Space Syntax in Norway

There is a Space Syntax group located at the Department of Civil Engineering, at the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences in Bergen, Norway since 2014. The pioneer of space syntax in Norway is professor Akkelies van Nes. She applied space syntax in her PhD thesis, defended 2002, on road building and its influence on shopping areas. Since then she has been developing the method and applying into research, teaching and consultancy.

Currently, Remco de Koning is applying space syntax in his PhD research at the Department of Civil Engineering, at the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences in Bergen.

In 2021 van Nes published together with professor Claudia Yamu from OsloMet a space syntax textbook. This is the first holistic textbook with a step-by-step description on how the method is build up. The book is used worldwide and got excellent reviews from world leading researchers.

The is an open souce book that can be downloaded for free. Link to the book can be found here (Here is can also be ordered as a hardcover book).

Akkelies van Nes is the chairwoman for the 13th international Syntax Symposium in Bergen in 2022. She also chaired the first international online space syntax PhD conference in June 2021, hosted by Western Norway University of Applied Sciences.

What is space syntax?

First of all, Space syntax is a spatial analysis tool, calculating and quantifying spatial relationships in built environments on all scale levels. In towns, cities and villages, space syntax calculates the degree of spatial integration of a street in relation to all others in a given system. Inside buildings, space syntax calculates the degree of spatial integration of all rooms in relation to all other rooms.

The results from the spatial analyses can be compared with a large set of socio-economic data, such as pedestrian flow rates, property prices, crime distribution, location pattern of urban functions (shops, dwellings etc), degree of building densities, etc. As worldwide research has shown, there are correlations between degrees of spatial integration and various socio-economic data. Therefore, space syntax is recent applied in urban design and regenerating of urban areas, and improving the way finding in complex buildings (such as museums, art galleries, hospitals etc).

To sum up, space syntax in urban studies consists of four things;

  1. a concise definition of the spatial elements used in space syntax,
  2. a set of analyses techniques to calculate spatial inter-relationships
  3. a set of methods for correlating the results from the spatial analyses to socio-economic data
  4. a set of descriptive theories on how cities function spatially and socio-economically

The method is developed and refined since the 1970’s. The pioneer of space syntax is prof. Bill Hiller from University College London. So far, researchers from six continents use space syntax, whereas UK and Dubai are applying space syntax into urban design and strategic planning practice.

What kind of urban problems does space syntax solve?

A space syntax analysis gives a spatial diagnosis over well- as well as poorly functioning neighbourhoods or town centres. Here are some examples:

  • The optimal location of a bridge or new road link (For example the location of the Millenium Bridge in London)
  • Improving pedestrian accessibility and street life in urban squares and streets (For example the Trafalguas Square in London)
  • Regenerating poorly functioning urban areas (For example strategic plan of KingsX in London)
  • Making spatial diagnosis of problem neighbourhoods (For example space syntax analyses of the 40 ‘problem neighbourhoods’ in the Netherlands)
  • Analysing the impacts of new road projects on existing urban centres (For example analyses of alternatives for the new road network of Tønsberg in 2003)

What is the societal contribution of space syntax?

Research and theory building on built environments is a very young discipline. Space syntax has so far succeeded in making an operational spatial analysis method that is tested worldwide on all kinds of built environments, independent on cultures and political systems. Space syntax gives scientists the mathematical support to understand and support their substantiate observations and to derive their conclusions with facts regards research on built environments.

The aim is to ensure that new urban planning and design proposals will function according to the intentions. We have built a sufficient high number of poorly functioning neighbourhoods after the Second World War. Some of these neighbourhoods are analysed with space syntax. In most cases, high correlations are found between levels of spatial integration and anti-social behaviour and the level of avoidance of people in streets.

When do you apply space syntax

Space syntax can be used for a wide range of disciplines. First of all, space syntax is used to analyse the current situation of any kind of built environment.

  • For architects, space syntax is used for option testing of planning and design proposal.
  • For archaeologists, space syntax is used for analysing the spatial layouts of excavated town and buildings and derive from the analyses where the most frequented streets was located and where the shops was located in the past
  • For criminologists, space syntax is used for making a spatial diagnosis of neighbourhoods with high level of reported crime and anti-social behaviour.
  • For property developers, space syntax is used for making indications on the property value on their properties as a result of future spatial changes in a neighbourhood.
  • For road engineers, space syntax is used to evaluate the impact of new road connections on existing and new shopping areas and shopping centres.

Space syntax applied into practice in Norway

EU funded project SPACERGY

Bachelor course Urban transformation (BYG130)
Master course Urban planning (MOA272)
Master thesis (MOA300)

Impact assessment on various road alternatives of Tønsberg 2003
Densification strategies of Bergen centre 2016