Design practice research: uncovering the role of spatial intelligence in designing and reviewing design of the built environment

The research … carried out in Australia as part of an Australian Research Council Discovery Program is of major significance for design practice, review, and our deeper understanding of the design of space and spaces. In continuing the exploration of ‘spatial intelligence’, this research … further develops our understanding of designers, how they work and what they draw on through their lives that shape their special thinking, and their practice.
Professor Colin Fudge - The Practice of Spatial Thinking: Differentiation Processes - Volume One 2013

Design practice research; uncovering the role of spatial intelligence in designing and in reviewing design of the built environment 
(ARC Project ID: DP1 10100939)
Australian Research Council Discovery Project
(2011 to 2014).

The Chief Investigators for the project and publications were Leon van Schaik, SueAnne Ware, Colin Fudge (all then of RMIT) and Geoffrey London (UWA).

A summary of the proposal read as follows:
Spatial intelligence (SI) is the human capacity upon which architects, landscape architects and urban designers build their capacity for spatial thinking, their unique skill base. This research will extend our understanding of this aspect of their professional design practice, enabling a more deft application and analysis, greater public benefit and wellbeing. A new conceptualisation of SI as the core knowledge base of three professions enables a new evaluation of techniques used by architects, landscape designers and urban designers when they deploy their spatial intelligence in the design of spaces and places.

This project will result in the identification and methodical analysis of Spatial Intelligence as deployed by architects, landscape architects and urban design practitioners. It will also explore improvements in, and invention of new design policies and design procurement procedures that are informed by deeper understandings of Spatial Intelligence. 

Background and Objectives
Spatial Intelligence is one of the seven human intelligences defined by Howard Gardener (1999), and it is developed from the capacity that enables us to orientate and navigate spatially. Gardener writes, “An increasing number of researchers believe … that there exists a multitude of intelligences, quite independent of each other; that each intelligence has its own strengths and constraints; that the mind is far from unencumbered at birth; and that it is unexpectedly difficult to teach things that go against ‘naive’ theories that challenge the natural lines of force within an intelligence and its matching domains.” (1999, xxiii)

Twenty years of research by neuroscientists has helped us to critically understand SI and the ways designers employ/use it (van Schaik 2008) This new understanding provides the opportunity for research that will help redefine the role design can play in promoting the wellbeing of communities through the design of spaces and places. The evidence based research into the positive impact of good design on therapeutic outcomes in healthcare buildings conducted by Professor Robert Ullrich (Texas A&M) refers. Our research examines the need for conscious use of SI by designers as they deal with different stakeholders, clients, and contexts.


  1. The Practice of Spatial Thinking: Differentiation Processes – Volume One, 
  2. Spatial Intelligence: New Futures for Architecture,
  3. Procuring Innovative Architecture