Spatial Databases: Generating New Insights on Office Design and Human Behaviours in the Workplace

By Hannah Mellow on 9 October 2014

In addition to day-to-day consultancy projects and working with clients to realise their ideal office, we also engage in original research. This allows us to generate new insights, systematically test methods and metrics, and to communicate with others in the research community to advance the state-of-the-art of workplace research. Based on our collaboration with UCL in a Knowledge Transfer Partnership on ‘Big Data in the Office’, we have now submitted an abstract to the upcoming 10th Space Syntax Symposium, to be held  in London in July 2015.

We’re excited about the event and the opportunity to share our knowledge and discuss insights with fellow practitioners and researchers alike. The abstract describes our (slightly geeky) work with Spatial Databases and argues that we can generate novel insights by analysing larger than usual data sets. Watch this space!


Spatial Databases: Generating New Insights on Office Design and Human Behaviours in the Workplace

by Petros Koutsolampros, Dr Kerstin Sailer, Ros Pomeroy, Dr Martin Z Austwick, Dr Andrew Hudson-Smith and Rosie Haslem

Space Syntax research has shown how human behaviours in the workplace are shaped by spatial configuration; in turn, evidence-based design practices have highlighted ways in which this data can be used to inform tailor-made solutions in office design. With the increase in collecting spatial data on offices, spatial analysts are turning to digital storage solutions, employing spatial databases, as well as procedures to easily gather, transmit and store the data. This creates a massive opportunity to exploit large datasets and generate new insights on office design and human behaviours in the workplace.
This paper will present the process of creating and the resulting potential of a spatial relational database, which has been established as part of the Workplace Consultancy of the London-based design practice Spacelab. Spatial Relational Databases are argued to bring several advantages to the handling of large datasets and the understanding of phenomena: 1) they allow for any type of interrogation of the contained data across what we understand as different types, such as spatial, social and network data; 2) they allow for cross-comparison between cases for instance pre and post an intervention (to show the effectiveness of a proposed design solution), but also for example analysing and benchmarking different projects within one industry; 3) Digitising the collection of data secures the consistency of information received as human error is minimised.


The geeks at work in Spacelab: coding, lots of coffee, multiple screens – it’s all there!

Analysing larger than usual datasets across different settings and projects ultimately enables researchers to reveal unseen properties of office life and generate new insights that were previously difficult and time consuming to achieve. It allows the ‘creation of phenomena’ in an Ian Hacking sense, i.e. new ways of seeing and understanding social and spatial relations. It also establishes new insights on generic function in offices and allows showing the range of varying behaviours across cases. The paper will first introduce the database and ways of speeding up the collection and analysis of data and then present empirical results of new types of questions asked including to which degree movement and interaction vary in workplace environments from day to day, from week to week, from case to case? To which degree do interactions span across floors? How much do interactions take place near desks? What are characteristic spatial properties of different behaviours such as walking, talking on the phone, sitting or interacting? The paper closes with reflections on the state of the art of workplace research and draws conclusions on limitations and next steps.

Topics: workplace, interaction, behaviours, space syntax, conference, database, spatial, big data