Category Archives: Architecture

Centres and Cities

I’m sure you’re right about the link between street morphology and attractiveness to business. Centres seem to do one of three things through time. They either:

1. consolidate and grow (London, Paris)

2. move (Jeddah)

3. implode (Sunderland).

Oh, and some places:

4. never have a functioning centre (Skelmersdale, UK New Towns) because they were designed in ignorance of the importance of a) grid continuity and b) multi-scale centrality – properties measured by Space Syntax models

or

5. divide and reunite (Berlin) but we can’t blame the architects for that!

Email to Paul Swinney at the Centre for Cities

Space Syntax: the push of intent, the pull of need and the resistance of the “pre-digital”

I was asked an interesting question yesterday about the barriers to growth and acceptance of Space Syntax and Integrated Urban Models.

I believe there are three important components to the answer.

First, the growth of Space Syntax Limited‘s business was robust for 19 years, following its startup as a UCL spinoff company in 1989 – until 2008, when the bottom dropped out of the global real estate market. In that initial period, the company’s turnover grew at an annual rate of over 20%. This allowed continuous staff growth and market penetration. During this time the company devoted profits to the production of new software and new research findings as well as a modest return to shareholders and staff bonuses. It invested this way because it was determined that its growth should be about long term success and sustainability, not short-term reward.

2008 saw the global financial crisis hit the urban planning and design industry at home and abroad. This disrupted the growth curve at Space Syntax for two years. The company is today back on an accelerated growth track having seen consistent turnover growth at over 40% in each of the past two years, the steepest rate in its history. Continue reading

Spatial Planning and the Future of Cities

How might cities be planned in the future?

This is not only a question of how they might look but also, and more importantly, about how they might be laid out as patterns of buildings and spatial connections.

Laying out a city means answering two key questions: “what goes where?” and the “how does it all connect together?” The answers to these questions have fundamental implications for the social, economic and environmental performance of urban places. And the jury is out as to which is the best way to do so: to use spatial planning to create place.

The global urban risk is that architects and planners have created, and continue to create, highly unsustainable city layouts – car dependent, socially divisive, congested and life-suppressing. And, it would seem, the more technologically advanced cities have become, the less efficiently they have worked.

By contrast, the street-based, continuously connected grid – the kind of layout that the slow, incremental evolution of cities produced before the intervention of modernism – has largely fallen out of fashion.

My argument in this piece is that the continuously connected grid is the only form of urban layout that can deliver sufficient social, economic and environmental value. The only kind of grid that is truly sustainable. Continue reading

Smart City Planning & Design Principles

Smart Cities are smart in two ways. First, they harness technologies to improve the way that urban places are led and managed. Second, they create better outcomes for the people that use them. This two-pronged approach applies to all aspects of Smart Cities.

When it comes to the planning and design of Smart Cities, technology can improve:

1. the performance of the places that are produced by planning and design (the outcomes)

2. the processes involved in creating plans and designs (the inputs).

A Smart City approach should direct the capabilities of urban planners and designers to:

1. facilitate effective human transaction in new and existing places

2. provide access to places of transaction, both physical and digital: on-land and on-line

3. support the mobility required to access these places of transaction by providing networks of connectivity for all modes of transport, both physical (walking cycling rolling driving) and digital

4. take an outcomes-oriented (ie transactions & emissions) approach first and foremost, aware of the inputs required (ie materials, energy & mobility) to achieve these desired objectives

5. provide effective analytic and forecasting tools aimed at social economic and environmental impacts.

UrbanRural: one system, many tensions

Notes from a meeting with the Beijing Institute of Agriculture and Forestry at Space Syntax London, 18th September 2013.

Common themes
Production
The rural landscape is a place of production. So is the city: production of goods and production of ideas.

Protection
Protection of natural assets in the rural landscape. Protection of historic buildings in the city. Avoidance of pollution in both. Protection of water courses – natural and artificial in both.

Waste
Avoidance of waste in both urban and rural settings. The rural landscape as the wastebasket of the urban landscape. Tension.

Movement
Conflicts in the rural landscape between local movement (agricultural productivity) and urban-rural movement (commuting). Tension. Continue reading

How HS2 should learn from HS1′s urban errors?

St Pancras Way will one day have active frontages, costing millions more than the initial HS1 investment. The blank frontages and negative street character that were originally built will eventually be transformed to create a place that London deserves. In the meantime, people walk through the loading bay, across the security barrier, past the blank walls.

This is the lesson of cities – they fix their problems. But only after money has been spent needlessly. It is a mistake that  HS2 must avoid:

St Pancras north Continue reading

Space Syntax City Projects Walk

On Tuesday afternoon, 3rd September, I led a walking tour of built projects by Space Syntax.Space Syntax City Projects Walk

Trafalgar Square

Royal Festval Hall

Tate Modern

One New Change

New Bloomberg Headquarters (under construction)

Willis Building

30 St Mary Axe

Heron Plaza (under construction)

Liverpool Street Station retail concourse

Broadgate, Exchange Square

Barbican Arts Centre Continue reading

MSc Advanced Architectural Studies – graduate employability

A talk given at the 40th Anniversary celebrations of the MSc in Advanced Architectural Studies – the “space syntax” MSc at University College London, 3rd September 2013.

Good evening, everyone.

Let me begin by paying tribute to the genius of Bill Hillier and Julienne Hanson. Not only for pioneering a theory – the theory – of architecture, but also for finding a way to teach it that has had such an effect on us all.

I’ve been asked to speak this evening about the issue of employability: does taking the MSc in Advanced Architectural Studies either enhance or inhibit the job propsects of its graduates?

Here’s what I want to say:

First, I’d like to review the perceived problem of Space Syntax – why it’s sometimes viewed with skepticism and how that impacts at interview; second, the nonsense of this criticism: why do I even need to be up here to defend the course; third, the “Hang on, maybe there’s an element of truth here” moment; and finally a belief that we can’t rest on our laurels. Continue reading

Integrated Urban Modelling – Space Syntax’s approach

I’ve written before about the benefits of using science-based models in the planning and design process. I’ve raised concerns about the frequent lack of objective analysis in urban and building projects, and the risks this creates in decision-taking. Basing important decisions on gut instinct and experience, then willing on success with little more than hype, just isn’t good enough.

Integrated Urban Model

Here is a diagram that summarises Space Syntax’s approach to urban modelling. It’s a staged process: collecting datasets; analysing them to identify relationships between urban form and urban performance; drawing out key issues and developing creative ideas – all the time using the model to test proposals. The approach is transparent and communicative – helping stakeholders participate in the process and, most importantly, helping people take decisions that lead to actions and changed behaviours.

It’s more than a pipedream – we’ve been using the model on projects for over 25 years, evolving it through continuous application. And we’ll continue to do so, adapting to the ever richer data context that digital urbanism provides.

And always remembering that the ultimate objective is the creation of behaviour change to the benefit of human wealth, health and education.

Download the presentation

Unbuilt Britain: 3. A Revolution in the City

Broadcast 26th August 2013 on BBC4, featuring Space Syntax analysis of Wren, Hook & Evelyn’s plans for rebuilding the City of London after the Great Fire of 1666.

IMG_0110
Tim Stonor, Kathryn Ross, Olivia Horsfall Turner and the crew from Timeline Films

Link to the programme on the BBC website

Link to the programme on YouTube

Download a presentation of Space Syntax’s analysis

“Using her skills to uncover long-forgotten and abandoned plans, architectural investigator Dr Olivia Horsfall Turner explores the fascinating and dramatic stories behind some of the grandest designs that were never built.

Destruction, whether intentional or circumstantial, often creates a clean slate and demands a fresh outlook in which we come to think the unthinkable. This programme looks at bold, and in some cases shocking, plans to make revolutionary changes to Britain’s biggest cities. Continue reading

Darwin CBD – Workshop 1 – Transcript of Tim Stonor’s presentation

Given by audio link to Darwin CBD Masterplan Workshop 1 on 21st August 2013.
Download the presentation, including voiceover

“Good afternoon, everybody.

My name is Tim Stonor. I’m the Managing Director of Space Syntax and unfortunately I’m not able to join you for the workshop today. But my colleague Eime Tobari is with you and will be able to address any questions you may have at the end of this presentation. I did though have the pleasure of being in Darwin a couple of months ago and had the chance then to meet colleagues and discuss some of the issues facing the future of the city.

Today, I want to give you a presentation about the Spatial System of the city – it’s route network, its streets, its pedestrian pathways – and how these can work to improve the movement of people across the city; the bringing together of people in space to trade socially and economically. And I want to show you the work that Space Syntax has done to date in analysing the strength currently of spatial connections in the city and then analysing some opportunities for future growth.

But I want to start by looking at some issues that face all cities worldwide, and especially the issue of the private car and its place alongside other modes of transport, namely public transport and walking. Many cities worldwide have got the balance wrong and they have over-provided for private transport and under-provided for those other modes to their cost. Continue reading

Key questions for Smart and Future Cities

1.         The nature of transaction
The principal purpose of cities is to facilitate human interaction and, as a result, socio-economic transaction. Cities are transaction machines. With the rise of online transaction, what will be the role/nature of physical transaction? How will the physical and online worlds interact to create a “digital urbanism”?

2.         The nature of movement
In the 20th century, cities have grown at low densities, occupying ever larger spatial footprints. To overcome such distances, cities became movement machines. This led to the erosion of the street (in which movement and transaction both occurred) and its replacement by a twin system of highways and neighbourhoods: the separation of movement from “place”: the parcelisation of the city. And, with this came social isolation, sedentary lifestyles and obesity. There was a shift in the “fundamental urban paradigm” away from transaction and towards movement.

More recently, some cities have attempted to turn this tide with a greater focus on walking and cycling as principal movement modes – a more local focus geared towards the creation of “place”.

What are the future trends in urban movement?

3.         The look and feel of cities
What will the physical-spatial signature of cities be? This is less a question of high-rise v low rise but more about high-density v low density. Especially about high-speed, divisive motorway (needed to connect low-density cities) or mixed-mode boulevard (possible if densities are great enough)?

What are the most effective street patterns? Land use arrangements? Transport mixes? What will future cities look like?

4.         The modelling of urban performance
We have witnessed an institutional failure of international urban planning to create “place”: to create social vitality as well as economic success. Successes are exceptions to the rule. There is a lack of system-wide urban performance modelling: social, economic and environmental. Instead, there has been a historic focus on traffic modelling alone, principally private vehicle modelling. Cities have been planned with these models and have grown to be dominated by private vehicles.

What is the future of urban performance modelling? First, mixed-mode traffic modelling, including walking, cycling and public transport? Second, social, economic and environmental modelling?

How will developments in sensing permit more robust urban modelling systems?

How can changes in the fundamental urban paradigm (from movement to transaction) inspire new modelling approaches?

What are the key societal/transactional objectives around which urban performance models should be developed?

Teaching urban design – a sketch for a new approach

Sketch…
Space Syntax is keen to play a role in initiatives that embed the Space Syntax approach in everyday urban practice. The watchword is “dissemination”. Our aim is to create a professional landscape that uses Space Syntax as an everyday approach to the planning, designing and general governance of places.

Here are some of my thoughts about the potential structure of an urban design course, which are largely about using this as an opportunity to break down many of the barriers that conventionally get in the way of good urban design:

1. combine art and science: especially the importance of a science-informed approach to urban design, which is often missing

2. combine creative and analytic/disciplines: bring together designers and analysts in an intellectual cocktail

3. combine design, planning, infrastructure engineering, finance, governance, legals

4. put the human being at the heart of it all Continue reading

Smart cities – why, what, how, how?

Some advice for people promoting a Smart City approach. Prepare your answers to the following questions:

1.      Why do we need “smart” and do we even need cities any more?

First, provide a clear and simple explanation of why cities are important ie what they do that is special: they arrange physical buildings within spatial networks to create intensifications of opportunities for people to interact and transact, socially and economically. Acknowledge the interdependencies between cities, towns and villages but emphasise the primacy of cities.

Second, explain how this process is facilitated by the propinquity and connectivity that cities offer – traditionally physical connectivity and, increasingly, digital.

Third, describe the threats to the efficiency of cities: gradual, sprawling growth; over-reliance on private cars.

Fourth, describe the consequences of inefficiency: economic inefficiency, social isolation, unhealthy living, short-term investment, environmental degradation.

Fifth, speculate on the further risks associated with a “same as usual” approach. Continue reading

Are streets the answer – yes, but…

Yesterday’s launch by think tank Policy Exchange of a report calling for the removal of inner-city high rise estates and their replacement with streets is a welcome contribution to discussions about the design of future cities. The report, authored by Create Streets, concludes that high rise estates are unsafe, antisocial and economically substandard. By proposing to replace estates with streets, the authors claim they are responding to residents’ concerns. They also say that well designed streets can provide just as much housing as sprawling estates.

The argument for street-based living appears to be straightforward: people like streets and they deliver economically. Yet it isn’t as simple as this and the report quite rightly references research by Savills, Space Syntax and the Brookings Institute that shows the importance of street layout. There are better, well-connected, well used streets and less good, disconnected, poorly used streets. Continue reading

Old Street – putting the genie back in the bottle?

photo

Old Street Roundabout is a heady intersection of urban movement flows: on foot, on cycles and in vehicles, including the Tube. But it is currently a mess, out of place within the surrounding network of generally convivial streets. In order to appreciate the severely negative condition of the place you only have to walk to Old Street Roundabout from a few hundred metres in any direction to witness the sudden, dramatic degradation of public space, the increase in traffic speeds and the disappearance of pedestrians into subways.

Yet, as a nexus of movement, the Old Street junction has the urban design foundations – the DNA of urbanism – to be a great public space, serving the local area as well as acting as a global emblem of Tech City. Not a valley, glen or vale but a truly urban object: a forum, a plaza, a piazza, a market place a square: Old Street Square. Or even, in keeping with the open source/open access aspirations of many in the technology community: Old Street Commons. For this to happen, the public realm of the Old Street junction needs to be overhauled. Radically. Continue reading

Going to “work” is actually going to “interact”

Why is people movement important in buildings?
In a knowledge economy, the key role of buildings is the production and dissemination of new knowledge to drive innovation.

Awareness leads to interaction leads to transaction.

Spatial layout works with management style to create a “spatial culture”.

Corner offices v corridors
People should sit based on need not based on status. Needs change during the day and during the week so people should move. Offices should provide different kinds of work environment. Open plan and busy when you need more interaction. Corner office/cellular when you need less. Management should permit workers to choose where they want to sit – this is part of trusting workers to perform and businesses will perform better as a result of having great space and great people.

Effects of technology
Technology will not replace the office because what matters is making “first contact” and this is harder online – much easier face to face.

Going to work is about going to interact.