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Reclaiming the virtual community for spatial cultures: Functional generality and cultural specificity at the interface of building and street

Garyfalia Palaiologou, Sam Griffiths, Laura Vaughan


This paper engages with the formation of spatial cultures at a micro-morphological level to advance a general argument for the need to further study the contribution of building morphology to the collective realm of the quotidian city. It suggests how the macro-scale approach in analysing spatiotemporal phenomena in urban space lacks a sensitivity to historical urban processes at the micro-scale where the generic and culturally specific aspects of the diachronic city interact to give rise to actual communities. This recalibration of scales, it is claimed, is an epistemological prerequisite for urban design theories to engage productively with the social theory of space.

The paper problematizes the idea of the building-street interface and its implications for conditioning urban encounters at the threshold of architectural and urban scales. The argument develops the space syntax concept of ‘virtual community’ as a means to understand how the theoretical capacity for individual buildings to aggregate into a streetscape becomes culturally particular at the level of users’ co-presence in physical space. It looks at the rules of built form aggregation and their implications for shaping the building-street interface in terms of probabilistic encounters over historical time. The argument is then illustrated through an analysis of the historical building-street connectivity as a cultural articulation of spatial-morphogenetic processes. Two urban settings are examined: terraced house morphologies in London and row houses in Manhattan. It is proposed that a micro-morphological approach to the description and analysis of the building-street interface helps to supply a ‘missing link’ in theorising space-society relationship as part of a broader project of rethinking what 'design' means in an urban context.


spatial cultures, virtual community, micro-morphology, building-street interface, probabilistic encounters

Full Text: JOSS_7_2016_P25-54