Hierarchically hyperbolic spaces, I: Curve complexes for cubical groups

Jason Behrstock, Mark F. Hagen, Alessandro Sisto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Citations (Scopus)


In the context of CAT(0) cubical groups, we develop an analogue of the theory of curve complexes and subsurface projections. The role of the subsurfaces is played by a collection of convex subcomplexes called a factor system, and the role of the curve graph is played by the contact graph. There are a number of close parallels between the contact graph and the curve graph, including hyperbolicity, acylindricity of the action, the existence of hierarchy paths, and a Masur–Minsky-style distance formula. We then define a hierarchically hyperbolic space; the class of such spaces includes a wide class of cubical groups (including all virtually compact special groups) as well as mapping class groups and Teichmüller space with any of the standard metrics. We deduce a number of results about these spaces, all of which are new for cubical or mapping class groups, and most of which are new for both. We show that the quasi-Lipschitz image from a ball in a nilpotent Lie group into a hierarchically hyperbolic space lies close to a product of hierarchy geodesics. We also prove a rank theorem for hierarchically hyperbolic spaces; this generalizes results of Behrstock and Minsky, of Eskin, Masur and Rafi, of Hamenstädt, and of Kleiner. We finally prove that each hierarchically hyperbolic group admits an acylindrical action on a hyperbolic space. This acylindricity result is new for cubical groups, in which case the hyperbolic space admitting the action is the contact graph; in the case of the mapping class group, this provides a new proof of a theorem of Bowditch.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1731-1804
Number of pages74
JournalGeometry and Topology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 10 May 2017


  • Acylindrical
  • Cube complexes
  • Curve complex
  • Hierarchically hyperbolic
  • Teichmüller space

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geometry and Topology


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