Category Archives: Design

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. Continue reading Past, present & future_Space Syntax in practice

Permeability & connectivity: a tale of two cities

Notes from a response to questions from the Strelka Institute. 

How would you describe the situation with the permeability and connectivity of city spaces today?

There is no single state of permeability and connectivity in the contemporary city. Instead we find two main types of urban layout: first, the finely grained, continuously connected street network in the historic city and second, the system of largely impermeable housing estates separated by fast-moving roads in the 20th century city.

In the historic city, space is well used. Most space use is movement and most movement is through movement. Movement supports commercial activities, which locate themselves on the principal streets where footfall is greatest. Movement brings people to places of opportunity – to buy, sell, exchange and interact. Effective exchange and interaction drives urban economies, social networks, cultures and innovations.

In the 20th century city, the large, impermeable blocks of the housing estates do not encourage through movement. People move around the estates rather than through them. As a result, commercial activity is undermined, with its market divided between people moving locally inside the estate and those moving globally around it. Commercial activities are more likely to fail, especially inside estates where the marketplace is too weak. Instead, shops form at the entrances to the estates and on the surrounding roads. Since these roads have often been designed to favour the car, the shops are likely to be car-based, with large parking lots that further separate local people from them.

A further, social consequence of this is that local people do not see people from outside the estate on the regular basis that people in traditional streets take for granted. The effect of this is to create social isolation and fear of strangers in estates.
The irony is that the inward-looking urban block was created purposefully to foster a stronger community spirit. Traditional streets were considered to be noisy, dirty and dangerous. 20th century town planning’s idea was that, if life could be created away from streets then people would be cleaner, happier and safer.

It is the greatest tragedy of 20th century international planning that its well-intended model of urban living has failed. Indeed it has done the opposite: creating highly negative social and economic outcomes for all people with perhaps the exception of the super rich for whom social and economic relations are formed in different spatial contexts.

Connectivity is closely connected with the structure of property ownership, how will it change in the next 5 years? Will it shift towards privatisation of public spaces? And what will be the case 20 years from now?

Undoubtedly the next decade will see more private spaces set within gated communities. Such forms of urbanism are still favoured by developers and aspirational residents for whom the idea of living in a cleaner and supposedly safer environment is expected to make them happier. The history of 20th century failure may not be considered to be relevant, perhaps because of a belief that it happened somewhere else, or in a different socio-political era, or because new digital communications technologies can effectively span the spatial divide between such places and their urban settings.

At the same time, the resurgence of traditional street design will see more places created that look more like the continuously connected form of the historic city. This trend can be seen in cities as diverse as Beijing, London and Dubai, where permeable street networks have been created by commercial property developers as well as public municipalities precisely because they are seen to deliver places that are popular with people. The social and economic benefits of a street-based approach have been witnessed with a combination of satisfaction and surprise.

Perhaps the most significant impact on the form of urbanism in the future city will come from the digital technologies that will record and analyse the outcomes of both approaches – the gated community and the open street network – and demonstrate with evidence how each performs.

My clear view is that the continuously connected street network will outperform the gated community in terms of Urban GVA, making a greater contribution to the overall social and economic value of the city. The emerging Science of Cities, in which my company Space Syntax has been a pioneer, is one of the key areas of future urban practice that will cut through the inaccurate claims that have been made about the benefits of estates – claims that have been promoted by architects and urban planners throughout the 20th century, based on the passion of their beliefs rather than on the evidence of facts. Urban analytics will transform urban practice over the next 20 years, shaping a new, evidence-rich approach to architecture and town planning and, crucially, returning a highly effective, street-based form of urbanism to the position it had held for centuries before professionalised town planning imagined it could do better.

During our work for the classification of Moscow streets we highlighted three different zones of the city: centre (inside the Garden Ring), middle zone (between the Garden and the Third Transport Rings), and periphery (outside the Third Ring). The pattern is completely different in these zones. Could you comment on the implication of global trends of connectivity in the city on different zones in Moscow?

No city is the same from its centre to its edge. Or, more precisely, from its centres to the edges of those centres because cities are formed of multiple centres that create a system of connected urban quarters. The quality of the connections between centres is a fundamental determinant of overall urban performance, having a strong bearing on whether people are more likely to walk and cycle between neighbourhoods and whether those links will be effective places for social and economic activity. When centres are continuously connected to each other through a set of connections with a regular grain then it is likely that many, if not all of these will be suitable for walking and cycling as well as driving along.

Cities like London and Paris are composed of multiple centres that have distinct centres of differing characters yet are continuously connected to each other. Indeed it is the magic of such cities that it is possible to move from one centre to the other in such a subtle way that you are uncertain exactly when you have left one centre and entered another. The connective “tissue” between centres is typically comprised of residential streets, which therefore link to – and carry movement belonging to – multiple centres. People may identify more with one centre than others but they are provided with a choice of more than one. And,min doing so, they interface with people from more than one centre. The benefits of this arrangement are simultaneously social and economic.

Such choice is denied by the 20th century city of separated estates. People living in one estate have limited, if any direct access to the centres of other estates. Increasingly, the roads that connect between estates are hostile to pedestrians and cyclists. Social and economic life is suppressed.

All cities are systems of linked centres that each work in individualistic, local ways but that also form an overall city system. Within this city system, the centres have a hierarchy with more central centres typically supporting greater economic activity than centres at the edge. This is not only because more central centres are larger but also because these centres are surrounded by a larger number of other centres than are peripheral centres.

In the case of Moscow, Space Syntax analysis would be used to examine the hierarchy of centres, the quality of the connections between them and the degree to which spatial connectivity is directly related to social and economic performance. Data on economic performance – such as land value, property transactions, commercial performance, retail sales – would be correlated with measures of spatial connectivity – such as spatial centrality (choice) and betweenness (integration) at a range of spatial scales. These Big Data sets would be interrogated in order to form a diagnosis of the current spatial conditions. On the basis of this diagnosis, a set of spatial planning principles would be created that would lead to the production of a spatial vision for the city. We anticipate that this form of data-rich, evidence-informed planning will become normal in the next 20 years.

While improving and redeveloping city streetscape how should trends in the connectivity and permeability of city space be taken into account? 

Space Syntax analysis shows how patterns of spatial connectivity have profound influences on the social and economic performance of all cities. The hierarchy of spatial connections influences:
movement patterns of cars, cycles and pedestrians

– public transit demand

– land use performance

– land value

– transport emissions.

Future urban plans should therefore be created with a special emphasis on the design of the spatial layout of the city. Opportunities should be identified to strengthen the network of streets and open spaces, pursuing an overall objective to create a city of continuously connected centres. Constraints should equally be identified so that reasonable plans can be made.

“Spatial geometry” standards should be set for the number and frequency of connections as well as for the geometrical means by which centres can be most effectively connected ie first, a small set of longer, more direct connections (the “foreground grid” of boulevards and high streets) that will carry larger volumes of people and therefore be suitable for commercial uses and second, a large set of smaller, less direct connections (the “background grid” of local streets) that will carry smaller volumes of principally residential movement.

Once these spatial geometry standards have been established then further standards of urban design quality should be set – but not before. High quality urban design in the form of green landscape, seating, signage me surface treatment will not create high quality urban performance if the spatial layout geometry is weak.

The living city is built on human interaction. Without this, the city is dead. Human interaction relies on effective movement corridors and effective places of human transaction. Effective street connectivity is a critical determinant of the living city.

Cargo bikes are an urban game-changer

Cargo bikes are an urban game-changer. The combination of online retail and out-of-town mega-distribution centres means that town centre retail must transform. Shops don’t need so much storage space because goods can be sent straight from depot to home. That storage space can be repurposed as retail or office space, bringing new life back to town centres.
Trucks can interchange with cargo-bikes at the edge of town.
Town centres don’t need large swept curves at traffic junctions, making it easier for pedestrians and cyclists to move.

 
Towns can be designed for slow but effective movement, with all the opportunities for socially and economically beneficial interaction that slow movement supports.

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.
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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

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

cc
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
Demographics
Life satisfaction.

Transportation
– on ground
– above ground
– below ground.

Health
Not just
– physical buildings

but also
– insurance.

Security
– police
– building protection
– wellbeing.

Equality

Utilities
– water
– gas
– waste
– digital.

Green environment

Culture
– facilities.

Place
– connections.

Diagnosis
Avalon is…

Set in its ways.

Boring.

No desire to change.

Reliant on the public sector.

Declining core industry.

Few common places.

Weak cultural identity.

Car-reliant.

Running out of time.

Risks
Functional failure
– not enough revenue to run the city.

Fragmentation
– in governance, leading to rivalry and underperformance.

Disenchantment
– no sense of belonging.

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

Civic unrest
– class distinctions, unintegrated, breeding distrust.

Poverty
– when older population retire.

Complacency

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

Industrial stagnation
– no innovation.

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

Identity
– common vision
– campaign
– slogan.

Industry
– 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

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

Housing
– more affordable.

Density
– intensify existing urban footprint rather than further sprawl.

Connectivity
– revitalise the centre.

Transport
– 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.