The common language of space

B. Hillier. The common language of space: a way of looking at the social, economic and environmental functioning of cities on a common basis. [url]


This paper proposes that in addition to urban research which seeks to provide answers to policy questions involving the built environment, there is also a need for research which directly addresses the physical and spatial complexity of the built environment itself as the main variable of interest, and explores any effects it may in itself have on the functioning of the urban system. This type of research reflects the questions architects and urban designers typically ask, rather than those that preoccupy planners. For such research to be effective, the physical complexity variable must be controlled at the level at which real design decisions are made. Space syntax research attempts to do this by treating built environments as systems of space, analysing them ‘configurationally’, and trying to bring to light their underlying patterns and structure. Results from space syntax research into the structure and functioning of cities show a consistency which suggests that space can be used in this way as a general means of investigating the structure and function of cities, that is, it may be the common language of the city. On the basis of this common language, it is argued, it should be possible to build a domain theory of built environments as structural and functional entities in themselves, and this will lend greater precision to studies of its interactions with other domains.

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