Cover Image

Urban morphology and syntactic structure: A discussion of the relationship of block size to street integration in some settlements in the Provence

Lisa Lim, Tianren Yang, Alice Vialard, Chen Feng, John Peponis


The paper discusses the relationship between the syntax of street networks and the differentiation of the size of urban blocks in a sample of small towns and settlements. The argument is in four parts. In the first part it is demonstrated, through design games, that the differentiation of streets by integration is linked to the differentiation of blocks by size. In the second part, it is shown that in a small sample of towns in the Provence, small blocks are not associated with more integrated streets but are distributed throughout the street network. The demonstration is based on an original method for studying the block size in relation to street integration. In the third part, the historic evolution of these particular towns is shown to involve the rationalisation of their integration core: integrated streets become better aligned and wider, and reach more directly into all parts of the town. However, the historic relationship between integration and block size is also based on mixture rather than a linear pattern of association. The final part uses these findings to advance a speculation about the origin of the syntax of these towns as compared to the syntax of the smaller settlements that Hillier and Hanson characterise as ‘beady rings’. This leads to a discussion of some of the abstract syntactic generators originally presented in The Social Logic of Space. In short, the final section of the paper argues that the lack of linear association between small blocks and integrated streets, in this particular sample, points to the emergence of gradually more complex generators of town form, generators which presuppose the ideas of the urban block and the street. These act upon the seeds of prior small aggregations, generated by simpler rules of adjacency.


Urban morphology, space syntax, block size, Provence.

Full Text: JOSS_2015_P142-169