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Originally published in, Nordisk Arkitekturforskning [Nordic Journal of Architectural Research], 7, 1 (1994): 35-48; images not included because of Web copyright issues..


The Life of the Place:

A Phenomenological Commentary  On

Bill Hillier’s Theory of Space Sytax


David Seamon


One of the most important 20th-century works on urban life and design is Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities (Jacobs 1961). This book, an implicit phenomenology of the urban life­world (Seamon 1991b), argued that streets are the heart of the city and should be alive with pedestrian activity that accepts both residents and visitors, insiders and outsiders. Jacobs claimed that the foundation for a vital street life is diversity‑-a lively mix of land uses and building types that supports and relies on a dense, varied population of users and activities. She also believed that inte­gral to diversity and lively streets are particular qualities of the physical city‑-for example, doors directly entering the street, small walkable blocks, and the opportunity for pedes­trians to turn corners frequently.


Since the mid 1970s, a group of researchers at the Bartlett School of Architecture and Plan­ning, Univer­sity College, London, has provided power­ful con­ceptual and empirical support for Jacobs' more intuitive claim that the phys­ical-spatial environment plays an integral part in making active streets and an urban sense of place. Largely the work of architectural theorists Hillier and Julienne Hanson, this research examines the relation­ship between physical space and social life, or, more precisely, "the social content of spatial patterning and the spatial content of social patterning" (Hillier & Hanson, 1984, pp. x-xi). Most often, this work has come to be called Bill Hillier's theory of space syntax, the phrase used in this commen­tary.


Unfortunately, many environmental designers and scholars have ignored Hillier's work or have conve­niently discarded it through the inaccurate charge of "environmental and architectural determin­ism." In fact, Hillier's work is equal in conceptual and practi­cal power to Jacobs' urban vision and may well be more significant because Hillier appears to provide incontrovertible evidence that a settlement's particular spatial layout contributes to the kind of place and community which that settlement becomes.


If this conclusion is true, Hill­ier's work points toward two revolutionary possibili­ties: first, that urban designers must deal with space before they deal with form; second, that in dealing with the impor­tance of space, designers must under­stand the settle­ment's overall pathway network first. Only then will they be rightly able to establish the best layout for the particu­lar part of the city being designed or reworked.


Some readers familiar with space syntax may wonder why an environment-behavior researcher who emphasizes a phenomeno­logical approach in his work (e.g., Seamon 1982, 1987, 1990, 1991, 1993) would be interested in Hillier's work, since it is posi­tivist concep­tually and emphasiz­es aggregate measurement, quantita­tive valida­tion, and societal-spatial struc­tures that appear to be at least partly grounded in a Marx­ist-structural stance.


There are at least three reasons for phenomenological interest in Hillier's work. First, he and his colleagues demonstrate once and for all that the built environment, particular­ly through its spatial qualities, plays a significant role in support­ing a lively street life. Second, space syntax uses quantitative evidence in such a way that the student can see clearly why the relationship between physical and human worlds makes such a difference and why particular city streets and street networks are more or less active.


Third, Hillier identifies the type of street network that supports a lively public life. A phenomenological complement to Hillier's work would examine this type of street network experien­tially in terms of the everyday experiences, behaviors, and events that are support­ed, especially the relationship among physio-spatial qualities, pedestrian movement, chance en­counters, informal sociability, and formal social structures. In short, Hillier's work goes far in helping one under­stand how the dynamic between environ­mental order and serendipity fosters place and com­munity.



These issues will resurface later, but first it is useful to overview the contribution of phenomenology to environmental and architectural studies and to present Hill­ier's central argument, which can then be discussed from a phenomenological vantage point.


Phenomenology is a critical, descriptive science that is related, in method and philosophical outlook, to other interpretive traditions that include existentialism and hermeneutics (Stewart and Mukunis 1974). The approach includes different conceptual styles that range from the transcendental phenomenology of Edmond Husserl to the hermeneutic phenomenology of Paul Ricouer to the existential phenomenology of Martin Heidegger and Maurice Merleau-Ponty (Spiegelberg 1982). In using the term here, I refer to the existential tradition and refer to a way of knowing that seeks to describe the underlying, essential qualities of human experience and the world in which that experience happens (Birch 1989, Relph 1985, van Manen 1990).


Central to the phenomenological approach is the assumption that people and world are intimately related in a way whereby each makes and reflects the other. People do not act on the world as subjects in relation to an object (as, for example, cognitive or structural approaches to environmental behavior would assume) but, rather, are experiencing beings whose actions, behaviors, and understandings always presuppose and unfold in a world that is, in turn, supported by and a reflection of these actions, behaviors, and understandings.


As a way to focus their study of this person-world immersion, or being-in-the-world, as it is sometimes called, phenomenologists seeks to explore the essential nature of phenomena‑-things or experiences as human beings experience those things or experiences. In the architectural and environment-behavior literatures, exemplary phenomena explored phenomenologically include place (Dovey 1985, Mugerauer 1988, Relph 1976, Violich 1983), dwelling (Jager 1973, 1985, Stefanovic 1992), at-homeness (Barbey 1992, Seamon 1979), landscape (Chaffin 1989, Dorward 1990, Nogué i Font 1993), architectural and environmental elements as archetypes (Brill 1993, Thiis-Evensen 1987) or natural symbols (Harries 1988, 1993), and the significance of individuals' bodily routines coming together in space, which is transformed into place ballet (Hill 1985, Seamon 1979, Seamon and Nordin 1980).


In all of this work, any talk of some subject-object or people-world division is rejected as researchers attempt to find a method and language that respect the central phenomenological fact that people are their world and that world is its people. In this sense, Hillier's work has immediate relation to the phenomenological vantage point because he recognizes how a world's underlying spatial structure, or morphology, as he calls it, guides particular actions and circulations of human bodies moving through that world and, how, in turn, a selfconscious understanding of this human world/physical world intimacy might lead to environmental design and policy that supports a stronger sense of place and community. Next, I overview his work in greater detail and make some explicit links to phenomenological themes and principles.



All of Hillier's work seeks to explore the relationship be­tween social pattern and the built envi­ronment. He wonders if there is some "deep structure of the city itself" that contributes to urban life (Hillier 1989, p. 5). Hillier's interest in this "deep structure" at least partly began in southern France as he studied village layouts there‑-for exam­ple, the small town of Gassin in the French region of Var (figures 1, 2, 3). Hillier wondered whether there was any sort of underlying spatial order to Gassin, or was its physical arrange­ment largely determined by non-physical socioeco­nomic factors like requirements of livelihood or struc­tures of family and kinship?


                                                           figures 1, 2, 3 about here


To answer this ques­tion, Hillier examined several villages of the Var re­gion for under­ly­ing commonal­i­ties. He found the follow­ing:


1. All build­ing entranc­es face di­rectly onto the village open spaces; thus, there are no in­tervening bound­aries between bui­lding access and public space.

2. The villages' open spaces are continu­ous but irreg­ular in their shapes; they nar­row and widen, like beads on a string.

3. The spaces join back on them­selves to form a set of irregu­lar­ly shaped rings.

4. This ring structure, coupled with direct building entry, gives each village a high degree of permeabil­ity and access in that there are at least two paths (and, typically, several more) from one building to any other building.


In time, Hillier's research group stud­ied large numbers of tradi­tional settlement pat­terns throughout the world and conclud­ed that many of these plac­es incorporat­ed the same four fea­tures present in Gassin and other French villages.2 Because of the irregu­larly-shaped spac­es linked by irregular­ly-shaped rings, Hillier came to call this recurring spa­tial pattern the beady-ring structure.



This necklace pattern is the first central concept in Hillier's theory of space syntax. The next question he asked is why this beady-ring structure recurs. Particu­larly, he wished to estab­lish whether or not there are some set of geometric rules that, in themselves, contribute to the recurring pattern.


To answer this question, Hillier and his colleagues developed a computer-simulation model that, through statisti­cal probabilities grounded in simple spatial rules, mimicked the beady-ring structure of real-world settlement layouts. These spatial rules are two:


(1) a one-doored building whose entry attaches to an equally-sized unit of open space;

(2) the random aggre­gating of these building-space "dou­blets," but with the stipulation that each new doublet attaches itself either to a building side or to an open side of a doublet already in place.


                                                                figure 4 about here



Figure 4 illustr­ates the first four stages of one such simula­tion. One notes that, by the fourth stage, a beady-ring struc­ture has appeared.3 Through this comput­er simula­tion, Hillier argued that he had established rules of the "urban object itself" (Hillier 1989, p. 5). In other words, he claimed that the beady-ring pattern has self-generat­ed through a set of simple, under­ly­ing geo­metric events. As was noted above,  mor­phology is the word Hillier uses to de­scribe the underly­ing spatial coher­ence that pro­vide settlement lay­outs with an underly­ing geo­met­ric pattern and con­nect­ed­ness.


At the start, one must real­ize that this geomet­ric coher­ence runs beneath a spatial net­work like the hand be­neath a glove pro­vides its orga­nized form. This geo­metric coher­ence is not addi­tive but syner­gis­tic: invisible and whole through­out, it is always already there to support one dynamic of circulation and exchange rather than some other. Interpreted phenomenologically, this spatial pattern can be said to be an integral part of the particular human worlds and places that unfold in its midst. in part, because of the particular nature of the spatial pattern, these worlds and places are alive with activity, interaction and encounter, or they are dead and empty. We shall see shortly that one prob­lem of the modern Western city, ac­cording to Hillier, is that designers and planners have no understanding of morphology and have therefore allowed this invisible fabric to deterio­rate or to collapse. The result is lifeless streets and dis­tricts.



Next, Hillier asks how this morpho­logical regulari­ty can be understood in terms of mapping and mea­surement. At the start, one faces a difficult recording problem: in terms of everyday function, a settle­ment's open space is one contin­uous unit but, formal­ly and spatially, this network is composed of different sorts of parts‑-streets, alleys, squares, plazas, and the like. How can this unwieldy collection of spaces be identified and measured without destroying the seamless nature of the settlement's open space?


In dealing with this problem, Hillier makes several major contributions toward a language of settlement mor­phology. Here, I want to focus on his identifica­tion of two contrasting types of spaces‑-convex and axial‑-because they are the empirical base for his more sophisticated spatial mea­sures.


First, there are what Hillier calls convex spaces, which relate to the two-dimen­sional nature of open space and are best exemplified by plazas, squares, and parks. Convex spaces can be identi­fied geometrical­ly by areas inside of which no line drawn between any two points goes outside the area. This geo­metric quality means exper­ien­tially that all points with­in a con­vex space can be seen from all other points, thus, for example, all build­ing en­trances on a convex space will be visible from all other entrances on that space.


In that they can have con­siderable breadth in relation to width, convex spaces relate to the beadi­ness of the beady-ring structure. By identifying the least number of convex spaces ac­counting for all public out­door space (including streets and pathways), one can con­struct a convex map like the one in figure 5 for Gassin.


In contrast to convex spaces are what Hillier calls axial spaces, which relate to the one-dimensional qualities of space and are, therefore, best illus­trated by long narrow streets. An axial space can be repre­sented geometrically by the maxi­mum straight line that can be drawn through an open space before it strikes a building, wall, or some other material object. An axial map, there­fore, is made by drawing the smallest set of straight lines that pass through each convex space and link all pathways together as in Gassin's axial map (figure 6). In terms of the beady-ring structure, axial spaces relate to its stringi­ness.


                                                            figures 5 & 6 about here




Hillier's depiction of axial and convex spaces is important phenomenologically because their identifi­cation provides important insight into experiential dialects like movement/rest, inside/outside, and dwelling/journey. When, for example, is a space more a corridor of movement rather than a site where people can remain comfortably at rest and establish a place of regular activities and events? How does a space contribute to a sense of deep familiarity and attachment‑-what Relph (1976) calls existential insideness. Alternately, how does a space become a place that is largely unused, disliked, or feared? Or, yet again, how does a space become a place where insiders and outsiders, residents and strangers, localites and visitors, come together in a safe and easy way?


The notions of axial and convex spaces offer significant clues to answering questions like these. The phenomenological interest in axial spaces is their relationship to lived-movement from place to place within the settlement and their role in contribut­ing to one's awareness of the settlement as a whole. How many ways are there of getting from one place to another in the settlement and which routes are used for what trips for what reason? What are these various travers­als like experientially? For example, how many of these movements are habitual, involving regularity and routine? What and whom does one encounter on these various traversals and at what points and places does he or she linger, hurry, look, notice, enjoy, become con­cerned, fall into obliviousness, and so forth?


In contrast, convex spaces more often relate experientially to rest, locality, and events-in-place. Long, narrow streets possess convexity and may have some sense of place, but their one-dimensional axial shape more typically involves them with movement and circulation flow. On the other hand, "fatter" convex spaces are traditionally places that support events and occasions‑-for example, the square where older people sit or children play; the piazza where the weekly market is held. If axial spaces more often relate to the experiential exchanges and interactions among districts and neighborhoods of the settlement as a whole, then convex spaces relate more often to the nature of these parts, districts, and neighborhoods as they are within themselves, particularly as they evoke a sense of place and locality.


In seeking to understand how the buildings shaping a convex space relate to that space in terms of move­ment and potential encounter, Hillier draws on what he calls an interface map, which uses lines and dots to identify the spatial relations between building entries (solid dots) and convex spaces (unfilled dots).


                                                                figure 7 about here



If one studies Gassin's interface map in figure 7, one notes that nearly all convex spaces have direct access to at least one building entrance. Gas­sin's pattern demonstrates that the same spaces that serve to link the settlement together as a whole (or globally, to use Hillier's word) can also serve an important local value in that there is an immediate spatial relation between individual buildings and the adjacent public spaces of street or square. This direct abutment is what Hillier calls shallow­ness--a situation where one can move directly from one space to another. The opposite possibility is depth--the situa­tion where, to get from one space to another, one must pass through some other space or spaces (a feature regularly characteristic of much public-housing design of the 1950s and 1960s).


Hillier points out that in modern urban design, there is typically much less shallowness than in cities of the past. One result is that the fluidity between building entries and street is less and there are potentially fewer encounters‑-both between localites and localites, and localites and outsiders. This fact is crucial, phenomenologically, because it immediately suggests one reason why so many urban districts today possess little street vitality. I want to make more of this point below, but first it is impor­tant to see how Hillier gives more precision to axial and convex spaces through creative mathematical descrip­tions.



A central criticism of Jane Jacobs' conception of the city was that her evidence was anecdotal and that she offered no precise empirical proof for her claim that the physical environment played a pivotal role in supporting urban diversity and lively streets. One of Hillier's most important contributions to place studies is his inventing clear cartographic and mathematical procedures for recording axial and convex spaces and for establishing empirical measures as to how particu­lar spaces do or do not establish larger move­ment and interaction patterns, both locally and city-wide.


Axial, convex, and interphase maps provide one example of Hillier's inventiveness and, in fact, establish the primary empirical base around which he constructs a wide range of numerical measures and indices to pinpoint both local and global patterns for a particular settlement. Because an active street involves movement and flow, Hillier is particularly interested in measure­ments that will identify which pathways in a settle­ment make themselves most readily accessi­ble to other pathways and thereby integrate the locality with the wider surroundings. At the same time, Hillier devises measures to identify the pathways that make themselves less accessible to their surroundings and thereby, typically, have less street activity.


Hillier's quantitative procedures for establishing measures of integration and segregation are sophisti­cated, and the interested reader is directed to chapter 3 in Social Logic (Hillier & Hanson, 1983).4 For the less gifted mathematically, there are maps that distill these calculations spatially. For example, figure 8 is a map of Gassin that summarizes the streets of greater and lesser activity as Hillier has identified them through his numerical proce­dures. The streets marked by solid lines depict the village's integration core‑-those streets that most powerfully draw the movement of other streets to themselves and, there­fore, are alive with commerce, street activity, and public life. In contrast, the hatched lines indicate Gassin's segrega­tion core‑-the streets that deflect activity away from themselves and, therefore, indicate pockets of quiet and seclusion.



                                                                figure 8 about here




Phenomenologically, these cores have crucial significance because they provide one empirical indication of the degree of activity for particular parts of a place. Hillier next asks if these lines of more and less activity indicate some larger morphologi­cal structure for the settlement as a whole. In fact, after studying the integration and segregation cores of many settlements, both Western and non-Western, Hillier concludes that such a larger global structure exists, and he calls it the deformed wheel. This discovery is perhaps Hillier's most significant contribution to a phenome­nology of place and environmental activity.


The rim, spokes and hub of this wheel are the pathways with high integration values (in figure 8, the solid lines). Typically, these streets are the most used by residents of the settlement and are also the main entry routes into the settlement and therefore heavily used by strang­ers. Also, most of the largest convex spaces and location-dependent uses, like shops, are on the streets of the deformed wheel.


From a phenomenological perspective, what is perhaps most striking about the deformed wheel is that, in the interstices between the most active streets are the most segregated, less used pathways (in figure 8, the hatched lines). Hillier concludes that, for many traditional settlements, the most active areas abut the most quiet areas: the places of street life, publicness, and strangers' mixing with residents are a short distance from the more private areas used mostly by residents only. Movement and rest, activity and place, journey and dwelling, difference and locality, publicness and home, lie apart yet togeth­er! Hillier explains:


            By linking the interior of the settlement to the periphery in several directions--and always in the direction of the main entrances to the settlement and the neighboring towns‑-the effect of the integrated lines is to access the central areas of the town from outside, while at the same time keeping the core lines close to the segregated areas, in effect linking them together. Since the core lines are those that are most used by people, and also those on which most space-dependent facilities like shops are located, and the segregated areas are primarily residential, the effect of the core is to structure the path of strangers through the settle­ment, while at the same time keeping them in a close interface with inhabitants moving about inside the town. The structure of the core not only accesses strangers into the interior of the town, but also ensures that they are in a constant probabilistic interface with moving inhabitants. Indeed, it seems reasonable to propose that the spatial structure of the settlement exists in order to construct this interface (Hillier, 1989, p. 11).



For many architects and environment-behavior researchers (many of whom continue to be caught up in the dubious conceptual assumption that the built environment is but a small dependent subset of "culture"), Hillier's space syntax has not been popu­lar because it suggests that the physical environ­ment plays an integral part in making human worlds what they are. In this suggestion perhaps lies Hillier's most coura­geous contribution to design and to envi­ronment-behavior research: He has been brave enough to raise again the question of how, exactly, the material and human worlds are related.


Hillier is well aware that he is susceptible to deterministic charges and, throughout his work, states his case with great care. The heart of his argument is that a settlement's physical environment sets up, largely through its pathways, a spatial field, the nature of which has bearing on the relative amount of human movement, interaction, and encounter. Physi­cally, this spatial field is expressed through the deformed wheel and the pockets of quiet within its interstices.


In one particularly encompassing passage, Hillier dismisses the argument that the material environment plays no role whatsoever in human life. He then pinpoints the way in which space syntax provides a way to understand the significance of the physical world:


            I argue that the belief that spatial form has no effects on people and society is patently absurd. If this were the case then we could design every monstrosity without penalty. My proposal is that the determinable effects of spatial form on people are both limited and precise. Spatial form, I argue, creates the field of probable‑-though not all possible‑-encounter and co-presence within which we live and move; and whether or not it leads to social interaction, this field is in itself an important sociological and psychological resource (Hillier, 1989, p. 13).


To describe this field of potential encounters as it is grounded in a settlement's physical layout, Hillier uses the term virtual community. He chooses the word "virtual" because this spatial field is always present, though sometimes only "latent and unreal­ized" (ibid., p. 16). For environ­mental design, Hillier's crucial point is that the virtual community is a "direct prod­uct of spatial design" (ibid., p. 13). The design and planning need is, first, to understand the significance of space syntax in the life of the city; and, second, to use physical design to "construct the field of potential encounter and co-presence that we call the virtual community" (ibid., p. 16).



For thinking about and designing the virtual community, Hillier's most important notion is the deformed wheel, which links local street life and interpersonal encounter with the larger global struc­ture of which the locality is a part. "It is the global pattern," says Hillier (1989, p. 218) "that seems most to affect how towns work and create the patterns of use and movement that we identify as urban." To facilitate an active street life, urban designers should proceed from larger to smaller scale, since it is the deformed wheel as a total structure that juxtaposes liveliness and quiet. Individ­ual developments should first be considered in terms of how their path systems strengthen or weaken dynamics of the deformed wheel and only then be worked through in detail:


            If we want to recreate urban life, then we have to learn to design from the global to the local, that is, we have to start by reading the large-scale pattern of an area, then design the internal structure of new developments to take advantage of [the large-scale pattern]--not fixing [it] forever, but adapting [it] with understanding as well as good intentions (Hillier, Hanson, & Peponis 1987, p. 231).


Yet Hillier and his colleagues (e.g., Hillier & Hanson, 1983, pp. 133-40; Holanda 1989; Miller 1989; Peoponis 1989) go on to demonstrate that most modern architectural and planning practice are oblivi­ous to the global level and consider only the locality or individual architectural forms: "Everything is invested in what the local spaces are like, and little attention is given to the global system per se" (Hill­ier, 1989, p. 230).


Hillier points out that conventional urban and planning history largely blames the automobile for the destruction of both the global and local dimensions of urban place. In a strikingly different way, he argues that the real culprit is a taken-for-granted social and political ideology "based on the paramount values of hierarchy and privacy" (ibid.). This transformation in thinking "began in the middle of the 19th century, fifty years at least before the car" (ibid.). In this ideology,


            Not only are individuals and families said to require seclusion--which does happen in traditional urban forms--but also local groups of neighbours, whole neighbourhoods and even whole communities are also said to require it above all else‑-which does not happen in most traditional urban forms. The multi-level segregation of the modern urban landscape, often achieved in spite of high population densities, seems to many theorists an ideal to be aimed at (ibid.).


There is no doubt that Hillier is at least partly correct in this conclusion, which is perhaps most clearly demonstrated in the modern­ists' urban de­signs‑-e.g., Le Corbusier's "Radiant City." More recently, however, this "isolationist" ideology has also underlaid environment-behavior research and design‑-for example, architect Oscar New­man's theories of "defensi­ble space" and "com­muni­ties of interest."5


In addi­tion, there are other styles of "isolation­ism"‑-for example, formalist architects like Aldo Rossi, Andres Duany, or Leo and Rob Krier (who seek to mimic the spatial struc­ture of pre-modernist cities but have no real under­standing and produce piecemeal counter­feits) or postmodernist and decon­struc­tionist archi­tects like Robert Venturi and Peter Eisenman (who believe, for contrasting reasons, that place-bound com­munity is a tedious anachronism and thereby discard propin­quity and wholeness of place entirely).6


On the other hand, there are some designers and thinkers who point toward much agreement with Hillier's perspective. The most obvious example is Jane Jacobs, whose work still holds a strong place in urban and community design. Her emphasis on street life, physical diversity, and small blocks has much in common with Hillier's deformed wheel and its areas of activity and rest. Also kin is the pattern language of Christopher Alexander, especially his efforts toward a "new theory of urban design."7


At the same time, Hillier's work is in some ways incomplete. One of the most awkward problems is its bias against the formal and functional dimensions of urban design and architecture. Hillier may well be right in arguing that global qualities as they are ex­pressed in a settlement's layout must be established before smaller-scale architectural and activity-use decisions are made. On the other hand, specific formal and functional qualities of the built environ­ment also contribute significantly to a sense of place and human identity, and these dimensions must be part of a complete environmental and architectural theory.8


Another lacuna in Hillier's work relates to the experiential fabric of the beady-ring structure and the deformed wheel. Associated with Hillier's contrasting pathway patterns must be contrasting environmental experiences and senses of place. How are networks of integration and segregation alike and different in terms of spatial behaviors and experiences? What sorts of events, encounters,moods, and so forth, are associated with what patterns of integra­tion and segregation? What would the worlds of everyday taken-for-granted experience‑-what the phenomenologist calls lifeworlds‑-be for the inhabitants and visitors of a highly integrated tradi­tional urban district vs. a more recent planned hous­ing estate that generates a high measure of segrega­tion?


For example, one phenomenological project would be to establish, using Hillier's methods, the pathways of integration and segregation for specific urban districts or towns and then to study their activity patterns and lifeworlds. In this way, one might begin to understand better how other environmental and human qualities‑-e.g., land uses, activity types, demographic characteristics‑-enhance or weaken the pathway structure itself. In fact, in his latest work, Hillier (et al., 1987) has identified pathways of integration and segregation and then gone out and observed actual pedestrian activity. The next step, phenomenologically, would be a careful description of the lifeworlds of these path­ways, through participant observation and other empathetic methods.


Hillier's space syntax offers invaluable insight for understanding how pathway patterns contribute to making a place what it is. He also demonstrates how smaller parts of a place are integrally bonded to the whole through circulation and morphological struc­ture. The need is to integrate this emphasis on move­ment and spatial connectedness with other conceptions of urban and community design. In this sense, the phenomenological interpretation of place, in its ability to gather together the many various parts of the physical and human worlds, is perhaps the best organizing framework.9


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1. An earlier version of this paper appeared in the Environmental and Architectural Newsletter, 4, 2 (spring 1993): 10-19. The author would like to thank John Peponis for commentary on that version.

2. This pattern is true for settlements whose main function is practical livelihood (what Hillier calls "the production of everyday life"). On the other hand, settlements for religious or ceremonial purposes (called "the formal reproduction of social structures") do not typically follow this pattern. For many towns, both types of order are present. See Hillier, 1989, p. 11; Hillier & Hanson, chaps. 2, 6.

3. By manipulating the probabilities to account for directional or building-group bias, Hillier could simulate a broad range of settlement forms that, on the surface, seem dramatically different in underlying morphology.

4. The derivation, number, and subtlety of these statistical measures is an achievement unto itself; suffice it to say that, from a phenomenological perspective, Hillier's work provides a powerful example of positivist-quantitative research that serves to allow the phenomenon to emerge (rather than submerge, distort, or misrepresent the phenomenon as so much positivist work typically does). Hillier claims that the empathy of his measures is so because he is "trying to describe an order that is already present in the system" (Hillier & Hanson, 1984, p. 45).

            On the other hand, it is important to point out that most of Hillier's numerical measures are derived from the spatial arrangements of the convex and axial spaces themselves (e.g., the number of other streets that a street intersects); other important ingredients of place‑-e.g., adjoining activities, uses, and buildings types‑-are not considered. In this sense, the geometry of place in terms of pathways and open spaces is well served but not the full range of built qualities that contribute to a sense of place. One effort to incorporate Hillier's discoveries in such a widened sphere of possibilities, is Bentley et al., 1985.

5. O. Newman, 1973, 1980. In defense of Newman, it must be emphasized that he, too, sees street life and informal interaction as a crux to revitalized urban neighbor­hoods. If we assume Hillier to be correct, Newman's major blunder is to begin with the part ( a particular housing project or neighborhood) rather than the whole (the "virtual community" as it can become real through street layout and pedestrian activity). Many of Newman's design ideas (e.g., taken-for-granted surveillance through windows, major interior activity areas like the kitchen facing the street) are compatible with Hillier's approach; the need is a thorough discussion of similarities, differences, and a reconciled whole.

6.. A excellent space-syntax critique of these approaches to urban design is found in Peponis, 1989.

7. E.g., Alexander et al., 1977, Alexander, 1987. As with Oscar Newman (see note 5), a critical examination of the similari­ties and differenc­es between Hillier and Alexander would be a useful exercise, both conceptually and design-wise. One of the most striking common­alities is that both men insist that program­ming must first identify and design for large-scale concerns before dealing with smaller-scale issues. Hillier himself attacks Alexander's work (e.g., Hillier & Hanson, 1983, p.xi), but one can imagine that the breadth of a revised pattern language might be able to include Hillier's insights and, in turn, make the pattern language and Alexander's theory of urban design much stronger and real experientially.

            In this regard, the large-scale patterns in Pattern Language that deal with settlement layout as a whole seem, overall, idealistic when compared to Hillier's deformed wheel and axial and convex spaces. One preliminary effort to consolidate the work of Hillier and Alexander is Bentley et al., 1985.

8. For example, one of Jacobs' four conditions for diversity is several primary uses‑-i.e., anchor activities, like dwellings and work places, to which users must necessarily go (Jacobs, 1961, chap. 8). There must be various patterns of relationship among circulation layout and uses served, though Hillier makes little mention of this linkage. In regard to ways in which formal qualities of the built environment contribute to a sense of place, see, for example, Harries 1983, Thiis-Evensen 1987, and Bentley et al., 1985, chap. 5.

9. It is important to mention that Hillier has also considered building interiors in terms of syntax. One aim is to examine "how a building works to interface the relation between occu­pants and those who enter as visitors" (Hillier & Hanson, 1984, p. 143). Though not considered here, this work, especially as it considers the relationship between inside and outside as facilitat­ed by architecture, is also relevant to a phenomenology of place, especially the way that interior spaces, movements, and encounters can contribute to a sense of community or separation. The major discussion of architec­tural space syntax is chapters 4-6 in Social Logic; also see Peponis, 1993; Shoul, 1993.



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