Temporality in Hillier and Hanson's Theory of Spatial Description: Some Implications Of Historical Research For Space Syntax

Sam Griffiths


This paper proposes that Hillier and Hanson’s thought on society and space has wider implications for social theory in general and for applied historical research in particular than has previously been acknowledged. This epistemological isolation can, to an extent, be explained pragmatically by the inevitable difficulties of inter-disciplinary translation of historical research conducted in space syntax mode. However, the principle concern of this paper is to explore a more fundamental, theoretical, reason why researchers in the historical disciplines can struggle to engage with Hillier and Hanson’s work: namely the marginalization of temporality in the ‘theory of spatial description’ that is the conceptual foundation of the space syntax theory. The claim is not that time has been altogether ignored; on the contrary the temporal nature of reality figures largely in the theory. Rather, the argument here is that this aspect of the theory has, in practice, been deliberately subordinated to the overriding task of articulating a formal morphological grammar of social organization. Perhaps inevitably this emphasis has focused attention on the synchronic structure of space, to which notions of temporality remained essentially external. However, it is equally clear that this emphasis has come at the cost of introducing some inconsistencies in the underlying theoretical proposition of spatial description. The consequence, it is claimed, has been to amplify the difficulty in using Hillier and Hanson to articulate temporality in space. This difficulty raises issues not only for those with a particular concern in built environment history but, more generally, with anyone concerned to understand the complex relationship of architectural space to how people live. Through a critical review of space syntax theory and its intellectual antecedents in the light of what could be termed the ‘temporal turn’ in the physical sciences, this paper makes the case for time-space descriptions as a natural development of Hillier and Hanson’s theory of spatial description that is necessary if space syntax research wishes to extend its engagement with the historical disciplines

Full Text: JOSS_2011_p73-96.pdf