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Last Updated: Monday, 18 September 2006, 12:06 GMT 13:06 UK
Village is 'bigger than it seems'
Portmeirion's complexity makes it seem a larger space
Welsh Italianate village Portmeirion appears three times bigger than reality, an architect has claimed.

Andrew Crompton asked architecture students to walk 500m (1,640 ft) along roads in the village made famous by 1960s cult TV series The Prisoner.

The students, who were not told how far they had walked, actually estimated they had travelled 1,497m (4,911 ft).

Dr Crompton said Portmeirion was an example of a "fractal town", where its complexity made it appear larger.

On average, the students estimated they had walked 804m (2,638 ft) when performing the same experiment along Oxford Road in the centre of Manchester.

The architect, from the University of Manchester, said his study confirmed the theory that places seem bigger if there is more to see.

He said: "All the little incidents, places to stop, sit and look and the things that give Portmeirion its charm make it seem larger than places where one keeps moving.

Repeating objects

"Distances will therefore seem smaller in places where people look at their feet and there is lots of traffic. We can use this to make space from nothing.

"It would seem that vastly more information is absorbed during a walk in Portmeirion than it is in Manchester."

Dr Crompton believes humans are adapted to live in fractal environments where objects such as trees and rocks repeat themselves.

He said previous studies in the US had indicated that our vision expects the world to be fractal.

Fractal shape
Fractals are made up of repeated shapes

"This may explain why non-fractal environments such as car parks feel oppressive," he said.

"It may also explain why highly fractal environments such as open woodland, picturesque towns, older city centres and old cities such as Fez and Jerusalem feel familiar and friendly."

Fractals - a type of mathematical model - can be seen everywhere in nature.

The hallmark of a fractal is a "structure within a structure" - for example a magnified look at rock will reveal it resembles a tiny mountain.

Dr Crompton said visitors walking around Portmeirion were "going down into the fractal" as it was a small complex space with turns, slopes, intersections and features.

The village in Gwynedd, which also featured in the final episode of ITV's Cold Feet, celebrated its 80th anniversary this year.

Architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis built the village to prove a beautiful site could be developed without being spoiled.

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