Document Type

Theses, Ph.D


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence

Publication Details

Submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy to Technological University Dublin, 2017.


The central aim of this study is to expand understandings of spatial conditions in urban sites through the development of the theoretical concept of spatial complexity. This significant characteristic of cities includes compositional, configurational, and systems aspects, and is currently not defined in the urban design literature. While complex urban locations are shown to have environmental, functional and social advantages, including enriched urban life, increased resilience and diversity, the specifically spatial aspect is less examined. The research design proposes three separate phases of work. The first (theory) phase explores the literature on complexity theories of cities, integrative urban design and evaluation, and concludes that current understandings of spatial complexity need to be refined and deepened for urban analysis and design. The second (exploration) phase develops a conceptual framework, including an evaluation tool which measures three issues and nine criteria of spatial complexity, in order to reveal and understand the relationships between compositional, configurational and systems aspects of urban sites. The third (evaluation and visualisation) phase evaluates distinct and contrasting spatial conditions in three urban sites using a case study approach, thus demonstrating techniques of evaluation for urban design practice. Visualisations record and synthesise outputs and overlay observational data from the field, which supplements morphological, syntactical and systems readings. The places evaluated are found to have specific spatial complexity levels, which allows comparison within, between, and across cases and with other urban sites, and has international relevance for other urbanising locations. The evaluation methods developed are shown to combine the qualitative depth of a morphological approach with the synoptic quantitative advantages of a syntactical analysis method, as well as adding the systems viewpoint and observer perspective of fieldwork data. The study develops the underlying theory of spatial complexity in more detail for urban design, derives an evaluation tool, contributes case studies and evidence to urban design practice, and enhances methods of exploration, evaluation and visualisation for urban description, prescription and design.