Category Archives: Design

From cities of movement to places of transaction

Summary of Tim Stonor’s talk at the World Cities Summit, Singapore, 3rd June 2014

From cities of movement to places of transaction – a new mobility focus for city leaders, planners and everyday users

Key responsibilities for cities
1. Imagining the future of cities and mobility.

2. Designing integrated, people-focused planning to sustain cities.

3. Measuring the social, economic and environmental value created by the movement, interaction and transaction of people.

The fundamental purpose of cities
Cities are for transaction: economic and social transaction. People come to cities to trade. It is why we have cities – they are intensifications of opportunities to trade. The public realm of the city – its network of streets and spaces – is where much of this trade occurs: a “transaction machine” which, like any machine, is more or less efficient depending on how it is engineered.

The contemporary problem of cities
This essential fact – the transactive function of the public realm – was debased in the twentieth century, when streets were designed as movement tubes, stripped of “transactive functionality”. Shops were moved off streets and into precincts. Streets became roads, clear ways, and urban freeways. The mantra of movement-at-all-costs pervaded the re-planning of existing cities and the planning of new ones. Little surprise then the cities failed – the movement tubes became clogged with traffic looking for places to park up and trade.

The rise of the Future City
Future cities are taking a different attitude to mobility, one that places human transaction at the core of its objectives.

The spatial layout of the city is being recognised as a powerful economic and cultural asset. Effective urban layouts create a grid of connections that benefits patterns of movement, land use, land value, public safety and community contact. Well-planned cities bring people together to form social and economic relations.

In contrast, disconnected cities pose profound risks to civic well-being, distancing people from each other and from opportunities to transact.

World Cities Summit 2014, Singapore
In sharing his perspective on future mobility, Tim Stonor describes new, scientific approaches to the measurement of urban network efficiency and future mobility, and shows how street patterns can be first analysed and then optimised through architectural and urban design to benefit transaction-focused mobility.

Using examples from throughout the world, he describes the urban planning challenges facing world cities and argues that these can be addressed through the considered design of street networks and mobility strategies.

Key features of a Future Mobility Strategy

1. Cities should be recognised, first and foremost, as “transaction machines” not “movement machines”.

2. Transaction happens at the pedestrian scale so transport needs to focus at this scale.

3. On a related note, cycling offers an attractive alternative to driving.

4. The focus of national and urban policy should therefore be on the creation of pedestrian and cycle movement strategies.

5. The ultimate purpose of these strategies should be on the creation of transaction and not only the enabling of mobility.

6. The economic benefits of transport should be measured not only, if at all, as time savings but also as creations of transaction opportunities.

7. New tools – pioneered by Tim Stonor’s organisation, Space Syntax – exist to model pedestrian and cycling movement, to rebalance professional efforts towards more sustainable mobility strategies.

8. The future test of success will be that, when people are asked to think “transport”, they think “walking and cycling” as well as “driving and riding public transport”; that when they consider mobility, they prioritise transaction over transport.

What exactly is human scale?

Darwin masterplanDarwin City Centre Masterplan, Space Syntax

For too long, architects and urban planners have pursued the myth that human scale means “local” scale. In doing so, they have downscaled space, thinking that by fragmenting and disconnecting towns and cities into small enclaves they would be creating “community”. They were wrong.

Isolated and disconnected, people on inner -city housing estates, new towns and sprawling housing developments have found it hard to form social networks. To engage with the outside world. To be human.

And this form of urban planning prevails, being exported to developing cities worldwide.

In contrast, human scale is a combination of the local and the global, acting simultaneously on the individual. We are, unsurprisingly, more sophisticated than we were given credit for.

What do I mean? Well, consider having a doorstep conversation with a neighbour while watching the world go by on your street, or a coffee with a friend on the High Street. These are simultaneous local:global experiences.

Space Syntax analysis identifies the places where shops are most likely to locate in historic towns and cities. Using network models to study patterns of street connectivity, we find that shops are usually in locations that are simultaneously embedded in both local and global movement networks. Where everyday movement criss-crosses, be that local, short-distance movement or larger distance, global movement.

We call this “multi-scale” analysis and the places it identifies are multi-scale places.

Human behaviour is no mystery when the right kind of science is directed towards its understanding.

And the key finding for the creation of future urban settlement is that we need to think more globally. To connect more. To embrace the outside world more. To create more multi-scale places.

To make places work more effectively at the local scale we need to connect them more effectively at the global.

We need to see the human scale as a multi-scale phenomenon.

Spatial Layout as Critical Infrastructure

Stub…notes for an upcoming conference talk

Key issue to be addressed:

- Urban-Rural development

- Urban Regeneration

- Smart Cities.

When a network of streets is laid out, planners and designers build in an enormous amount of “embedded potential”:

  • the pattern of movement
  • land use potential
  • safety
  • land value
  • social interaction
  • public health
  • carbon emissions.

The design of the street network has a fundamental and measurable influence on each of the above.

Later changes – to land use pattern or to the local design of streets (eg road widening or narrowing, adding cycle lanes or public transport) – can enhance or even diminish these potentials, but such later changes always occur around a benchmark that is set by spatial configuration decisions.

Buildings come and go – are built and demolished – but the spatial network, once laid out, is harder to adjust.

Exceptional new connections – such as bridges – can be built to connect disconnected networks but grids are resilient to change. Therefore, putting the wrong grid into an urban development can be a pathological move, setting the socio-economic potential of places for generations to come.

How do we know this?

The evidence-base: post-war housing estates; UK New Towns. Places that go wrong within a generation, if that – sometimes within a few years. Car-dominant transport planning. Land use zoning.

Risk of failed UK models.

In finding a balance between the tension of urban and rural development, Chinese towns and cities should learn from China first:

- mixed use planning: marginal separation by linear integration.

- mixed mode planning: roads, streets, lanes, canals: Jiading.

- mixed character planning.

What are the Spatial Layout requirements?

The historic Chinese grid: rectilinear hierarchy.

Pervasive centrality.

A smart street-grid.

To be developed…

SkyCycle – elevated but not remote

The comparison between SkyCycle – a proposal to create a network of strategic cycling routes above London’s radial railway lines – and the City of London’s much maligned network of (unbuilt or demolished) upper level walkways is one worthy of attention.

1.         The City of London “Pedways” often paralleled routes at street level. When they did so they effectively split the pedestrian flow between upper level and street level – thus typically making neither level particularly/sufficiently vibrant. This is why most of them did not work or were resisted from being built in the first place.

However, as all good students of spatial networks understand, not all links are equal. When upper level walkways genuinely create routes that are not available at ground level then the evidence of observation surveys shows that they can be very well used. Some of the upper level routes through the Barbican are as well used as ground level residential streets elsewhere in London. Reality is, as always, more subtle than simplistic classification.

2.         In contrast, SkyCycle follows railway lines that have historically created morphological “fissures” in the street network either side of them. In this way SkyCycle does not recreate routes that are already available. Instead, it create new routes.

3.         Spatially, these SkyCycle routes have two important characteristics:

a)         because they connect directly from the edge of London to the centre, linking to the ground level at accessible points in the street network (identified by Space Syntax through spatial accessibility analysis) SkyCycle routes add to London’s “foreground network” of important arterials (the red and orange links in a Space Syntax map of London).

London_Global Choice

Continue reading

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

Urban data: some risks – unnecessary complexity and shallow artistry

As a user of urban data I know the benefits that can be gained from visualising information on city form and city performance. But… and this is the but… these benefits only flow if the visualisation is followed up with analysis of that data – analysis that seeks out patterns, correlations and associations in order to make sense of the data. Then, on the basis of this analysis, it is possible to inform urban planning and design decisions – indeed I find that good analysis inspires design thinking, pointing the user in certain directions.

The approach we have developed at Space Syntax is to be simultaneously a) “data-light”, b) analysis intensive and c) outcomes oriented. I appreciate that we are using our Integrated Urban Models in specific contexts – usually in the crafting of public space designs, urban masterplans and, increasingly, regional strategies – but I believe these principles apply to whatever kind of modelling is being undertaken.

One of the weaknesses of urban transport modelling, for example, has been its “data intensity” – its use of multiple variables, coupled with a degree of data “manipulation” – at least this is what I’m told. The result is expensive, time-consuming modelling.

Another trend I detect is “data-as-art” – making visualisations, usually animated, of data flows. These create seductive imagery but I do question their purpose – because the analysis is often missing.

And therefore, for both of these reasons (data intensity and data-as-art) I worry that cities pursuing urban data initiatives may find that these become extremely complicated, expensive and unwieldy – if aesthetically charming – and I wonder what such data strategies would do to further the cause of cities. They will, no doubt though, reward their creators.

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

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

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.

A short film about Space Syntax

Tim Stonor, Managing Director, Space Syntax
“The population of the world is increasing and, as it increases, more and more of us are living in cities. As cities have grown in the 20th century they have often grown to disconnect people.

Space Syntax has discovered that many of these problems in cities – disconnection, lack of contact between people, lack of access to jobs – come down to the way in which the city is planned as a layout of space.”

Ronan Faherty, Commercial Director, Land Securities
“As a developer, the most important thing for us is understanding the consumer and anything that assesses the consumer and helps us understand them provides real value. When you’re putting down a new property into an existing space we want to understand where consumers are coming from and then how they should engage with the property: where we should put escalation and movement and flows. Continue reading

Life by a thousand connections

Background
The everyday actions of architects and urban planners influence the everyday physical activity of people by creating the networks of streets and public spaces through which people move. Similarly, inside buildings, the layout of space influences the degree to which people move around.

The precise mechanisms through which spatial patterns influence behaviour patterns are increasingly well understood by the academic community. Physical connections are key: well-located pedestrian crossings, cycle lanes, bridges over rivers and canals, simple and direct routes through housing areas and town centres. Well-located shops and public buildings are key: within walking and cycling distance. Good quality paving matters, as does good lighting.

Nevertheless, this scientific knowledge is not yet part of everyday practice. Some of these findings run counter to accepted planning practice, not least transport planning practice.

Nor is the connection between planning/design on one hand and physical civility/health on the other embedded in practice. The world of architectural and urban planning practice is heavily silo-ed. Health outcomes are not a priority for architects and planners. Continue reading

Goodbye spacesyntax.org hello spacesyntax.net

After a decade of earnest, if occasionally erratic, service the spacesytax.org website has been retired. Designed to serve the community of space syntax researchers, .org created the first place online that brought together the various strands of space syntax academic activity: publications, software development and international symposia. Built pre- Facebook, Twitter and YouTube .org was once fit for purpose but no longer is.

Over the Christmas break .org has been superseded by www.spacesyntax.net. Built on the open source WordPress platform, the new site incorporates social networking and user feedback functionality with, most importantly, plenty of potential for future evolution (plans are already in place to do so).

The replacement of .org with .net is in recognition of the networking ambitions of the new site. In the first instance this means acknowledging the worldwide network of space syntax research, practice and development (the .org site was very much UCL-focused). In the future, this should allow network members to use the site for presenting their individual work and communicating between each other.

Site design: Tim Stonor
Site creation: Ross at Hype!

AoU Landscape Urbanism notes & questions

These notes accompany a PowerPoint presentation Fragmented urbanism: the rise of Landscape Urbanism & the threat it poses to the continuously connected city

TS intro
This is a crucial moment for urbanism. In the UK, The Portas Review, highlighting the UK’s threatened high streets. Around the world, cities are growing faster than ever. But cities – as we knew them – are under threat.

First, from the car. Car-dependent urbanism is the principal form of urbanism on the planet. our cities have become so fragmented by road systems in the last century that it is now almost impossible not to be far dependent – not without a major demolition and reconnection programme.

Second, from designers, accepting of the car and intellectualising around this complicity.

The aim of this talk
I have been forming my own views about Landscape Urbanism and am looking to raise a discussion within the Academy of Urbanism and beyond. Do people agree with me? If so, how do we respond? If not, why not?

Summary of the Landscape Urbanism aesthetic
Parcels of grey wrapped by ribbons of green

Landscape Urbanism as anti-ecological
“If you have a culture that is fundamentally automobile-based, then an urban model that is anti-automobile is counterintuitive at best. There’s a strange precept these days that asserts that people will abandon their cars if we simply build cities that don’t accommodate them”.
Charles Waldheim

Notes
Island bio-geography.

Scale – JW.

Water.

Interim uses eg temporary food production. How can this be coded?

Layouts need to be walkable and workable.

Working with the grain of nature.

GRABS – green and blue spaces.

“It was good to find out about a new academic threat to good sense, and I very much agree with your doubts about the universal value of green space.

Approaching large scale urban design schemes

On Friday I gave a presentation at a Design Council CABE event, “Inside Design Review”. My talk, “Approaching large scale urban design schemes“, sets out a framework for thinking about the complexity of major urban development proposals.