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Studying cities to learn about minds: some possible implications of space syntax for spatial cognition


  • Bill Hillier


What can we learn of the human mind by examining its products? The city is a case in point. Since the beginning of cities human ideas about them have been dominated by geometric ideas, and the real history of cities has always oscillated between the geometric and the ‘organic’. Set in the context of the suggestion from cognitive neuroscience that we impose more geometric order on the world than it actually possesses, and intriguing question arises: what is the role of the geometric intuition in how we understand cities and how we create them? Here I argue, drawing on space syntax research which has sought to link the detailed spatial morphology of cities to observable functional regularities, that all cities, the organic as well as the geometric, are pervasively ordered by geometric intuition, so that neither the forms of the cities nor their functioning can be understood without insight into their distinctive and pervasive emergent geometrical forms. The city is often said to be the creation of economic and social processes, but here it is argued that these processes operate within an envelope of geometric possibility defined by the human mind in its interaction with spatial laws that govern the relations between objects and spaces in the ambient world.

Suggested Citation

  • Bill Hillier, 2012. "Studying cities to learn about minds: some possible implications of space syntax for spatial cognition," Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, Pion Ltd, London, vol. 39(1), pages 12-32, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:pio:envirb:v:39:y:2012:i:1:p:12-32

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