I would like to send you my warmest greetings, and wish you well in this important conference. Space syntax is being applied and developed all over the world, but China is the critical location, because the situation here is so rich in experimentation, that if we learn from it in the way we can and should then it will shape what happens in other parts of the world.
The situation in China today reminds me of the UK in the nineteen sixties and seventies when space syntax was first conceived. At that time new urban area developments and large scale housing schemes were proliferating, and there was an atmosphere of high architectural excitement as unprecedented forms could be seen everywhere rising above the old city.
But the sheer scale of experimentation, with some schemes clearly succeeding more than others, made us realise that we needed to know much more about the effects of different types of spatial design on urban living patterns and, in particular, how to engage directly in the design process to make new schemes work as real parts of the city and continue the animated patterns of city space around them.
We needed both a method to analyse cities and a theory to explain how they worked socially and economically, to bring to light both the cultural differences between cities in different parts of the world, and the common features that make a city a city in the first place.
Finally we needed an organisation that could work directly with architects, urban planners and their clients and which could provide practical training to disseminate the approach.
Space syntax was the response to this need – to create not just an analysis, but one which allowed us to build a body of knowledge about cities which in turn would lead to theoretical understanding of why they are the way they are, and how they work. And a willingness to apply this knowledge in design projects.
This is what space syntax is today: not just a technique that produces pretty pictures, but a spatial theory of the city, a body of knowledge about how they work, and a method of analysis which in itself reflects our growing theoretical understanding of how space responds to and shapes economic and sociocultural processes.
Only with this combination of theory, knowledge and analysis can we begin to answer the key architectural and planning questions about spatial design and planning: what will happen if we do it this way? Is there a better way to do it?
These questions are the foundations of space syntax, and this is why our work in the university in developing theory-based methods of analysis has always been accompanied by involvement in real projects and the questions they pose. This is the only way we can develop the kind of theoretical knowledge we need. And this is why Space Syntax Limited, under Tim Stonor’s leadership, is a fundamental part of the space syntax approach. By working directly with architects and planners we have learned an important lesson: practice raises challenges that drive research, leading to methodological innovations and the advancement to theory.
So always remember that in developing space syntax in China, what you are doing is not just the application of a technique, but you are also engaging in a research project to bring to light what can be the spatial excellence, as well as the characteristic problems, of Chinese cities, so we can use both in creating the cities of the future.
I hope this will include new design interpretations of what I have suggested is the distinctive ‘Chinese boulevard’ with its generous scale, its multiple forms of movement, its protective trees and its animation by human activity!
Good luck !