Using Space Syntax to Design an Architecture of Visual Relations

Thomas Arnold


This paper explores the integration of space syntax methodology into the architectural design process. It shows that the use of axial maps and isovists can prepare the groundwork of the design and its influence on the resulting form of the architecture.

The key research question is how to directly use space syntax methodology within the design and form finding process. Instead of the space syntax analyst being the consultant to the architect, the architect himself is using the equivalent space syntax tools for developing the design.
In the act of designing non-scientific values like intuition, experience and chance play an important role. The usual clear cut between the design work and the scientific analysis of its results (and the consequent feedback) is blurred. Can the axial map, a result of an mathematic calculation, be used for the necessary speculation during the design work?

Space Syntax tools like depth map and axial maps are based on visual fields. A axial map can show every possible field of view of a person. The resulting map objectifies what is deeply subjective, that is the way a person experiences space.
The paper takes a look at design theory in order to show how architects design. It shows how isovists and axial maps are introduced in that process. It approaches the question of the third dimension in both the design work and the axial maps and shows the resulting architecture in form and space use.

The theoretical approach was tested during the work on different architectural projects, four of them are shown in this paper. Two projects are interiors which have been built and two projects are exteriors, they are larger projects which remain unbuild.
With each project the approach was altered so as to accommodate experience from the project before.

This paper concludes that the trapezoid forms created by the axial maps influence the design directly. Walls, built-in objects and openings accommodate or alter the fields of view.
Also interior spaces are better integrated into the exterior. The buildings itself are integrated more harmoniously in the existing fields of view, therefore they are better embedded in the surrounding city scape.
Small spaces appear spacious for the user because their fields of view are wider and richer. The interiors which have been built, created a positive feedback from the users.


architectural design; depth map; axial map; isovist; spatial experience; visual relations

Full Text: JOSS_2011_P201-222.pdf