Past, present & future_Space Syntax in practice

[Speaking notes for Tim Stonor’s opening presentation at the First Conference on Space Syntax in China, Beijing, 5th December 2015.]

Good morning. It is an honour to be speaking at this important conference alongside so many distinguished speakers and attendees.

My talk today will cover the past, present and future of Space Syntax Limited’s experience working on projects in London and around the world, including here in China.

As you heard from Professor Hillier, the relationship between academic research and practice is fundamental. Practice provides an opportunity to apply Space Syntax techniques – and it also provokes new research questions.

The great British architect Norman Foster describes another key dimension of Space Syntax – the relationship between rational science and human intuition:

“I know that these techniques work from the tough environment of practice. I love the work of analysis, observation, of research but also passion, imprecision, the hunch. Space Syntax is the testing of the interaction of these opposing worlds.”

Foster was the first architect to truly understand Space Syntax. Here he is only last week demonstrating how Space Syntax analysis helped to persuade decision takers in London to build the Millennium Bridge.

Space Syntax Limited has been involved in some of the most important projects in the UK, such as the redesign of Trafalgar Square…

…where we explained why the old design didn’t work – first through observation, then through the construction of a spatial model that showed why people walked around the edges of the square because the routes were more spatially convenient.

This diagnosis produced a creative idea from Bill Hillier – to build a new staircase in the centre of the square. Space Syntax’s modelling showed how this would have a major positive impact on pedestrian flows. Bill shared his idea with Norman Foster and Foster adopted it.

We have for many years been involved in the creation of the Queen Elizabeth Park for the London Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Space Syntax helped to create a concept for the integration of the Olympic Park masterplan – one that made connections between the Olympic Park at the centre and those communities to the west and east. This means that the park remains an active part of the city today.

Indeed Space Syntax made such an impact on the organisers of the Olympic Games that our spatial model of London was used during the opening ceremony – you can see it at the bottom of this image being used as the stage on which the entire ceremony took place.

Space Syntax’s unique contribution to the field of urban planning and design is the identification of the fundamental role of spatial layout in the social, economic and environmental performance of places. Space Syntax research has created five key discoveries:

1. the link between spatial layout and movement, such that Space Syntax models can be used as strategic traffic modelling tools for vehicle, pedestrian and cycling movement

2. the link between spatial layout and land use, showing how land use performance is deeply influenced by spatial location

3. the link between spatial layout and crime, allowing risk to be identified and safer places to be created

4. the link between spatial layout and land value, demonstrating the influence of spatial networks on property economics

5. the link between spatial layout and carbon emissions, highlighting the contribution of spatial planning and design to environmental impact.

To respond to the rapidly increasing demand for Space Syntax around the world, we have organised ourselves in London around five areas of practice.

Space Syntax Consulting
Delivering strategic urban planning and design advice to public & private sector clients, including support to urban planners, designers, investors and policymakers.

Space Syntax Studio
Creating strategic proposals for buildings and urban areas.

Space Syntax Academy
Providing classroom-based as well as online training in Space Syntax technology, techniques and data.

Space Syntax Laboratory
Undertaking research to develop new knowledge and new methodologies to address key urban challenges.

SpaceSyntax SoftwareWorks
Producing new Space Syntax technology.

These five areas of practice are interdependent, working together to build a unique business model. Indeed, the strength of Space Syntax Limited’s capabilities is based on its ability to simultaneously transfer knowledge between each.

Let me show you some projects that Space Syntax Limited has been working on in the recent past.

An increasing number are being created by the growth in cycling in many world cities, including London where today many streets have many more cyclists than cars. Soon there may be no further room for cycling.

And as as you can see from our GPS analysis of a single bike journey, it is a stop-start experience, with around a third of the journey time lost waiting at junctions.

And so, in response, we have worked with Foster + Partners and Exterior Architecture to create SkyCycle – a new approach to urban mobility. Constructed above the railway tracks running into London, SkyCycle allows smooth, predictable, junction-free movement between edge and centre.

Space Syntax Limited has designed the SkyCycle network, which is around 140 miles in length, with regular entrance and exit points, each of which creates a local “place”.

Around 60% of London’s population lives within 10 minutes of SkyCycle.

Which saves up to half an hour on journeys if they were made at street level.

Key to our approach is spatial analysis, using Space Syntax’s network analytics to measure the impact of this new cycling network on existing transport networks. Our analysis indicates that around 500 million cycle journeys could be handled every year by SkyCycle.

Another major area of recent work for Space Syntax Limited has been here in China.

Space Syntax Limited’s first project in China was in 1992 – assisting the Richard Rogers Partnership in the masterplan for the Pudong area of Shanghai.

In 2005, the company made a strategic decision to focus on China. China’s phenomenal urban growth clearly gives Space Syntax much to engage with in terms of practice but also, and importantly, much to learn from intellectually.

Since 2005, Space Syntax’s senior staff members

[– including Prof Bill Hillier, creator of Space Syntax theory; Professor Alan Penn, director; Tim Stonor, Managing Director; Anna Rose, director; Dr Kayvan Karimi, director and Ed Parham, Associate Director -]

have made many visits to China to meet Chinese academics, professional practitioners and institutions.

Space Syntax has also engaged in many urban planning and design projects in China, including work in the following cities: Beijing, Chengdu, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Suzhou, Wuhan, Yi Ning and Zhumadian.

In 2013, the Board of Directors of Space Syntax Limited concluded that, in order to accelerate its engagement in China, Space Syntax should create a local Project Office in Beijing.

The creation of this office, launched on 5th November 2013, provides Space Syntax with a centre of practice in China, thus bringing Space Syntax closer – spatially and culturally – to China’s particular urban challenges.

The Beijing office connects into the significant body of Space Syntax research in Chinese universities, where a large number of academic staff and students are using Space Syntax theory and technology in their research and teaching. The office maintains strong ties with the London company, allowing an exchange of ideas as well as of staff members between China and the UK.

The creation of a permanent office for Space Syntax Limited in China comes at a time of strategic development in the company’s organisational structure. The principal objective of this structure is to enhance the social, economic and environmental performance of buildings and urban places.

In order to achieve this aim we believe it is essential to disseminate the Space Syntax approach broadly within the skillsets of planning and design professionals.

We have taken an important step this year in training staff of the Changchun Institute of Urban Planning and Design in Space Syntax. Each staff member has achieved a strong level of competence in using Space Syntax and I am delighted that they are here with us today.

In order to give as many people as possible access to the very latest techniques, we have recently launched the Space Syntax Online Training Platform. This web-based resource provides practical training, including videos from Space Syntax academic researchers as well as practitioners.

I am pleased to announce the Chinese version of the Online Training Platform, translated by my good friend and colleague Yang Tao.

So, to the future. I would like to share my thoughts on how I see Space Syntax developing.

First, we will see the proliferation of Integrated Urban Models that are built on Space Syntax foundations – incorporating multiple datasets, like this example from Masdar City, which links spatial, land use and environmental data to show how pedestrian movement patterns vary throughout the day according to the movement of the sun and the influence of the main mosque.

As we move through the day and the pattern of shadows changes…

…and the Call to Prayer begins and ends…

…so we see the pattern of pedestrian movement change…

…providing a more sophisticated movement forecast.

Space Syntax’s approach is therefore to create Integrated Urban Models, bringing together data sets from various sources. The key to the operational effectiveness of this approach is the Space Syntax Analysis – the base layer in the stack of Big Data.

And this means better visualisations of Space Syntax Big Data too.

I also see the increasing use of Space Syntax techniques in the creation of masterplans designs. In the past, Space Syntax analysis has been used to test architects’ design proposals. In the future the Space Syntax Studio will continue to lead the production of designs and then pass these to architects, designers and engineers for detailed development. I’m confident about this because it is already happening, as in Space Syntax Limited’s design work in Jeddah…

…in London and in many other places, where the Space Syntax approach is being used on a wide range of projects.

The next area of future development will be in land value analysis, working to support investment decisions by using Space Syntax techniques to forecast changes in land value.

This means, for example, using Space Syntax variables as inputs to cash flow models so that outputs can be presented in monetary terms that are understood by the financial community.

Using these modelling techniques in practice it has been possible, as here in Darwin, Australia, to work with the Lord Mayor and her team of advisors, to create a plan that doubles the size of the city centre in a way that will create new, street-based urbanism with enhanced land values.

A masterplan was developed for the city through a process of design workshops. During these workshops, a Space Syntax model was run to “live test” emerging ideas.

A final masterplan was produced, creating a new network of streets and spaces that integrates with the existing city.

This plan has been analysed using the Space Syntax model to make sure that strong connections were made into, and through, the new developments and that a set of quieter, less well connected streets was created. In this way a hierarchy of connections was produced to accommodate the movement needs of different land uses: busier commercial streets and quieter residential streets, only a turn away from each other in the manner of traditionally connected street grids.

An UrbanValue model was constructed, using Space Syntax analysis as a key input. This model identified land value increases of at least 3.7 billion Australian dollars.

The Space Syntax analysis has given the client and design team greater confidence in promoting the development to investors. Behind this 3D model of the masterplan – also produced by Space Syntax – is a robustly analysed design that performs strongly in terms of movement and land use performance.

A further element of future Space Syntax development will be in the analysis and design of complex, multi-use buildings.

Much experience has already been gained in large buildings such as this large shopping centre, where Space Syntax first advised the owner on the current performance of the building and subsequently produced a design for optimising the layout to drive retail performance.

By studying the pattern of spatial integration throughout the building it was possible to identify those locations in blue where poor visibility created strong levels of spatial segregation.

These same poorly connected areas correspond to those parts of the building that produce the lowest rents in the shopping centre.

By making a connection between spatial layout and rental income it was possible to construct a Layout Value model to calculate the financial benefits of the redesign proposals and demonstrate that these justified the capital investment needed to undertake the redesign works.

Space Syntax analysis is increasingly being used to advise government agencies on the impacts of devastating events, whether man-made or created by nature.

The 2011 earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand created massive damage to the city, in particular the downtown area, which was subsequently closed to public access.

Before the earthquakes, our analysis shows that the central area had a strong “multi-scale” spatial core – the red lines in this image. This means that the central area was simultaneously important for local and global scales of movement – a typical finding for central commercial areas since these thrive on being able to access multiple scales of movement: people walking to them locally and people driving or cycling through as part of larger journeys.

After the earthquakes the spatial hierarchy shifted with some important consequences. First, several local, peripheral centres became significantly more important. Many businesses relocated from the city centre to here. Second, some new centres emerged when the spatial configuration shifted sufficiently to make these more strongly connected within the remaining network of the city than they had been previously. The centre on Stanmore road is one such example, where businesses relocated to.

Other examples of disaster analysis include spatial modelling of the effects of flooding and terrorism incidents, when the spatial layout of an urban centre may be disrupted for hours, days or longer and when emergency services, as well as the general public, need to understand how the hierarchy of space has been affected so that they can replan their activities.

Finally, the future will see the construction of very large spatial network models in order to produce national and regional spatial strategies that are informed by Space Syntax analysis – bringing a new level of rigour to such activities.

Working with the Government Office for Science, Space Syntax has looked speculatively at new rail scenarios for the UK. By linking together the street network and rail network, an “Integrated Transport Network” model has been produced. New rail links, as well as improved speeds on existing rail inks, have been tested.

In each case, we have measured how different connections create different levels of access to employment opportunities so. How do we create the right connections to build a “Northern Powerhouse”, or an “Eastern Powerhouse”? Or both? Which connections might come first? These are questions that can be addressed through modelling and from which evidence-informed policy can emerge.

In closing, I would like to emphasise the importance of “value” in the development of Space Syntax – not only economic value but also social value and environmental value. It is typically a combination of these three kinds of value that our clients are looking to create – sometimes more of one than the other two, but typically all three are present in the many stakeholder discussions that take place on most projects.

The future of Space Syntax research and practice should, I believe maintain a focus on urban and building value to make sure that the Space Syntax approach remains as relevant in the next 25 years as it has been in the last 25.

Thank you.


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