The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis


CASA Working Paper 58


1 September 2002

Reformulating Space Syntax: The Automatic Definition and Generation of Axial Lines and Axial Maps

Space syntax is a technique for measuring the relative accessibility of different locations in a spatial system which has been loosely partitioned into convex spaces. These spaces are approximated by straight lines, called axial lines, and the topological graph associated with their intersection is used to generate indices of distance, called integration, which are then used as proxies for accessibility.

The most controversial problem in applying the technique involves the definition of these lines. There is no unique method for their generation, hence different users generate different sets of lines for the same application. In this paper, we explore this problem, arguing that to make progress, there need to be unambiguous, agreed procedures for generating such maps. The methods we suggest for generating such lines depend on defining viewsheds, called isovists, which can be approximated by their maximum diameters, these lengths being used to form axial maps similar to those used in space syntax. We propose a generic algorithm for sorting isovists according to various measures, approximating them by their diameters and using the axial map as a summary of the extent to which isovists overlap (intersect) and are accessible to one another. We examine the fields created by these viewsheds and the statistical properties of the maps created. We demonstrate our techniques for the small French town of Gassin used originally by Hillier and Hanson (1984) to illustrate the theory, exploring different criteria for sorting isovists, and different axial maps generated by changing the scale of resolution. This paper throws up as many problems as it solves but we believe it points the way to firmer foundations for space syntax.

This working paper is available as a PDF. The file size is 1,383KB.

Authors: Michael Batty, Sanjay Rana

Publication Date: 1/9/2002

Download working paper No. 58.