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A new theory of the city

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Abstract: Cities can be thought of as socio-technical systems. In contrast to previous theories, here I propose a more complex and, I believe, true-to-life model based on the definition of the physical sub-system of the city as a network of spaces – streets and roads – linking buildings, rather than as a system of discrete zones. I will outline a vertical and a lateral theory to account for generic aspects of the emergent complexity of cities. I will explore two key issues in the study of complexity in general: the levels problem. Firstly, how organised complexity at one level becomes elementary the next level up and secondly, the parallel problem: how systems with different internal dynamics interact with each other. I aim to show that cities are cognitive formations in an even more fundamental sense than they are socio-economic formations.

Biography: Bill Hillier is Professor of Architecture and Urban Morphology in the University of London, Chairman of the Bartlett School of Graduate Studies and Director of the Space Syntax Laboratory in University College London. He specialises in the study of human and social space in buildings and urban environments of all kinds. He was the original pioneer of the methods for the analysis of spatial patterns known as ‘space syntax’. He is the author of The Social Logic of Space (Cambridge University Press, 1984, 1990) which presents a general theory of how people relate to space in built environments, ‘Space is the Machine’ (CUP, 1996), which reports a substantial body of research built on that theory, and a large number of articles concerned with different aspects of space and how it works.

This talk is part of the Martin Centre Research Seminar Series - 40th Annual Series of Lunchtime Lectures series.

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