Socio-Spatial Urbanism Unit

The Socio-spatial Urbanism Unit (SsUU) is a landscape-led urban design research hub based in the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Sheffield.

Socio-spatial urbanism unit logo

We are an interdisciplinary group of academic researchers, teachers and practitioners who explore new agendas of thinking and theoretical development focused on social understandings of urban open spaces.

SsUU aims to integrate the social, spatial and material dimensions of human-environment interactions through theoretical development focused on:

  • Crossing boundaries of landscape architecture and urban design along with fields such as environmental psychology and cognitive neuroscience to establish a new disciplinary paradigm better able to address socially oriented urban place-making challenges;
  • Providing foundations for exploring practical applications of new theoretical structures;
  • Establishment of socially oriented approaches to integrating research, teaching and practice.

By this means the work of SsUU will address aspects of the broader agenda of Socially Restorative Urbanism.

Research requirements

A core mission of SsUU is driven by advancing the following components of broad research, education and practice agenda, emphasising a requirement for:

  • More explicit understandings of the human-environment relationship at the heart of approaches to research, teaching and practice, underpinned especially by phenomenological perspectives which provide foundations from which to see such relationships as mutually interdependent and mutually transforming.
  • Recognition of the interdependency of urban morphology and social processes, especially how these can better inform an integration of professional, top-down processes with community-led bottom-up processes in urban place making and its management and adaptation.
  • The primacy of transitional edges and microenvironments as socio-spatial components of urban order within research, education and practice, especially their key significance to the social life and vitality of the urban realm, the well-being of urban inhabitants, and the nature of their socio-spatial organisation to that significance.
  • Emphasis on the need for accessible and inclusive forms of communication capable of overcoming professional and community boundaries and discipline specific boundaries.
  • Development of cross-disciplinary research, education and practice that can define and operationalise better integration of built environment disciplines with environmental psychology, cognitive neuroscience and sociological principles focused on the socio-spatial dimensions of transitional edges and microenvironments.
  • Development of new readings of the urban realm more closely related to territorial functioning and in particular the need for a better balance between professional intervention and occupant self-organisation.
  • Reorientation of practice and policy to be more localised and context specific, emphasising the importance of longitudinal, time-sensitive partnership working.

Core research underpinning SsUU has focused on:

  • Development of the concept of Socially Restorative Urbanism
  • Development of Street DNA through application of eye-tracking methodology

Selected publications

  • Thwaites.K., Simpson.J.C, Heath.P.J and Mathers.A.R. Microenvironments: towards a socio-spatial understanding of territorial expression for urban design. Urban Design International
  • Heath.P.J., Thwaites.K and Simpson.J.C. Scalar Slippage within the Urban Assemblage: from scheme delivery to place delivery in socio-spatial urban design. Journal of Urbanism: International Research on Placemaking and Urban Sustainability
  • Yin Y, Thwaites K, Simpson J.C. Measuring Street Restorative Expectations in Shanghai Using Restorative Component Scale as an Explorative Approach. Urban Design International
  • Thwaites K, Mathers, AR, Simkins IM (2020) Socially Restorative Urbanism (Chinese Translation). China Architecture and Building Press CABP

Current activities of SsUU include:

  • Transitional Edges – socio-spatial theoretical framework for urban street edges
  • Microenvironments – socio-spatial concepts of small scale territorial experience
  • Scalar Slippage – conceptual framework for top-down and bottom-up integration in urban design
  • Residential Urban Commoning – new conceptual framework for urban cohousing
  • Restorative Experiential Urban Landscape - conceptual exploration of restorative attributes of experiential landscapes
  • Transformative Urbanism – new conceptual framework for bottom-up urbanism
  • Street Restorative Experience – new approach to restorative understandings of urban streets

Please contact SsUU via Kevin Thwaites and James Simpson.

A global reputation

Sheffield is a research university with a global reputation for excellence. We're a member of the Russell Group: one of the 24 leading UK universities for research and teaching.