Space syntax

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The term space syntax encompasses a set of theories and techniques for the analysis of spatial configurations. Originally it was conceived by Bill Hillier, Julienne Hanson and colleagues at The Bartlett, University College London in the late 1970s to early 1980s as a tool to help architects simulate the likely effects of their designs.

The general idea is that spaces can be broken down into components, analyzed as networks of choices, then represented as maps and graphs that describe the relative connectivity and integration of those spaces. It rests on three basic conceptions of space:

  • convex space, an occupiable void where, if imagined as a wireframe diagram, no line between two of its points goes outside its perimeter
  • axial space, a straight sight-line and possible path, and
  • an isovist, or viewshed, the field of view from any particular point

From these components it is possible to quantify and describe how easily navigable any space is, useful for the design of museums, airports, hospitals, and other settings where wayfinding is a significant issue. Space syntax has also been applied to predict the correlation between spatial layouts and social effects such as crime, traffic flow, sales per unit area, etc.

It has since grown to become a tool used around the world in a variety of research and areas and design applications. Software written by Nick "Sheep" Dalton to perform space syntax analysis is currently in use in more than 50 countries, in the fields of architecture, urban design, planning, transport and interior design.

Over the past decade, space syntax techniques have also been used for research in fields as diverse as archaeology, information technology, urban and human geography, and anthropology. Since 1997, the space syntax community has held a series of biennial conferences, and many journal papers have been published on subject, chiefly in Environment and Planning B (

Space syntax's mathematical reliability has recently come under scrutiny because of a number of paradoxes that arise under certain geometric configurations. These paradoxes have been highlighted by Carlo Ratti at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in a passionate academic exchange with Professors Bill Hiller and Alan Penn.

See also


  • Template:Book reference
  • Hillier, B. and Penn, A. (2004). Rejoinder to Carlo Ratti. Environment and Planning B - Planning and Design 31 (4), 487499.
  • Ratti, C. (2004). Space syntax: some inconsistencies. Environment and Planning B - Planning and Design 31(4), 501511.

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