Space syntax

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 social 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:

  • an isovist (popularised by Michael Benedikt at University of Texas), or viewshed or visibility polygon, the field of view from any particular point
  • axial space (idea popularized by Bill Hillier at UCL), a straight sight-line and possible path, and
  • convex space (popularized by John Peponis and his collaborators at Georgia Tech), an occupiable void where, if imagined as a wireframe diagram, no line between two of its points goes outside its perimeter, in other words, all points within the polygon are visible to all other points within the polygon.


From these components it is thought to be 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, and so on.


It has since grown to become a tool used around the world in a variety of research and areas and design applications in the fields of architecture, urban design, planning, transport and interior design. In general, the analysis uses one of many software programs that allow researchers to analyse graphs of one (or more) of the primary spatial components.

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 the 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 Bill Hiller and Alan Penn. There have also been moves to return to combine space syntax with more traditional transport engineering models, using intersections as nodes and constructing visibility graphs to link them by various researchers, including Bin Jiang, Valerio Cutini and Mike Batty. Recently there has also been research development that combines space syntax with geographic accessibility analysis in GIS, such as the place syntax-models developed by the research group Spatial Analysis and Design at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden.

See also


  • Hillier B. and Hanson J. (1984). The Social Logic of Space. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-36784-0.
  • Hillier B. (1999). Space is the Machine: A Configurational Theory of Architecture. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-64528-X.
  • Jiang B. and Claramunt C. (2002). "Integration of space syntax into GIS: new perspectives for urban morphology". 6(3), 295-309.
  • Hillier B. and Penn A. (2004). Rejoinder to Carlo Ratti. Environment and Planning B - Planning and Design 31 (4), 487–499.
  • Ratti C. (2004). Space syntax: some inconsistencies. Environment and Planning B - Planning and Design 31(4), 501–511.

External links

  • For more information, visit:
  • The special issue (v. 30, no.5) of the journal Environment and Planning-B on Visibility Analysis contains several articles on visibility in urban and natural environments.
  • The article by C. Ratti:

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