Using Isovists to Analyse Architecture: Methodological Considerations and New Approaches

By Michael J. Ostwald and Michael Dawes.

Published by The International Journal of the Constructed Environment

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

In the late 1970s architectural researchers developed the isovist, a new approach to analysing the geometric properties of spatial visibility. An isovist is a representation of the space that is visible from a point within a building. Today isovists are part of the broader field of research known as visibility analysis. Visibility analysis applies mathematics to architectural and urban space to investigate the relationship between form, vision and human behaviour. While the concept of an isovist is widely accepted, there are multiple approaches to constructing isovists. Researchers have also developed a wide range of measures from isovist analysis, many of which claim to offer unique insights into architectural space. Using a hypothetical building plan as an example, this paper provides a consistent and critically framed demonstration of architectural analysis using isovists, isovist view fields and global visibility properties. These worked examples include an explanation of two construction methods for isovists along with mathematical and diagrammatic approaches for producing local and global visibility measures. Importantly, the paper demonstrates an original use of the isovist view field to support the manual calculation of global visibility properties while avoiding the construction of a full visibility graph. In presenting this detailed and critical review, the paper also identifies a number of factors requiring further study and considers issues of accuracy, consistency and repeatability pertaining to the method.

Keywords: Isovist, Isovist View Field, Visibility Graph, Architectural Analysis

The International Journal of the Constructed Environment, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp.85-106. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.557MB).

Prof. Michael J. Ostwald

Dean, School of Architecture and Built Environment, The University of Newcastle, Callaghan, NSW, Australia

Professor Michael J. Ostwald is Dean of Architecture at the University of Newcastle, Australia and a Visiting Professor at RMIT University (Melbourne). He has a PhD in architectural history and theory and a higher doctorate (DSc) in the mathematics of design. He has lectured in Asia, Europe and North America and has written and published extensively on the relationship between architecture, philosophy and mathematics. Michael Ostwald is a member of the editorial boards or scientific committees of the Nexus Network Journal, Architectural Theory Review, Architectural Science Review and Architecture Research.

Michael Dawes

Research Assistant, School of Architecture and Built Environment, The University of Newcastle, Newcastle, NSW, Australia

Michael Dawes in an architectural graduate current working as a research assistant on a major project investigating computational analysis methods for design optimization.