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Wholeness as a hierarchical graph to capture the nature of space

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According to Christopher Alexander’s theory of centers, a whole comprises numerous, recursively defined centers for things or spaces surrounding us. Wholeness is a type of global structure or life-giving order emerging from the whole as a field of the centers. The wholeness is an essential part of any complex system and exists, to some degree or other, in spaces. This paper defines wholeness as a hierarchical graph, in which individual centers are represented as the nodes and their relationships as the directed links. The hierarchical graph gets its name from the inherent scaling hierarchy revealed by the head/tail breaks, which is a classification scheme and visualization tool for data with a heavy-tailed distribution. We suggest that (1) the degrees of wholeness for individual centers should be measured by PageRank (PR) scores based on the notion that high-degree-of-life centers are those to which many high-degree-of-life centers point, and (2) that the hierarchical levels, or the ht-index of the PR scores induced by the head/tail breaks, can characterize the degree of wholeness for the whole: the higher the ht-index, the more life or wholeness in the whole. Three case studies applied to the Alhambra building complex and the street networks of Manhattan and Sweden illustrate that the defined wholeness captures fairly well human intuitions on the degree of life for the geographic spaces. We further suggest that the mathematical model of wholeness be an important model of geographic representation, because it is topological oriented, which enables us to see the underlying scaling structure. The model can guide geodesign, which should be considered as the wholeness-extending transformations that are essentially like the unfolding processes of seeds or embryos, for creating built and natural environments of beauty or with a high degree of wholeness.
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Keywords: big data; centers; complexity; head/tail breaks; ht-index; scaling

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Faculty of Engineering and Sustainable Development, Division of Geomatics, University of Gävle, Gävle, Sweden

Publication date: September 2, 2015

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