Building planning & design
Case Studies

British Museum

2004, 2005

Project Director
Maximo Martinez

Ian Ritchie Architects

The British Museum

Spatial accessibility analysis

Showing key decision-making points in red.

A study of spatial layout & visitor movement patterns to inform the masterplanning of this major cultural institution.

The opportunity

One of the key objectives of the British Museum’s strategy is to extend the engagement between visitors and its collection. Space Syntax was commissioned by the British Museum to develop a baseline study of visitor movement patterns and of the spatial layout of the museum. The general aims of the study were to explain how visitors were using the museum and to investigate the characteristics of its spatial layout and in order to establish the effect of the spatial layout on visitors’ experience. The baseline study was used to identify opportunities to improve visitor flow patterns.

The British Museum commissioned Ian Ritchie Architects to develop a masterplan for the gallery spaces. Working alongside the British Museum and the design team, we used our models as design tools to test and inform design options. Our work was also used in stakeholder presentations, workshops and design reviews, providing evidence to support strategic decisions.


Our approach included:

– observations of pedestrian flows, user routes and stationary activities

– wayfinding studies

– visibility analysis of public spaces

– spatial accessibility analysis

– option testing and evaluation

– pedestrian movement simulation using computer agents

– entrances’ level of service and gallery occupation capacity analysis

– visitors increase forecast and likely distribution within the building

– evidence-based design advice.

Findings & recommendations

Using visitors data provided by the British Museum, together with data from direct observation studies, we were able to assess the occupation capacity of entrances and gallery spaces and to estimate the capacity for future growth. Our analysis allowed us to propose both strategic and highly design solutions as well as management changes, each aimed at addressing the strategic objective of extending and enhancing visitor engagement with the collection.

Visitors movement survey

Visitors use the spatial layout of the building as a key wayfinding resource. The survey helped establish the relationship between spatial layout design and visitor activity as well as to identify pinch points and under-used areas.

Visitors movement traces

A detailed study of individual users recorded the actual paths taken by them in navigating through the building. This survey provided valuable information on the range of individual journeys as well as common wayfinding characteristics.