal qualities in a given room dimension. The functional quality may be obtained from the minimum and maximum dimensions of the furniture and human activities. To find this appropriate dimension, we need to understand the relative proportional distribution of the space. Dimension is the size of a space, while proportion is the number of that size in the context. E.g. the value of a toilet space might be 900mm x 2100mm; if the toilet were to be converted to a room, we would need 4 to 5 times the size of that toilet to create a functional room.

  • Furniture

Furniture is a key element in accessing the functionality of a space, which is also affected by the spatial data obtained from its genetics. Most times, they are arranged according to functional rules, but then others can be arranged according to proportional and positional rules. Take a rules study of the furnishing of a Chinese vernacular house.

  • Spatial Layout and Composition

For example, the spatial layout of a museum plays a key role in the movement, interaction, and communication of the staff members. In so doing, it creates a unique organisation that applies to schools, hospitals, etc.

The analytic process may include the following:

  • Observation of occupation and interaction patterns of visitors and staff travel paths and interaction patterns.
  • Spatial accessibility analysis
  • Room and Object visibility
  • Walking distances
  • Natural surveillance & visual field analysis
Spatial analysis_©
  • Conclusion

Spatial genetics begins by understanding the generic function of a given enclosure. It provides a comprehensive and consistent benchmark for understanding arrangements and their likely effects on its users.


Spatial analysis (2023) [Accessed on 23 February 2023]

Analysis of the architectural space through the spatial neighborhood concept (2023) [Accessed on 25 February 2023]

Spatial perception(2023) [Accessed on 23 February 2023]

Space Syntax (2002) Tate, Britain, Report on the Spatial Accessibility Study of the Proposed Layouts, Space Syntax Limited [Accessed on 26 February 2023]


Edet Samuel is a Nigerian based architect with consistent practice experience in the built environment He began his career as a pupil architect in a firm and grew through the ranks of starting out his practice. He holds a Masters degree in Architecture from the University of Nigeria, and he's currently pursuing Doctorate with focus on Intelligent building management systems, architectural forensics, and Urban design. Edet Samuel has been exposed to a wide range of design projects cutting across major categories of buildings, and has contributed this experiences to students' academic works. Edet is broadly interested in contemporary responses and diversification in architecture, especially in areas of improved working drawings & detailing, design information and management, public health architecture in this era of pandemics that has made the home front the first line of defense, and design as 'preventive medicine'.