All posts by Tim Stonor

Architect & Town Planner | Managing Director, Space Syntax Limited | Visiting Professor, University College London | Director, The Academy of Urbanism | Fellow, Royal Society of Arts | Resident of Faversham

The role of national government – some thoughts

To convene
National government has strong convening power – look at this event today (UK-China Sustainable Urbanisation Conference).

In the UK the national government has created the Smart Cities Forum to bring together those involved in policymaking, research and practice around Smart Cities. The Government Office for Science has brought together cities across the UK in its popular City Visions network. A Future Cities Forum could continue this effort, perhaps merging with the Smart Cities Forum to integrate the national effort.

To set standards
We have already heard about the need for common standards in urban policymaking. The British Standards Institute and the Future Cities Catapult are creating a set of Future Cities Standards to provide a common reference platform.

To connect towns and cities
Individual towns and cities do not work in isolation. They form networks, with people ebbing and flowing between them every day. National government can help emphasise the importance of network thinking, thinking about the national system of cities.

To finance
Some projects are too big for local purses.

To step back
And let local places get on with the process of delivery.

SMEs and large businesses

We heard it said this afternoon (UK-China Sustainable Urbanisation Conference) that SMEs need large businesses to help them find work. I have a different perspective, born of twenty years’ experience in creating and running an SME, Space Syntax.

First, not all small companies want to become large companies. Bigger is not always better, yet this is the conventional wisdom. Small companies are agile. Large companies are often slow and conservative.

Second, small companies help large companies find work. It doesn’t only work the other way round. My company regularly introduces large companies – some of the largest in our industry – to new opportunities.

Of course small companies benefit from the strength of large companies. But don’t let’s think the large companies are doing us a favour. Far from it.

Integrated Urban Planning – balancing the multiple flows of the city

Notes for the UK-China Sustainable Urbanisation Conference in Chengdu, China on 24th September 2015


My job as an architect and urban planner is to design new towns and cities – as well as new parts of existing urban settlements. This means designing the multiple systems that make up a city. We often think about towns and cities in terms of their physical stuff: their buildings. Perhaps also in terms of their roads and rails. But for me the success of any city can be seen and measured in terms of its flows, the flows of:

  • energy
  • water
  • data

and, most important of all, the flows of:

  • people: in cars, on public transport, on bicycles and on foot.

Each of these flows is impacted by urban development: how much of which land uses are placed where, and how they are then connected to each other. Flows impact on other flows.

Sometimes these impacts are positive, sometimes negative. They have enormous social and economic implications.

Urban planning is as much about designing flows as it is designing buildings.

We live in an age of unprecedented computing power – this gives us the ability to better predict the nature of these impacts.

This is especially important to avoid the unwanted effects of urban development: congestion, air pollution, social isolation and unsustainable stresses on natural resources.

And computing can help create the positive impacts that are needed to support the essential purpose of cities: to be:

  • machines for human interaction
  • crucibles of invention
  • factories for cultural creation.

The last decade has seen the emergence of Integrated Urban Modelling. My company, Space Syntax, is a leader in the field: one of the UK companies referred to by the Chancellor as contributing to China’s growth and development. Working, for example, with the China Academy of Urban Planning and Design across China in Suzhou and Beijing.

Integrated Urban Models link the data generated by the multiple flows and reveal the interactions that help architects and urban planners create sustainable plans. Space Syntax has identified the essential role of spatial layout as the principal influence on urban performance. Spatial analytics are at the heart of our approach to Integrated Urban Modelling and we have made our discovery open source and openly available so that others can benefit too.

The Space Syntax Online Training Platform is a freely available, web-based resource through which urban practitioners, policymakers and local residents can equip themselves with information and skills to create more sustainable urban futures.

I’m pleased to announce that this platform is currently being translated into Chinese so that the Space Syntax’s discoveries and experiences can be more readily disseminated here in China.

Integration, balance, glue, pivot: space
In many ways, urban planning is the integration and balancing of multiple flows. Integration needs glue and balance needs a pivot. Spatial layout provides both.


Connected Cities Conference

Notes for the Connected Cities Conference, London, 15th September 2015.

How long has Space Syntax been going?
Space Syntax was established as a consulting company in 1989.

Why did you set it up?
Space Syntax was set up to exploit academic research at University College London: computer-based methods of analysing space in buildings and cities and predicting human behaviour. I joined the company to practise a new kind of architecture: one more attuned to human needs and one powered by new analytic capabilities that de-risk an otherwise data-light and judgment-heavy spatial planning process, one which has a history of social and economic failure. Continue reading Connected Cities Conference

The future of Faversham Creek

Address to the Faversham Creek Trust event on board SB Repertor – speaking notes

Tim Stonor
2nd September 2015

Good evening. It is an honour to have been asked to speak this evening and I’m grateful to Lady Sondes, Sir David Melville and Chris Wright for their invitation. As I prepared for this evening I wondered if I had ever given a talk on the water. I thought I hadn’t and then I remembered I once spoke at a conference on board a cruise ship between Genoa and Marseille. I’m pleased to say I’d trade the crystal waters of the Côte D’Azur for the muds of the Côte de North Kent any day. 

We are lucky to be here and lucky to be part of Faversham. Simon Foster mentioned the work I’m involved in that’s looking at the UK 50 years from now. This may seem like a long time but it’s a drop in the ocean/Creek for Faversham. Here we have at least 9,000 years of continuous human habitation. There aren’t many other places in the UK that can claim this. In fact we don’t yet know of any that can.

And why did people first come here and then stick around for so long? It’s the Creek. First for the hunting: its game, its fish and its fowl. Then for its waterborne trade. We are one tide from London, where merchants could poise offshore, like greyhounds in the trap, waiting for fire signals from London to tell them their stock prices were high enough to catch the next tide in.

This place is important. This water is important. Many of us feel this viscerally. Others still need persuading. How can we do that?

I have seven thoughts. Continue reading The future of Faversham Creek

A definition of design

I believe that a definition of design needs to be more than a list of designers. A list is certainly useful but the definition should also capture:
– what is designed
– how design happens.  

I think a longer – or more dimensional – definition is needed so that designers can better communicate with non-designers who may not understand design and who may therefore be sceptical/fearful/cautious of design – people who may see design as a kind of Emperor’s-New-Clothes-creating hype. 

Design is a) the creation of b) a proposition in c) a medium, using d) tools as part of e) a process. 

The nature of each component of this definition may differ between designers:

b) Proposition

Visible objects 

eg building, dress, kettle, car but also 

Invisible objects

eg software code, analytic algorithm, policy, process. 

c) Medium


eg pencil sketch, 3D model, oil painting, words



eg the plan of a building or street grid of a city


eg computer game, smartphone application, spreadsheet-based model, immersive (virtual reality) architectural model, sound


ie designing with the medium of time eg a process: a construction sequence or cash flow model. 

All the above are different forms of design medium. 

d) Tools

Designers will use tools (pencil, knife, keyboard, other people’s opinions) in both:

Creative and 

Reflective/analytic modes. 

e) Process

Designers will use one or more means of design inspiration and design review, working alone or in collaboration with others. 

While the nature of b), c) and d) may vary between designers, I believe the consistent ingredient is:

a) Creation

Design is innately creative and creativity is a rare and precious commodity that is fortunately found in abundance in the UK – not always buried deep but often sitting right at the surface. 

Designing Resilient Cities – creating a future Avalon

Designing Resilient Cities – notes from Day 1
A note from the Vice-Mayor for Infrastructure to the Mayor

Vice-Mayor for Sustainability
Vice-Mayor for Engagement
Vice-Mayor for Disruption
The Public

Avalon faces the risk of functional failure. The only way forward is to change.

Our infrastructure is inefficient. It needs to become efficient. This is not just a question of maintenance. There won’t be enough money to run the transport network, supply water, remove waste, provide broadband. Unless the city either shrinks to a size its current economic structures can afford; or grows to create a larger tax base – so long as the city can retain control over how that tax is spent.

The view of the infrastructure team is that Avalon should grow. But not off the back of its existing industries. These are running out of steam. The industrial infrastructure of the city needs to expand and to reinvigorate. Creative industries will be central to this.

A new population will come to Avalon. A younger population, joining the older, wiser and more experienced population that built the city’s wealth in the 20th century. Joining young people who, having grown up in Avalon have chosen to stay there rather than take the increasingly well-trodden path elsewhere. The city has seen too much of this. Its infrastructure of talent must be rebuilt.

And these people will need somewhere to live. Houses that are affordable. We need to build.

But this does not mean ever further sprawl into our precious countryside – which is too beautiful and too productive to become a building site. No, it means building on our existing urban footprint. We need to find space within the city, not outside. Some of our redundant industrial sites will provide excellent places for new housing: close to transport infrastructure, with excellent, ready-made supplies of water and power. We need to look hard at the vast city parks that were built many years ago and have simply not worked as they were intended – they have harboured crime rather than nurtured culture.

And culture is central to what we must do. Avalon needs to recapture the spirit in which it was first built: a pioneering spirit where anything was possible. Music, art, sculpture, performance: song and dance – we were good at it when we tried. The future memories of Avalon will be built on the strength of the cultural infrastructure that we put in place in the next few years.

And to achieve all of this we need to change the way that we make decisions in the city. No more top down dictats. We need a governance infrastructure that involves everyone: participatory planning, budgeting and decision-taking. An elected mayor for a start.

Components of infrastructure
Life satisfaction.

– on ground
– above ground
– below ground.

Not just
– physical buildings

but also
– insurance.

– police
– building protection
– wellbeing.


– water
– gas
– waste
– digital.

Green environment

– facilities.

– connections.

Avalon is…

Set in its ways.


No desire to change.

Reliant on the public sector.

Declining core industry.

Few common places.

Weak cultural identity.


Running out of time.

Functional failure
– not enough revenue to run the city.

– in governance, leading to rivalry and underperformance.

– no sense of belonging.

– of people from planning
– reinforced by physical remoteness of outlying centres.

Civic unrest
– class distinctions, unintegrated, breeding distrust.

– when older population retire.


Cultural sterility
– no fun
– no stimulation
– no sense of belonging.

Industrial stagnation
– no innovation.

– committees to reflect areas
– directly elected mayor
– participatory planning
– devolved management of infrastructure.

– common vision
– campaign
– slogan.

– built around the creative industries
– attracting people from outside, not only serving existing population
– business development area
– enhance links to surrounding agriculture.

Public realm
– enhanced

– reduce
– reuse
– recycle
– multiple uses of each infrastructure asset e.g. reservoir is boating lake.

– more affordable.

– intensify existing urban footprint rather than further sprawl.

– revitalise the centre.

– integrate existing modes.

Designing City Resilience is a two-day summit at the RIBA, 17-18th June 2015. Avalon is one of four imaginary cities being looked at during the event in a creative approach that breaks the mould of typical, presentation-only conference agendas. By engaging in a rapid prototyping exercise, delegates immediately test the ideas they have heard in the keynote presentations and on-stage discussions. They also bring to the event their own international experiences.

The result is a two-way, creative conversation that produces a richer outcome: a set of designs for the transformation of the physical, spatial, environmental, industrial, educational, healthcare and governmental structures of the four cities.