UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage


The spatial morphology of community heritage in local centres - a space syntax perspective

25 November 2021, 5:30 pm–6:30 pm

Suburban London neighbourhood photographed from above

Join us for an ISH Guest Lecture with Dr Sam Griffiths, Associate Professor in Spatial Cultures in the Space Syntax Laboratory at The Bartlett School of Architecture.

Event Information

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UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage

About this lecture

The desire to acknowledge ‘ordinary’ and ‘everyday’ urban heritages begs complex questions of what heritage is, where we find it and to whom it belongs. The now familiar contrast of ‘tangible’ and ‘intangible’ heritages usefully distinguishes between the materiality of heritage objects that might be assigned an economic value, perhaps as tourist attractions, and the broad socio-cultural significance to their varied communities of historic urban landscapes whose economic value is less easily defined.

In this talk I draw on the growing body of urban heritage research deploying space syntax concepts and methods to reflect on these questions. I begin by focussing on a recently-published case study of the London suburb of Chipping Barnet to propose how the enduring spatial-morphological definition of Barnet as a local centre helps explain how something less tangible —namely its heritage as a suburban community — has been sustained over time.[1]

Putting this research in a broader context raises productive questions about the role of spatial morphology as a source of what I refer to as ‘contingent heritage’ in response to profound technologically enabled socio-economic determinants that tend to de-centre local identities. This is not to assert an essentialist narrative of modernity as the ‘loss of the local’, Barnet’s community heritage has always been constructed through affiliations across a range of geographic scales, not least in relation to London. Rather it highlights the complex subjectivities of heritage and the challenges of local belonging in the twenty-first century.

[1] Vaughan L and Griffiths S (2021) The Spatial Morphology of Community in Chipping Barnet c.1800-2015: An Historical Dialogue of Tangible and Intangible Heritages. Heritage 4(3): 1119-1140. https://doi.org/10.3390/heritage4030062. 

Virtual event details

This virtual lecture will consist of a 45 minute presentation from Sam Griffiths, followed by a 15 minute Q&A chaired by Josep Grau-Bove, ISH Associate Professor.

About the speaker

Sam is Associate Professor in Spatial Cultures in the Space Syntax Laboratory at The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. His research interests include: the spatial culture of industrial cities; sustainable suburbs and high streets; urban manufacturing; architecture as chronotope in realist fiction and historical writing and space syntax as an interdisciplinary research perspective in the humanities and social sciences. Sam has participated as Research Fellow and Co-Investigator in two EPSRC-sponsored projects into the relationship of the built environment to social sustainability in London’s suburbs. In 2012 he was awarded a twelve-month EPSRC Inclusions award to support ethnographic research into suburban walking tours. In 2017 he has been working on a collaborative research project with historian Dr Katrina Navickas (Herts) on the spatial culture of nineteenth-century political meeting places. In 2016 he co-edited (with Alexander von Lünen) the volume Spatial Cultures: towards a new social morphology of cities past and present published by Routledge. His latest book Writing the materiality of the urban past: cities and the topography of the historical imagination was published in 2021 also for Routledge.
Sam currently leads two core modules on the MSc/ MRes Spatial Syntax: Architecture and Cities programme, one shared with MSc/ MRes Architectural Computing  and one on the BASc Arts and Sciences programme. He supervises a number of doctoral students in the area of urban spatial cultures.