The Bartlett School of Architecture


Space Syntax Lab’s Dr Sam Griffiths Publishes ‘Writing the Materialities of the Past’

25 June 2021

Sam Griffiths’ new book offers a close analysis of how the materiality of the built environment has been repressed in historical thinking since the 1950s.

Dr Sam Griffiths - Materialities of the Past book cover

A new book by Dr Sam Griffiths from The Bartlett’s Space Syntax Laboratory argues that since the 1950s, socio-economic and linguistic-cultural models have dominated the social theory of cities, and eclipsed historical thinking about the materiality of the built environment.

Published earlier this month, 'Writing the Materialities of the Past' discusses materiality in the built environment as a form of literary practice, to express marginalised dimensions of social experience in a range of historical contexts, and examines the role of industrial cities in mediating social changes. The book is informed by the space syntax tradition of research, exploring how contingencies of movement and encounter can construct the historical imagination.

While there is an established scientific discourse for thinking about the effects of environment on social action, the effects of architectural arrangements, what I refer to as 'architectural topography', are much less well understood. Yet historians are continually thinking architecturally when they link different actions to construct narratives of past events. I hope this research will help to make it easier to reflect on the role of architecture and built environment materialities in historical thought and historical writing."

- Dr Sam Griffiths

Dr Griffiths is Associate Professor of Spatial Cultures in the Space Syntax Laboratory, where the architectural research discipline of space syntax originated. The field studies the effects of spatial design on aspects of social, organisational and economic performance of buildings and urban areas.

‘Writing the Materialities of the Past’ is published by Routledge. The hardback edition is on sale now and will be available in The Bartlett Library, and the unlimited license edition can be found in the UCL Library.

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Image: Montage by Sam Griffiths using the Fairbanks’ 1808 plan of Sheffield by and text from R.E. Leader’s Reminiscences of Old Sheffield (1875)  - by permission of Sheffield Libraries and Information Services.