Category Archives: Education

Building a Smart City modelling team

Integrated Urban Model


Cities planning their future are increasingly turning to the production of Integrated Urban Models. These are tools that bring together various datasets on different asoects of urban performance, from the behaviour of people to the flows of energy, water and other utilities. The aim is to better predict the future of cities by better understanding how they are currently working.

This is a nascent but rapidly developing field in which knowledge is emerging and evolving at a pace. Given the complexity of cities it is a good idea to involve many specialists in different subjects, led by an Urban Modelling Advisory Panel (UrbanMAP).  I suggest the UrbanMAP, like any good team, is made up of 11 people, comprising:

1.    a transport technologist with expertise in walk/bike as well as road/transit

2.    an infrastructure engineer with utilities capacity expertise

3.    a real estate economist with expertise in locational analytics/spatial economics (housing & jobs)

4.    an environmental planning specialist with expertise in the analysis of on-land, on-water and in-air phenomena

5.    a construction expert

6.    a health expert

7.    an anthropologist with expertise in the technological analysis of human behaviour and cultural identity

8.    an architect/urban planner/designer with expertise in the creative use of technology

9.    a social media technologist with expertise in semantic analysis of online content

10.    a data integration specialist with expertise in statistical/correlational analysis and predictive analytics

11.    a visualisation specialist with expertise in both 2D and 3D representation.

The group should meet regularly, evolving the vision of the model and the brief for its creation by other consultants.

It should be chaired – or captained – like any good team, by a creative all-rounder: the architect at No.8, whose role is to resolve complexity through elegant and resource-efficient means.

Space Syntax has created an Integrated Urban Model structure to take clients and stakeholders on the “data journey”. We engage stakeholders throughout the process of gathering, visualising and analysing data feeds, then forming ideas and measuring the impact of these. Our experience is that people then develop greater confidence in, and ownership of, the actions that ultimately follow.

Case study
Darwin City Centre Masterplan

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

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

Teaching urbanism – it should start at school

OK, the big idea would be to teach urbanism to school kids, not only to replace Home Economics (ie lifestyle education) but as a pedagogical umbrella under which the established curriculum of maths, history, geography, physics, chemistry, biology (the classics)…can shelter. Reinvigorate learning. Prepare students for the change that’s coming.

So, we would have the mathematics of urban movement/property value; the history of settlement growth, including the modern history of divisive transport planning/the history of the slum; the geography of population change/urban agriculture/energy generation; the physics of land use attraction; the chemistry of the atmosphere/composting…

First thoughts. Am sure there’s more.

Space Syntax & the future of urban planning software

Notes from a lecture given at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy
23rd March 2011

View a summary of the presentation on YouTube

Opening comments

Good afternoon. I am delighted to have this opportunity to report on my progress as this year’s Lincoln Loeb Fellow. My brief today is in two parts: first, to describe my work as an architect and urban planner at the strategic consulting company, Space Syntax Limited; second, to say something about where I think my practice, and the field generally, is heading.

In doing so, I want to make special reference to new technologies and new methods of communication that have emerged in recent years.

A plan to transform an established business
“Space Syntax” is an evidence-based approach to planning and design, with a focus on the role of spatial networks in shaping patterns of social and economic transaction. First developed at University College London, it explains, scientifically, why the continuously connected city is a good thing and it exposes the risks that come from sprawl and disconnection. It has much to say about the benefits of density and the hazards of urban fragmentation. It gets us away from simplistic banners like “New Urbanism” or “Landscape Urbanism” by providing a detailed, forensic description of the city.

Space Syntax is best known in the UK but, over the last fifteen years, we have established a network of Space Syntax consulting companies to take the approach into a growing number of countries. Although not immune to the ebbs and flows of the market, we have a commercially successful operation.

Yet, in collaboration with UCL, we now plan to make it available at low or no cost, to as many people as are willing to take it up. More than that, we are about to open up the “source code” of the software to anyone who wants to get their hands on it. We are, in other words, about to publish the recipe for our secret sauce.

In my talk today I will argue that this can only be a good thing. Continue reading

Carbon emissions & spatial connections

I spoke today to Dr Joyce Rosenthal’s “Environmental Planning & Sustainable Development” class at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

My presentation “Carbon emissions & spatial connections” can be viewed on Slideboom.

Achieving prosperous local communities – physical connectedness is key

Community prosperity means social, economic and environmental prosperity. Each of these dimensions is strongly influenced by the physical design of the places where people live. Physical design influences human behaviour, which in turn influences community prosperity. The most important aspect of physical design is connectedness. Connectedness can be measured scientifically. Its effects on societal wealth have been identified by UK scientific research over the last forty years.

Continue reading