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Space Syntax Analysis of Cypriot Built Environments: Social Interaction and
Change in Bronze Age Cyprus
Submission for the Russ Patrick Award 2014
By: Tia Sager
Supervisor: Prof. Kevin Fisher, Department of Classical, Near Eastern and Religious
There is great importance and relevance in researching the built environments of past
civilizations, because of the new ways in which architecture can provide evidence about
the social structures of the ancient world. Due to growing urban populations, analyzing
ancient architecture and city planning also has exciting potential to alter perceptions of
space and interaction in today’s rapidly developing world. Since built environments are
some of the most important remains with which archaeologists can work, it is vital for
archaeologists to be able to understand the ways in which built environments influenced
social interaction. By analyzing the spatial implications of social interaction,
archaeologists can ultimately glean important social information from ruins.
Research Background
The Late Bronze Age on Cyprus was a very significant time frame for social change, and
many pivotal questions surround the transformation of power structures and control at
this time (Fisher, 2009, 183). In order to analyze the social information that is encoded
within built environments, I studied several approaches that are very useful for this type
of research. One of the main approaches I used in this project is Space Syntax, which is a
set of theories and methods that analyze the relationship between spatial layout and
social, environmental and economic factors (Hillier, 1984, 147). Space Syntax can be
simply defined as a theoretical framework and set of analytical methods for the
representation, quantification and interpretation of spatial pattern in built form (Fisher,
2007, 69).
Various pieces of software exist that allow researchers to simulate the effects of
built environments on people who live and move around in them
( These pieces of software were used, in conjunction with
other programs, in order to gain precise syntactic measurements, including accessibility
and visibility measurements. For our research project, this was important for providing a
correlation between the emerging social hierarchy and new monumental architecture on
Late Bronze Age Cyprus.
This AURA research project, supervised by Prof. Kevin Fisher, focused on
analyzing monumental built environments from Late Bronze Age Cyprus (c. 1650-1100
BCE) using new Spatial Syntax software in order to apply more detailed calculations to
monumental Cypriot buildings. By analyzing the floor plans gathered from Prof. Fisher’s
dissertation and excavations on Cyprus, I was able to gather new evidence about the ways
in which social interaction would have taken place in the ancient built environments.
Previously, the calculations had been conducted manually using Excel spreadsheets and
basic graphic models (Fisher, 2007, 57). By inputting the building plans into new
software that is designed to create multiple complex movement and visibility calculations
almost instantaneously, the process would be shortened and ultimately, the goal is to
provide more accurate and detailed calculations that may shed new light on social
interaction in Cypriot built environments. What this truly allows is a more fine-grained
look at visibility within the spaces, by dividing spaces into smaller units than were
feasible using the previous methods. Programs such as DepthmapX also allow us to
provide calculations for every space within the whole building instantaneously, which
was not possible previously. The methods that were used in this research project have
cross-cultural implications, and can be applied to ancient and modern built environments.
Research Questions/Objectives
As part of my research, I investigated three main research questions:
1) How did monumental architecture change the social structures on Cyprus?
2) How did the built environments impact movement and visibility?
3) What changes or improvements to quantifying data can be observed by using new
software to obtain calculations?
My objective in this project was to obtain and analyze new data on spatial use,
movement and visibility for monumental buildings on Bronze Age Cyprus, and to learn
how to use new software that would allow me to perform these analyses.
Research Methods
The first phase of the project involved learning the original methodology that was used in
Prof. Fisher’s dissertation. This included reading various articles and completing some
labs in order to understand the methodology behind the systems that I would later learn.
The original methodology included manually digitized graphics and spreadsheet- based
calculations of syntactic measures. These calculations provided measurements such as
room depth, accessibility, and control calculations that would define which rooms were
the most (and least) accessible, and exerted the most control over other rooms in a
particular building by assessing the number of doorways and other features. These
measures were then be used to determine which spaces within a building were most likely
to host public-inclusive social interactions.
Subsequently, I learned to use three separate pieces of software in order to further
the research and obtain more detailed results. The three main pieces of software used
included AutoCAD, a design drawing program, DepthmapX, a program in which I
performed Space Syntax analyses, and SketchUp, a 3D modeling program. The
methodology is as follows:
Step 1: Import building plans into AutoCAD
Firstly, the physical plans of the
buildings had to be digitized and edited in
AutoCAD in order to remove any unnecessary
features and to scale the plans. The first step
involved removing any non-integral
architectural features, such as sunken pits and
fire hearths, which would not significantly
impede movement and visibility within the
built environments.
Step 2: Scale the plans in AutoCAD
The second step involved scaling
the building plans in AutoCAD, which
would then allow the generation of precise
calculations of distance and area in the
next steps.
Step 3: Import plans into DepthmapX
The second piece of software that I
learned to use was DepthmapX, which is an
experimental program that was developed by
Alasdair Turner of University College
London on the basis of Space Syntax theory.
In the third step, I imported the edited and
scaled digital plans into DepthmapX in order
to perform Space Syntax analyses and obtain
The image on the left shows a
visibility graph analysis in DepthmapX. The
visibility graph analysis is made by adding a
rectilinear grid to the map, as shown in the image. Next, this map is filled with a simple
fill algorithm and a matrix is created to compare the number of visibility relationships
that can exist (Turner, 2001, 31.1).
Step 4: Performing Space Syntax Analyses
Afterwards, I ran various spatial
analyses in order to better understand likely
patterns of movement, interaction, and
visibility within the buildings. By running
several calculation filters in DepthmapX, the
plans could now be used to obtain precise
Spatial Syntax data for future research and
use in future publications.
The image on the left is a visual
integration analysis in DepthmapX, which
shows how visually integrated spaces in the
building are with regards to the shortest path
one would have to take to see a room.
Step 5: Modeling buildings in SketchUp
Finally, I modeled one of the
buildings in a 3D modeling software
called SketchUp. The 3D model allowed
us to obtain an idea of what the building
looked like before it was reduced to its
foundations and can provide insight into
patterns of visibility and movement in
the building.
After completing the research project, I was able to gather the evidence and to answer
some of my research questions. In particular, I noticed several new observations in the
DepthmapX analyses that were completed. As an example, I will show some of the results
that I found with a monumental building at the Cypriot site of Enkomi, known as the
“Ashlar Building”. As Prof. Fisher argues, the building is quite permeable from the
outside street, which encircles it (Fisher, 2007, 128).
This screenshot taken of
DepthmapX is calculating a
measurement called “step depth”, which
is a measurement based on visibility
from a particular point, which is the red
dot on the image. This measurement
colours different areas from cool to
warm colours based on the number of
steps a person would have to take to see
the area. This is also a useful way to see
how the rooms were connected, and it is
visible from the image that the street
surrounding the building (in green-blue)
played an important role in the
accessibility of all the rooms in the
building. The orange areas are clearly
harder to access and would have been
more private than the blue and green areas.
This next screenshot was also
taken in DepthmapX of the same
“Ashlar Building” at Enkomi, except
the road area was omitted. This image
also shows step depth calculations
from the central room in dark blue. By
omitting the surrounding road and
closing off the entrance points, we can
gather a better idea of which areas of
the building would have truly been
more private and secluded, especially
for building occupants. The dark blue
area encompasses most of the hall
room, which would have been the
central, most public room of the cultic
area, known as the “Sanctuary of the
Horned God”. The areas in grey are completely inaccessible from the central court room
once the surrounding road was removed and the doorways are closed. These rooms are
thought to have been private apartments. This could mean that these rooms served a more
private function if the central hall was the main point of entrance, or perhaps simply
served functions that were completely separate from the main hall and did not require
access to the public hall area.
Another interesting area to mention is the small room indicated by the arrow. This
room is referred to as the “holy-of-holies”, and housed the statue of the “Horned God”
deity to which this religious precinct would have been dedicated (Fisher, 2009, 190). This
room was likely host to exclusive cult activities because of the nature of its narrow
entrance, and because there was an offset viewing portal for the statue to make it less
accessible (Fisher, 2009, 190). This is because rituals associated with the statue itself
were most likely reserved for the elites, who were able to see the statue while keeping it
separate from the public spaces of the building. This is another feature visible in
DepthmapX that correlates with the evidence from this time period of social stratification
and monumental building. The DepthmapX analysis of the building backs this separation
of spaces and solidifies the evidence between private and public areas of the building as
well as the emerging social hierarchy.
Learning Experience
By participating in this research project, I have gained new skills and tools that have
helped me immensely in my own student career. I will be starting a Master of Philosophy
in Classical Archaeology at the University of Oxford in October, and I will be focusing
my thesis on the built environments of Bronze Age Crete. With Prof. Fisher’s guidance
and collaboration, I have learned to use new software programs and I have been exposed
to a wealth of new information and tools that can enhance my own analyses of built
environments. By researching Bronze Age Cyprus, I have also noticed patterns that
appear in both Cypriot architectural features, and those of other Mediterranean sites as
well. My goal for my MPhil program is to study the effects of Minoan built environments
on social interaction and vice versa, in order to understand the reasons behind the design
and planning of Minoan palatial architecture. Since Cyprus and Crete were
contemporaries in the Bronze Age, I also plan to compare the built environments on
Crete to the ones that were analyzed during my research on the Cypriot buildings. My
hope is to find certain parallels that were previously unnoticed, and to perhaps propose
new uses and architectural elements in Cretan buildings that have so far been unknown.
Like Charles Gates, I also believe that there is a need for comparative research in
archaeology in order to make connections and conclusions with limited data sets (Gates,
The research that I have conducted with Prof. Fisher during the course of this year
has also provided me with valuable experience in formulating research questions and
methodology. The research will provide me with a basis for applying for future research
grants and conferences at which I hope to present my results from this project, as well as
those that I will research during my upcoming master’s degree. I am very grateful for the
opportunity that I had to participate in research at the undergraduate level. I feel that this
experience has enriched my undergraduate experience and prepared me for future work in
the academic field of Classical Archaeology. I am very thankful to Prof. Fisher, who was
infinitely patient in guiding me through all the steps of this project, and whose advice has
helped me a great deal in organizing my own research methods. I look forward to
continuing my research on Bronze Age built environments at the master’s level.
Fisher, Kevin D. Building Power: Monumental Architecture, Place and Social Interaction
in Late Bronze Age Cyprus. Thesis. University of Toronto, 2007.
Fisher, Kevin D. "Placing Social Interaction: An Integrative Approach to Analyzing past
Built Environments." Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 28.4 (2009): 43957.
Fisher, Kevin D. "Elite Place-making and Social Interaction in the Late Cypriot Bronze
Age." Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology 22.2 (2009).
Gates, Charles. Ancient Cities: The Archaeology of Urban Life in the Ancient Near East
and Egypt, Greece and Rome. London: Routledge, 2003.
Hillier, Bill, and Julienne Hanson. The Social Logic of Space. Cambridge: Cambridge
UP, 1984.
Turner, Alasdair. “Depthmap: A Program to Perform Visibility Graph Analysis.”
Proceedings, 3rd International Space Syntax Symposium. Atlanta 2001.