This chord diagram shows the demographic structure of public space users in Guangzhou and Shenzhen which are displaying on the right half of the circle.

On the left half of the circle, types of activities will be showing.

When hovering the mouse over a chord, you will see how different groups use public space differently

Overall, about 9000 thousand people were recorded between November 2013 and Febary 2014 for this study.

Many thanks to Prof Diane Brand, Jules Moloney and Marc Aurel Schnabel for their generous support.

Problem Statement

This thesis investigates how new small and medium-sized public squares are designed and used on a daily basis in Guangzhou and Shenzhen, two major cities in the Pearl River Delta, China. Given an extreme lack of open public spaces in those cities, those newly developed public spaces are expected to improve the life of millions Chinese urban citizens; however, many of them are frequently criticised as inconvenient for users. How to improve the performance of these small and medium-sized public squares is therefore a critical issue faced by the city planners and designers. However, to dates, academic studies of public space in China are primarily focused on whether the architectural expression of the space or the development of the ‘public sphere’ in China. Hence, information about the actual use of small and medium-sized public squares in China is virtually absent.

Research Methods

In order to fill this gap in knowledge on how these new public spaces are designed and used, this thesis examines 13 small and medium-sized public squares that have been (re)developed over the last 15 years in Guangzhou and Shenzhen using primarily the space syntax methodology, including direct (non-participant) observations and space syntax analysis techniques. The thesis focuses on the examination of three aspects: the static occupancy and its relation to actual physical settings, the transient use of the space and its relation to urban configuration, and the location preferences by Chinese users and its underlying visual logic.


The findings from this thesis document a significantly different way of using public squares in China, as compared to their Western counterparts. Specifically, these spaces are used primarily by the elderly and organised activity groups. This collective way of using public spaces in China in combination with a wide range of cultural specific activities such as “exercising”, “babysitting”, “playing chess/cards” and “group-singing” has resulted in different spatial use patterns. In particular, this thesis has documented a strong preference for visually exposed locations, with much activity occurring at the centre rather than at the edges of public spaces, which are the most popular locations in public spaces in the West.


Chinese small and medium-sized public squares do not have the problem of being underused as compared to their Western counterparts; however, they are likely to become low standard venues dominantly occupied by those who cannot afford better options. This thesis highlights the problem of the user diversity in China with a virtual absence of office workers and teenagers. By providing valuable insights about the use and design patterns of small and medium-sized public squares, this thesis hopes to stimulate further studies of public space in China as well as contribute to the making of more user friendly public spaces in China in the future.

This visualization is based on Minh Nguyen's PhD at Victoria University of Wellington Supervised by Professor Diane Brand; Professor Jules Moloney and Professor Marc Aurel Schnabel

Visualization is created by Minh Nguyen & Thu Phuong Truong | Wellington 2019