Category Archives: Conference talk

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

What did the Romans ever do for us? Pompei’s 5 lessons for placemaking…

Download the presentation

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.001

In looking forwards it is important to learn the lessons of history.

Look at Pompei. A city built for efficient mobility. 

A model of the 1st century with lessons for the 21st century. 

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.002

The grid – no cul de sacs. Built for mobility. Built for commerce. 

More or less rectilinear – not labyrinthine. A layout that brains like. Easy to wayfind. Hard to get lost in.

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.003

A Main Street with shops – no inward-looking shopping malls. Active frontages. About as much surface for pedestrians as for vehicles – the right balance for then. Perhaps also for now?

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.004

And shopkeepers of great wealth! It was not a compromise to open onto a Main Street. It was a sound commercial investment. Who would turn their back on the flow of the street?

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.005

Pedestrian crossings! The deep kerbs channel water when it rains, flushing the dirt from the road and keeping it clean. Integrated infrastructure.

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.006

Pedestrian crossings that are aligned with pedestrian desire lines – not following the convenience of traffic engineers’ vehicle turning arrangements. Pedestrians first because its the pedestrians that carried the money, not the vehicles.

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.007

A small, pedestrian only zone in the very heart of the city. No bigger than it needs to be…

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.008

…unambiguously signed that this is where you have to get out of your chariot and onto your feet. 

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.009

Pompei: a city of great streets – great street sense.

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.010

But in recent times we lost our street-sense. 

Look at Birmingham then…

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.011

And now. What happened to our street sense?

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.012

And Birmingham was not alone. 

Look at US cities:

What they were…only 60 years ago – recognisably like Pompei: simple, rectilinear grids.

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.013

Then what they became…

We became entrapped by traffic models. 

And a love-affair with the car. 

We need to regain our street-sense. 

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.014

Fortunately this is happening. 

Trafalgar Square,


Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.015

At the Elephant & Castle, this design puts the pedestrian crossings on the pedestrian desire lines – just like those crossings in Pompei. We’ve talen pedestrians out of subways and given them their proper place at street level, next to the shopfronts. We’ve made the humble crossing an object of beauty, spending many different budgets (landscape, planting, pedestrian, cycling, highways) on one project so that each budget gets more than if it had been spent separately.

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.016

This new approach – a rediscovery of street sense – has been made possible through advances in science that have made us see the errors of previous ways.

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.017

The more we look into this the more we find of value: for example, how connected street grids create higher property values in the long run.

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.018

And Birmingham has pioneered this science:

Brindley Place – the bridge on the straight east-west route – a lesson from Pompeii! It may seem obvious today – because it’s a natural solution – but it wasn’t obvious to some people at the time, who wanted the bridge to be hidden round the corner because, they said, there would be a greater sense of surprise and delight! What nonsense. We had to model the alternatives and show just how powerful the straight alignment was.

We still have to do so today. Many urban designers and transport planners have been slow on the uptake. The average pedestrian gets it immediately. What does that say for our professions?

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.019

Now cities all over the world are recovering their street sense, creating plans for their expansion that are street-based, not mall-based.

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.020

In time to accommodate a new, two-wheeled chariot: the bicycle.

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.021

SkyCycle – a new approach to urban mobility. Creating space for over half a billion cycle journeys every year. Constructed above the tracks, allowing smooth, predictable, junction-free movement between edge and centre. Developed by a consortium of Exterior Architecture, Foster + Partners and Space Syntax.

Adding to cycling at street level – not taking it away.

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.022

Recently, at the Birmingham Health City workshop,a discussion about the location of healthcare facilities quickly became one focused less on hospitals and wards and more on streets and public spaces. On “free”, preventative public health rather than expensive, clinical curative care. Free in that it comes as the byproduct of good urban development. 

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.023

Rob Morrison’s drawing of the Birmingham Boulevard…

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.024

…an idea to turn the Inner Ring Road into an active street.

Tim Stonor_Future mobility 15.025

And to achieve this there are clear principles to follow:

1. Connected street layouts.

2. Mixed mode movement – not separated by tunnels and walkways.

3. Active streets ie lined with street shops not mall shops.

4. Pedestrian crossings on desire lines, not where it’s most convenient for traffic turnings.

5. Limited pedestrianisation of the most important civic areas.

A thought – yes Pompeii was a city of commerce but the houses of the city are filled with references to literature, poetry, music: the arts. 

Huge cultural value. 

After all, this is the important, aspirational aspect of living in cities that comes with the efficient mobility that results from pragmatic planning: the grid, mixed modes, active frontages on main streets and special, limited, high intensity, pedestrian only places. 

When we get this right we have time to truly enjoy ourselves in the arts and sciences. In culture. That is truly great urbanism.

Download the presentation

Technology by necessity

Notes for today’s talk at the NLA’s conference on “How do we build a smarter London

The London context:

– more people (growing population)
– more data (sensors everywhere)
– more sophisticated computing.

Strategic problem: how to handle it all.

Space Syntax’s experience: address the problem via “the questions of reality”.

The commercial application of Space Syntax research was catalysed by approaches from London residents in the early/mid 1980s eg Limehouse Basin, South Bank, King’s Cross: citizens groups opposing property developments they saw as being alien to London life. Today we work for those developers as well as community groups. Developers have learned to “get it”.

Data and computing create an art of the possible (sometimes the seemingly impossible too eg the wonderful Pigeon Sim). Pass the art of the possible through the filter of reality/market demand. Then it’s possible to make sense of it all – to know what to do.

The questions asked by our clients are the necessary filter.

Then evolve the technology according to new and difficult questions.

This is what we had to do to understand Trafalgar Square – we’d never studied such a complex open space before.

Technology by necessity.

The spatial architecture of the SMART city

Tim Stonor_The spatial architecture of the SMART city_Japanese_141028.001

Download this presentation.

Good morning. It is a pleasure and an honour to have been invited to give this presentation today at the Nikkei Smart City Week conference. The subject of my talk is architecture – not only the architecture of buildings but, also, the architecture of public space: the space that we move through and live our lives in; the glue that binds us together.

Tim Stonor_The spatial architecture of the SMART city_Japanese_141028.002

In the first part of my presentation I will address three key questions:

First, what is a Smart City?

Second, how can a Smart City be planned & governed?

Third, where is the place for technology in the Smart City?

And I will relate each of these questions to the architecture of space.

Tim Stonor_The spatial architecture of the SMART city_Japanese_141028.003

In the second part of my presentation I will describe the very significant effort that the UK is making to plan for its urban future, embracing the opportunities that new technologies provide.

Tim Stonor_The spatial architecture of the SMART city_Japanese_141028.004

In the third part of my presentation I will describe the use of computer modelling techniques in the creation of the London 2012 urban masterplanning process. Continue reading The spatial architecture of the SMART city

A new science for cities

A talk given to the Leaders and Chief Executives of the Key Cities, Brighton, 24th October 2014.

Tim Stonor_Key Cities_20141024.001

Download this presentation.

We hear a lot about smart cities as the solution to the needs of urban places. But although technology allows us to live remotely and speak to each other from deep forests and mountaintops, humanity as a species has become more and more urban. The more that we could be apart, the more we have actually come together.

Perhaps we need to understand that smart cities is not a new concept: cities were always smart – if they weren’t smart we wouldn’t have them. Continue reading A new science for cities

Forwards to the past! Technology’s greatest triumph



There are so many reasons why what you have set out below is interesting. But I think I can take a different position to the one that you are developing.

My approach will be that, far from taking the human mind, behaviours, and cultural norms beyond where they have ever been before, the true value of modern technology, analytics and predictive capacity will be for cities and civilisations to recover the unbelievable sophistication that they once had. Continue reading Forwards to the past! Technology’s greatest triumph