The Bartlett School of Architecture


Spatial Dynamics of the London Furniture Industry

This project, based in the Space Syntax Laboratory at the School of Architecture involves an investigation of the spatial structure of the London furniture industry in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The arrival of Professor Howard Davis as a visiting Professor marks the beginning of period of research collaboration between different traditions in the study of urban-architectural morphology, the historical-geographical and space syntax.

The research contributes to a larger work—a book with the tentative title Makers in Cities: The Architecture of Urban Production—that is intended to describe the spatial manifestations of the revival of industry in Western (UK, European and North American) cities, putting that development in historical and theoretical contexts. The London work will be an important historical case study for the book.

The London furniture industry was centred in at least two districts—around Tottenham Court Road and in the adjacent areas of Shoreditch and Bethnal Green—and included factories, workshops, suppliers, retailers, various subsidiary firms and, at least earlier in the study period, the dwellings of people who owned and worked in these businesses.

This research project will deal with issues of location, building type and use, with emphasis on the interactions between firms, uses and locations. To the extent that the furniture industry as a whole was a complex system, the research endeavours to shed light on its dynamics, through the following questions. These questions are still tentative and will be refined and focused as source material is identified and through discussions with research participants:

  • What was the relationship between the structure and elements of the street network and the types and sizes of firms?
  • How were business connections between firms (suppliers and manufacturers, subcontractors and manufacturers, for example) manifested spatially, if they were?
  • Were particular building types (or building transformations) associated with particular types of firms? How did buildings change as uses changed?
  • What was the relationship between the two districts?
  • How did the above relationships change between the beginning and the end of the study period?

Primary source materials will include large-scale historical O.S. maps, Goad's insurance plans to the extent they are available for the districts in question, the Kelly's London Post Office directories, photographs and archival records of particular firms.

This investigation will help lead to an understanding of the spatial order and dynamics of small-scale industrial production that is characterized by the interaction among many small shops (rather than consolidated production in which large firms carry out all functions including supply, subassembly and finishing).

The coordinated (and resilient) network of many small firms was characteristic of pre-twentieth-century industry, and may be to some extent re-emerging in the contemporary city.


Research Team

Professor Howard Davis
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Howard Davis is Visiting Professor in the Space Syntax Laboratory at the Bartlett School of Architecture, from May 1-July 31, 2015. He is Professor of Architecture at the University of Oregon, author of The Culture of Building (1999) and of Living over the Store: Architecture and local urban life (2012).

His current research deals with the relationships between urban morphology, building typology and the economies of urban districts.

At The Bartlett, he is researching the historical London furniture industry, to be incorporated into a book concerning the return of manufacturing to European and American cities. At Oregon, he also teaches advanced design studios, architectural theory and courses in the cultural and geographic contexts of architecture.

Ms Blerta Dino
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Dr Laura Narvaez Zertuche
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Ms Pheereeya Boonchaiyapruek
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Project facilitators

Dr Ashley Dhanani
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Dr Sam Griffiths
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Professor Laura Vaughan
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  • The analysis of the results will be in the form of different kinds of descriptive and analytical maps examining the distribution of the furniture industry as it emerged in different areas of London from the mid nineteenth-century.
  • It is expected that the work will lead to one or more conference presentations and/or a published article in addition to inclusion in Professor Davis’ forthcoming book Makers in Cities: The Architecture of Urban Production.
  • An academic seminar on the topic of ‘Furniture in the London: old and industry and the new city’ was given by Professor Davis on Monday June 29th in room 2.06 140 Hampstead Road as part of the Space Syntax Laboratory Research Seminar Series.
  • A workshop showcasing the work of the project was held on Tuesday, 21st July in in room 2.06 140 Hampstead Road.

The project provided consultancy to the 'City-Suburbs Project' for Barnet Council in partnership with the Centre for Local Government Leadership. It also provided data and knowledge on some of London’s larger town centres to the North London Strategic Alliance and West London Alliance on 'Town Centres and the Economy'.

We presented our research to the Outer London Commission and at several public workshops, including the June 2009 'Densifying our Suburbs' seminar. We were also approached by Kingston Borough Council to advise on the plan for Surbiton town centre and we were involved with a knowledge transfer project 'The intangible value of urban layout'. The latter project integrated and cross referenced valuations of social, security and environmental aspects of urban layouts in order to inform the planning and design process in London. This was part of a HEFCE-funded £5m initiative: UrbanBuzz: Building Sustainable Communities.

A profiling tool online was created in which spatial, social and economic data were made available to planners, designers and the general public.

The profiler is a geo-visualisation tool that allows the non-GIS expert to explore cartographic representations of different social, economic and spatial (space syntax) themes across the 20 randomly sampled suburban town centres - alongside a control group of 6 larger suburban centres.

The tool allows the user to explore a variety of map themes at consistent scales, enabling local knowledge about the suburban environment to be compiled using a comparative method of transitions to discover patterns within and between centres. See the data profiler here.