Space is a powerful common language for stakeholders and professionals


Anna Rose is an architect and urban planner advising both private and public sector clients on spatially complex masterplanning projects, with a particular focus on the design of effective human behaviour patterns. She will be speaking at Engagement 2017 in our closing plenary; Engaging the Silent Majority: What more needs to be done?

Space – the first thought that comes into many minds after that is,’ the final frontier…’  

Space Syntax, where I have worked since 2002, specialises in using the language of space to describe the impact of buildings and places for the people who use them.

I often hear people describe places in terms of a set of externalities like physical size, cost, materiality, and intended uses. But I think about space very differently.

The space of the city is a theatre, a stage in which every day human activity is playing out. It enables the mixing and interaction between people, but it can also be powerful in keeping people apart from each other.

Because everyone is moving through space every day - we use streets, public spaces, cycle lanes and footpaths to do this as we go about our daily lives, almost everyone can relate to a conversation about space.

Without people moving through them, spaces aren’t places!

It stands to reason therefore, that people should be at the heart of designing how they move through space. Unlike inter-galactic space travel, this isn’t rocket science. People know that ease of movement and legibility is important, intuitively.

But making decisions based on intuition alone is unlikely to result in well-designed space that works for everyone. We know from 30 years of commercial practice that aggregated behaviour, based on observed movement patterns, is the most reliable source of evidence to underpin urban design decisions and build strong consensus with a wide range of stakeholders and professionals from a range of disciplines.

If people recognise their own experience in the analysis of a place, they are more likely to trust in the development modelling process. After all, each place has a unique identity and that’s a powerful thing.

At Space Syntax, we use robust and transparent evidence about how people use places, be it a building, development, neighbourhood or city. We overlay this with additional open data sets related to population, employment, urban form, access to amenities, to make what we call Integrated Urban Models.

The conversation then shifts from talking about ‘things’, like new buildings or playgrounds, to ‘outcomes’ everyone can relate to, like social inclusion, proximity to an attractive mix of amenities, healthy lifestyles, and education and employment opportunities.

Using space as a starting point for conversations about how a place works, means that everyone can contribute meaningfully – both through personal experience of moving around, and through professional expertise and insights from geo-spatial modelling of a wide range of relevant parameters.

The sort of space we deal with at Space Syntax might not be the final frontier, but it still gets everyone talking – blending intuition and practical knowledge of space and place, with structured, robust evidence from multiple disciplines.

Anna Rose is a Partner and Board Director at Space Syntax.