Space Syntax Theory and Its Contribution to Urban Design

Space Syntax Theory and Its Contribution to Urban Design

Ahmed M. Refaat (Assiut University, Egypt & Effat University, Saudi Arabia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9238-9.ch010


This chapter presents the theory of space syntax and its contributions to urban design. The theory, introduced in 1984 by Hillier and Hanson, refers to a set of principles and techniques to investigate and reveal the characteristics of urban settlements via concrete measures. In this regard, the current chapter is divided into several sections. The first section demonstrates the space syntax theory at both conceptual and methodological levels. In the second section, the measures of connectivity, integration, choice, and intelligibility are discussed, and linked to the traditional urban values such as accessibility and legibility the traditional urban values. In the third section, types of space syntax analysis are discussed, in addition to their importance and their application potentials. This chapter demonstrates the contributions of space syntax theory to urban design and architecture. This finding provides a potential mechanism for explaining how the theory succeeded in presenting numerical and concrete measures to reveal what have been intangible values of urban settlements such as legibility and accessibility.
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Space Syntax Theory At The Conceptual Level

The departure point of space syntax theory is to build up a conceptual model that investigates the society-space relationship on the basis of the social content of spatial patterning and the spatial content of social patterning (Hillier and Hanson, 1984). This base or paradigm denies the simple notion of space-as-form and society-as-content. However, this base stresses on the social structure as inherently spatial, and the spatial structure has a fundamental social logic (Bafna, 2003). Therefore, the space syntax paradigm bridges the static narrative of society and space as discrete entities to a more dynamic discourse: each mutates and reforms the other. To tackle this dynamic discourse, two main challenges had to be addressed: identifying the nature of the spatial structure at the conceptual level, and how to describe, quantify and interpret its latent socio-spatial qualities at the methodological and operational levels. Here, the author discusses how the theory addressed the first challenge while the second challenge is discussed in the next section.

To identify the nature of spatial structure at the conceptual level, the theory mapped out two important premises. First, the spatial structure in all its forms, cities, settlements or buildings, is not a by-product of some extraneous determinative factors such as topography or climate, or by society kinship systems or mythologies (as reported by structural anthropologists) or by the biological desire of individual to identify a clear “territory” (as the Territoriality theory states) (Hillier and Hanson, 1984). Rather, the theory conceptualizes the spatial structure as a discrete entity that holds within itself both the construction rules (the genotype of the pattern) and final form (the phenotype of the structure). In this regard, the theory denies the previous approaches such as territoriality theory for Newman and cognitive studies of Lynch; arguing that these studies failed to offer an operational description and focused on the behavioral reaction of individuals towards their built environment rather than on the space as an autonomous entity (Hillier and Hanson, 1984).

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