Ecological space and cognitive geometry: Linking humans and environment in space syntax theory
Paper in proceedings, 2015

There are two fundamental links necessary to establish for a robust theoretical foundation of space syntax methodology. The first concerns the relation between humans and the environment, where space syntax has contributed to the development of what may be called a cognitive geometry for the analysis of spatial form. The second is the relation between humans and humans in the environment, that is, the role of spatial form for social processes, where space syntax has demonstrated how spatial form is essential for the distribution of human co-presence in space and with sociological support argued the vital importance of such co-presence for social processes. Nevertheless, these issues are far from exhausted in space syntax theory or even always convincingly argued. It is therefore the aim of this paper to further contribute to the first of these issues and in a parallel paper to contribute also to the second. While James Gibson’s theory of affordances often is referred to in this regard, his larger framework of an ecological approach to visual perception is far less addressed in space syntax research. This paper conducts a close reading of Gibson’s theory on perception in the aim to demonstrate its close links and high relevance to space syntax theory. Its more recent development by other writers, such as Harry Heft and Anthony Chemero, will also be referred to. More precisely, it will be argued that Gibson’s theory forms a most apposite ontological framework for space syntax theory and methodology that supports its novel conceptualisation of the relation between humans and the environment and, not least, presents a firm theoretical foundation for its particular form of geometric representations, such as the axial map. Importantly, Gibson’s ecological ontology distinctly contrasts with the typical conception of space, borrowed from physics, found in most spatial analysis and urban modelling.


ecological space


Space syntax theory



Lars Marcus

Chalmers, Architecture

10th International Space Syntax Symposium, SSS 2015, UCL, London, UK, 13-17 July 2015

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Building Futures (2010-2018)

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