The Space Syntax approach
Space Syntax has pioneered a unique, science-based & human-focused modelling approach to the planning & design of buildings & urban places.
We show how the social, economic and environmental performance of places – from the scale of the urban region to the scale of the individual street and building – is measurably affected by the interaction of key properties including:
– Spatial Layout Attraction
– Land Use Attraction and
– Transport Attraction.
This understanding allows us to analyse the performance of places, both existing and proposed and show how planning and design decisions impact fundamentally on the way that people move, interact and transact in streets and buildings.
We explain and predict human behaviour and its consequences: at desks, in corridors, on foot, on bikes and in vehicles.
We use forecast models to test planning and design ideas from an early conceptual stage right through to detailed design and in-use performance.
The Space Syntax approach empowers people to make informed decisions about the planning, design and operation of places.
Our track record includes some of the world’s most prestigious and challenging projects.
What our models do
Syntax models simultaneously analyse pedestrian, cycle and vehicle movement networks and have been applied in planning and design projects worldwide. They also explain key relationships between spatial location, spatial connectivity and urban performance outcomes including land value, physical and mental health.
Applications include the creation and evaluation of proposals for urban and architectural change at every scale, from regional urban analysis and the planning of entire cities to the design of street intersections, building layouts and room arrangements.
Space Syntax’s approach combines this extensive global experience with robust and continuously developing technologies to forecast the effects of planning and design decisions on the movement and interaction of people in buildings and urban areas.
Highly graphic and capable of providing rapid feedback to planners and designers, models are used to test proposals from concept design through to delivery. The approach empowers people to make informed decisions about the way that places will work.
Space Syntax’s “Integrated Modelling” helps deliver environments that enhance mobility, economic activity, safety and social conviviality.
How our models work
Space Syntax models explain existing movement patterns and forecast future scenarios by demonstrating the relative influence of a number of key factors:
Spatial Layout Attraction – the geometry of the street or room network, influencing more movement on more direct and connected streets or spaces.
Land Use Attraction – the location, size and type of different land uses, including attractions in buildings
Transport Attraction – the location and capacity of transport nodes such as rail/metro stations and bus/tram stops.
Space Syntax Integrated Modelling demonstrates first, how these factors vary between different streets and spaces in any city or building and then how they lead to different patterns of movement, land use, land value and safety.
The modelling process begins by transforming the street pattern of an area, or room layout of a building, into a network ‘graph’. In urban systems, the road centreline map of the area is often used as a starting point, where the network is divided into individual ‘segments’ of space, each segment being the street or path between two intersections. In buildings, the network will typically be divided into individual ’tiles’ of space within each room.
Each segment or tile is then analysed using a mathematical algorithm to calculate its ‘spatial accessibility’ within the network, ie how relatively easy or difficult it is to reach that segment from all other segments, or how likely it is that movement between different parts of the network is likely to pass along that segment. In this way, Space Syntax software calculates both the ‘to movement’ and the ‘through movement’ potentials of each segment.
Key feature 1
Analysis of ‘cognitive complexity’
Key to the success of the Space Syntax approach is the discovery that movement in buildings and cities often follows a ‘least angle’ path between origins and destinations. In other words, many people minimise the angular deviation from a straight line between their origin and their destination, even if this means they sometimes take a slightly longer route. This fundamental ‘cognitive complexity’ characteristic of human wayfinding is not built into traditional movement modelling approaches and therefore gives Space Syntax models their distinct advantage.
Key feature 2
Evaluation of ‘multi-scale’ activity
A second key aspect of the Space Syntax approach is the multi-scale analysis of spatial layouts, allowing short- and long-distance journeys to be simultaneously evaluated and showing how different parts of the same network are differently used, depending on the scale of journey.
Frequently, the same parts of the network are used on short- and long-distance journeys. While this can create conflicts between the needs of different transport modes, land use analysis shows that these ‘multi-scale’ places are typically successful commercial locations, thus demonstrating the importance of careful spatial layout design in creating multi-scale opportunities for retail and commercial activities to trade to more than one scale of movement.
An inherent risk in modern planning – both in buildings and cities – is that it often separates different scales of movement and allocates commercial activities to locations without multi-scale movement, thus reducing commercial potentials. For example, many urban planning proposals are made up of discrete neighbourhoods surrounded by fast roads so that movement between neighbourhoods is difficult other than by car. This reduces walkability, damages commercial opportunities, isolates people and increases the carbon footprint of places.
The Space Syntax approach points towards a different, more economically, socially and environmentally sustainable form of planning and design.
Key feature 3
Integration of spatial layout, land use and transport attraction factors
The simultaneous analysis of spatial layout attraction, land use attraction and transport attraction is a third key factor in the uniqueness and success of Space Syntax models. By demonstrating the fundamental role of spatial accessibility in determining land use potentials, then showing how the specific location of individual land use attractors and transport attractors exploits these potentials or not, Space Syntax models make it possible to integrate these three essential aspects of planning and design.
1. Implemented & proven
Used in hundreds of projects worldwide. International applications have created an international reputation as well as an extensive movement database, permitting benchmarking of new projects.
Built on extensive, peer-reviewed academic research over forty years at University College London and elsewhere plus on-going knowledge exchange between Space Syntax Limited and the global research community.
Allowing pedestrian, cycling, public transport and private vehicle modes to be analysed within a common modelling framework supporting the development of integrated urban environments.
Allowing street networks to be analysed simultaneously at multiple scales, from macro analysis of whole-system properties to micro-analysis of individual street segments, building plots and public spaces, permitting both strategic and detailed analysis of urban networks and informing coherent multi-scale strategies for urban places.
5. Integrated & evidence-based
Integrating multiple variables within a common spatial framework of urban parameters. Measuring key planning and design inputs such as street network geometry, land uses, active frontages and transport design.
Linking architectural and urban design decisions directly to functional outcomes including pedestrian, cycle and vehicle movement patterns, public space use patterns, rental income, land value and safety.
Demonstrating the connection between movement and real estate economics in terms of rental income, land value and investment return.
Providing very rapid feedback on planning and design decisions, far faster and therefore more cost effectively than conventional traffic modelling. Permitting live modelling during design workshops. Allowing future, complex development scenarios to be quickly assessed.
Permitting analysis of different days of the week and times of the day by showing how the different factors vary through time to influence movement.
Forecasting movement flows on all segments of the network, including those that have not been observed.
11. Integrated within GIS, BIM and CAD technology
Developed to work alongside and within industry-standard platforms. Can also be used as a stand-alone technology.
12. Independent & trusted
Widely trusted as independent by public and private sector clients as well as by local communities and organisations.
13. Respected by professionals
Speaking the language of professional practitioners and users alike. Helping to bridge between disciplines such as architecture, transport planning, landscape design and property economics by focusing on the common language of spatial layout and human behaviour.
14. Accepted by property investors, developers, owners and users
Employed by major private sector organisations worldwide, including BAA, British Land, Capital & Counties, Chelsfield, GSK, Grosvenor, Heron, Land Securities, Legal & General, Lend Lease and Stanhope.
15. Transparent & open source
Based on openly published academic research including algorithms and methodologies. Technology created in an open source environment. Supported by training courses and a general dissemination strategy.
Typical scope – overview
Although each case is treated uniquely, the Space Syntax approach typically follows a two-stage approach:
Urban/Building Baseline Study
At the diagnostic stage, we undertake research and generate insights to help designers, managers and occupiers understand how and why buildings and urban places perform the way they do.
When appropriate, we undertake movement and space use surveys of existing buildings. We interview and questionnaire staff and visitors to gather data on their perceptions and priorities. We use spatial layout models in combination with statistical analyses to show how the design of horizontal and vertical circulation influences user behaviour such as purchasing patterns in retail environments, circulation patterns in galleries and patterns of interaction in work environments.
Taken together, this body of data forms a Building Baseline Study to guide the design process.
We build Integrated Urban Models that connect data on issues including movement, land use, land value and population census.
The key output from this stage of work is an Urban Baseline Study, a highly illustrated report that contains key insights on how existing places work as well as the opportunities and constraints.
The insights generated by the diagnostic stage are then used at the strategic design stage to provide an evidence-based, creative input to the planning and design of new places.
We assist in the development of retail and curatorial strategies and we work to make schools, hospitals and workplaces safe, convivial and, ultimately, fit for purpose. We use forecast models to demonstrate how, in plan and section, building designs are going to work.
We lead or support the production of planning strategies, urban masterplans and public space designs, using evidence-based forecast models to demonstrate how design proposals are going to work in terms of their social, economic and environmental performance.
Our work is highly visual, engaging and designed to communicate with both technical and non-technical audiences.
Detailed scope of work
Urban/Building Baseline Study
The Urban/Building Baseline Study is a key deliverable, establishing a science-based foundation for the later physical and spatial design work. It has two main parts:
1.1 Urban/Building Data Collection
Using Geospatial Information System (GIS) software with Space SyntaxTM software at its core, we compile, visualise and analyse data to describe the physical form and functional performance of building or urban areas in terms of their social, economic, environmental and physical characteristics, including human behaviour, land use, land value and spatial accessibility patterns. Highly visual databases are created to clearly describe physical form and functional performance. Components of the Data Collection typically include:
1.1.1 Urban/Building Form Spatial Layout Attraction Analysis of the ease of access for people moving to, through and around a building or urban area (the site) addressing the following components: – the location of the site within the wider building or city – the existing linkage between the site and its immediate setting – the existing layout of the site in terms of Spatial Accessibility values, hierarchy and distribution – the existing landscape character, specifically in terms of active/passive/blank building frontages.
Land Use Attraction Analysis of the location and capacity of individual building land uses such as shops, visitor attractions, restaurants and common areas.
Transport Attraction Analysis of the location and capacity of public and private transport land uses such as stations, stops & car parks.
1.1.2 Urban/Building Performance Transport – pedestrian movement patterns – cycle movement patterns – vehicle movement patterns – parking patterns – public transport usage patterns.
Economic – land value patterns – rental value patterns.
1.2 Integrated Urban/Building Performance Modelling
The various datasets are analysed to explore correlations and associations between them and to generate insights that would not otherwise be created. We explain how current functional performance is influenced by the combination of Spatial Layout Attraction, Land Use Attraction and Transport Attraction. In doing so, Space Syntax “tells the story” of how the performance of a building or urban area is influenced by its physical and spatial form. Using maps and statistical charts in combination with Space Syntax’s experience and expertise in urban analysis, we provide an evidence-based description of the relationships found between built form and functional performance.
2.1 Opportunities & Constraints Analysis Space Syntax creates illustrated, location-specific summaries, first, to identify places where physical and spatial change is highly desirable and, second, to highlight aspects of physical and spatial form that may constrain change. These Opportunities & Constraints Analyses provide valuable bridges between the survey work of the Urban Baseline Study and the design explorations that then follow, identifying key design principles and making strategic design recommendations.. The results of the Urban/Building Baseline Study are used to target locations that can be addressed by the physical and spatial design process. Where possible, design recommendations are described in terms of measurable objectives such as increases in Spatial Accessibility, Land Use Attraction or Transport Attraction.
2.2 Design Conception Space Syntax provides expert commentaries on third party design proposals as well as direct design input to the creation of development proposals. We help to conceive the physical and spatial form of design proposals by creating, simulating and optimising design options in plan, section, elevation and three-dimensional form.
2.3 Integrated Urban/Building Forecast Modelling The likely impacts of physical and spatial development strategies on performance characteristics are described, including human behaviour, land use, land value and spatial accessibility patterns. At this stage of work, Performance Models are transformed into Forecast Models – using the findings of the multiple regression analysis – to model Urban/Building design proposals, including changes in: Spatial Attraction Building Attraction Transport Attraction and to demonstrate the likely impacts of these changes on functional performance characteristics such as human behaviour and land value patterns.
Comparison with alternative approaches
Other approaches to human behaviour modelling can be considered, all of which have relative merits and restrictions. Comparing them is helpful in justifying Space Syntax’s unique approach.
1. Movement Assignment modelling
By dividing the study area into smaller zones, an origin-destination matrix is created and assigned to the network, using strategic highway modelling software (e.g. Saturn, Visum). This permits a form of route-choice analysis based on algorithms used for highway traffic assignment (distance/time). This type of model can forecast movement flows and can sit on a GIS platform. Unobserved walking volumes and missing origin destination pairs will not be included. A model’s accuracy can therefore only be guaranteed at observed locations. There will be little or no consideration of any evidentially supported correlation between land use patterns, transport arrangements and observed pedestrian counts. Origin-destination zone sizes may be too large in places for individual street flows to be presented. The model will therefore not be wholly reactive to fine-grained changes brought about by urban redevelopment. In addition, assumptions of future origin-destination pairs need to be made. Models are time-consuming and expensive to develop for large areas.
2. Dynamic Entity modelling – micro simulation
Micro simulation modelling is typically used for the analysis of building interiors and small urban areas in “closed system”, highly programmed environments such as public transport interchanges where origins and destinations can be pre-set. It is therefore less suitable for larger network assessments where many variables affect journeys and route choices are not highly programmed. Although visually attractive, providing animated representations of flows, micro simulation models are labour and time intensive and require a much higher degree of data collection. As with assignment methods, there will be no consideration of or correlation between land use patterns, transport arrangements and observed pedestrian counts. This type of modelling is less reactive to fine-scale changes in the public realm brought about by urban development.
3. Space Syntax Integrated Modelling
Space Syntax Integrated Modelling permits analysis of complex environments in a straightforward and cost-effective manner that works within GIS and BIM environments. The dynamic and evidence-based approach does not rely on origin destination data or assumptions but does integrate spatial layout, land use and transport attraction characteristics. Space Syntax Integrated Modelling is therefore faster, less cumbersome and less prone to incorrect assumptions than either Movement Assignment or Dynamic Entity modelling. The approach allows simultaneous analysis of multiple scales of movement from local to regional, national and international.
Space Syntax spatial analysis software transforms a street pattern into a network graph by disaggregating the network at the intersections. The distance cost between two line segments is measured using the ‘shortest’ path between the pair which is then weighted by three key cost relations: metric (least length), topological (fewest turns) and geometrical (least angle change). The “Spatial Accessibility Value” assigned to each segment reflects the complexity of routes from that segment to all the others within the system. First, an accessible segment is more easily reached than a segregated one because it can be arrived at by simpler routes from other segments – thus it should receive a high degree of “to” movement. Second, a more accessible segment should be more likely to be selected as part of a route between other pairs of segments: that is, it will attract more “through” movement.
It is the combination of their role in “to” and “through” movement that make Spatial Accessibility Values powerful in estimating movement potentials.