The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis

Prof Elsa Arcaute

Prof Elsa Arcaute

Professor of Complexity Science

Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis

Faculty of the Built Environment

Joined UCL
1st May 2011

Research summary

My research focuses on modelling and analysing urban systems from the perspective of complexity sciences. My main branches of research are urban scaling laws, hierarchies in urban systems, defining city boundaries, and the analysis of urban processes using percolation theory and networks. 

I am particularly interested in understanding how urban attributes are characterised by the size of cities, and in identifying common patterns across different urban systems. This problem embraces a more fundamental one, which is the definition of a city. In this respect, we have created thousands of definitions by varying parameters concerned with the morphological and the functional aspects of cities. These serve as a laboratory to explore the sensitivity of models to city definitions, which are created from bottom-up. 

On the other hand, applying networks and percolation theory to the urban infrastructure, we have uncovered hierarchical structures that have historical and socio-economical roots, and these are of relevance to the current regional inter-connectivity and its economic development. Together with RAs and PhD students, we use these as a framework to develop performance indicators of cities, and measures of inequality applying multifractal methodologies. We complement this picture with economic data at the micro-level from the Business Structure Database, 1997-2016, and explore the spatial dynamical structure of firms in the UK. The research has been developed under an EPSRC grant on Digital Economies, and an ERC (European Research Council) funded project lead by Prof. Michael Batty entitled MECHANICITY: Morphology, Energy and Climate cHANge In the CITY. Aspects related to smart cities and policy have been investigated under a MacArthur funded research project.


University of Cambridge
Doctorate, Doctor of Philosophy | 2006


Elsa Arcaute is a Professor of Complexity Science at the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA). She is a physicist with a masters in Mathematics (part III of the Mathematical Tripos) and a PhD in Theoretical Physics from the University of Cambridge, UK. Her doctoral research was on Clifford algebras applied to Penrose's twistors, and to multi-particle wave-functions. She moved to the field of Complex Systems while visiting Prof. Henrik Jensen at the Complexity and Networks group at Imperial College London. Later she joined the group as a postdoc where, working with Prof. Kim Christensen as part of a multidisciplinary project funded by the EPSRC, her research focused on self-regulation in social systems. The work was done alongside Dr Ana Sendova-Franks, a biologist who manipulated ant colonies, Dr Torbjorn Dahl, an engineer who programmed robots, and Dr Angela Espinosa, a social scientist who developed an intervention for the viability of an Irish eco-village.