The Bartlett School of Architecture


Platform Grant: Configuration, attraction and emergence

Platform Grant: Configuration, attraction and emergence: effects of space pattern on emergent behaviour.


EPSRC Grant Reference: GR/N21376/01

The platform funding aims to underpin, provide staffing continuity and allow new fundamental research directions to be pursued for two related strands of research at UCL. The first strand is the research funded under the Foresight Challenge Award Virtual Reality Centre for the Built Environment. The second strand is the programme of 'space syntax' research which started with SRC funding some 20 years ago and has been supported by a series of SERC/EPSRC projects since then. The latter is now almost entirely funded by industry through live applications research projects although it underpins many other EPSRC projects in the Bartlett. Both strands are applications led, with strong industry support and networks, and are the focus of international research networks, however both are dependent on fundamental research in software development and an empirical understanding of the way the built environment is configured and functions. The Platform award aims to provide the next generation of methodology, fundamental understanding and the international research collaborations needed to underpin that research.

Space is the single element of the design of the environment which brings together the social, economic and environmental aspects of performance. People, air, traffic, pollution, light and sound all move through space, and are influenced in their patterns of movement by the way that space is configured. So far as the social function of the built environment is concerned, space affects movement and movement by different groups of people creates patterns of co-presence. Co-presence (either in space or through media) in turn is a prerequisite for social interaction and for economic transaction. An important aspect of the way that buildings and cities function as social and economic devices turns on the way that they structure patterns of co-presence between people. However, buildings and cities are not only social devices. They also act as environmental modifiers, and certainly have environmental consequences. Patterns of traffic generate pollution and patterns of air movement and pollution dispersal are affected by spatial configuration. The problem for designers and policy makers is that although the principles by which the built environment functions for each of these social, economic and environmental domains are quite different, and fairly independent, they all depend in one way or another on the configuration of space and built form, and so all are interactive. If one alters a design to achieve an objective within one domain, there will be consequences in all the other domains. This is why the design of the built environment is so complex, and why so often apparently simple policy measures have unforeseen consequences. However, it is this interaction between outcomes that ties social, environmental and economic aspects of sustainability together and offers the greatest hope of achieving workable and politically acceptable long term solutions to urban futures.

The ability to represent and quantify aspects of spatial configuration is therefore critical to developing an understanding of the way that the built environment performs. We need to be able to put designs of quite different metric and geometric configurations onto a single comparative basis if we are to investigate how the built environment functions and where it can go wrong. This is the main objective of the 'space syntax' research programme. The same knowledge and understanding is also required if one is to develop decision support tools for built environment designers and policy makers, and this is a main objective of the VR Centre research programme.

The award of Platform funding will allow a new series of fundamental research avenues to be pursued. In the first instance research is being developed into the relationship between the mathematics of continuous spatial and discrete graph representations, and into agent simulations of urban development processes and patterns of human behaviour in the built environment.

Simulation agents are being used to explore spatial potential for movement as this is constituted by a Markov process in which transition probabilities are defined by points in the local visual field. For agents with a realistic human field of view highly significant correlations are observed with real human movement flows. The correlation between agent (generated) movement and observed shopper movement in a large department store (r2=.56, n=49, p<.001).


Principal Investigator

Professor AR Penn