Spatial design is a new term that defines
the relationship of people to environments through the use and
application of design principles and is specifically oriented toward
space-location. Architects, urban planning professionals and economic
development personnel have traditionally understood this relationship,
although today we consider this relationship in an extended manner such
that it includes and understanding of the relationship of
sustainability principles across the design processes. Geospatial
technologies and geoinformation are tools and data useful for the
practice of this emerging area of study, whose foundation and future
appears to lie in integration, the notion of holistic study and new
Auckland University of Technology says, “Spatial
Design involves the study and research of relationships between people
and their environments to enable the design and manipulation of spaces
that respond in a progressive manner to the nature of these
relationships.” At Kingston University in London, the course Design MA indicates, “In
a climate of rapidly developing technology and changeable cultural,
political and economic attitudes, this course provides the opportunity
to pursue an active role in designing the future landscape of our
everyday environment.” The article Design for All and Sustainable Development notes, “The
Swedish government has decided that the terms meaning will permeate all
public sector projects in architecture and design. The official
statement says that: Design for All can be regarded as a guiding
principle, which means that during all planning and design of products,
buildings, environments, and IT services, consideration will be paid to
accessibility and useability for all individuals as far as this is
The notion of design and spatial (space)
As mentioned above, the notion that people, design and environments all
connect together is the primary idea behind spatial design. It denotes
an active response toward the creation of efficiently operating
environments that serve the purposes and needs of people.
The geospatial industry has been coming at spatial design for a long
time, although it has not identified the relationship using such a
specific term. Can we argue that geographic information systems (GIS),
surveying technologies and computer aided design (CAD) software have
not been used directly to design and plan environments, previously? I
think not. But on the same note we have not identified geospatial
within a sustainability framework so tightly, succinctly and directly
as the term implies.
If you have listened to ESRI Founder and President Jack Dangermond
over the last few years you will have heard him use the term ‘Geographic Approach‘.
Fundamentally, he is talking about the relationship of people to
environment, but Dangermond adds the angle of ‘geography’ thereby
elevating the perspective to spatial design – the use of spatial design
tools for the development of environments and communities that serve
people sustainably. I sat with Dangermond in London recently as he
described ArcSketch, a free product add-on for ArcGIS software. I asked him what was so unique about the product. He pointed to the freedom to design spatially.
“Designer’s sketch when they design,” he said. The idea he was
underlining was that the design process, in its freedom, could be
captured in spatial tools for later use. Users could focus on creation
and not technology through this process.
It is a different matter to consider spatial design as location
alone as compared to design on terms that an architect would think of
it. Most architects like to focus on the creative element of the
process, whereas the location aspect relates more closely to the
Spatial design and sustainability
The relationship of spatial design to sustainability is
interesting. It is the future, I think, and I’ve attempted to write
about it from a number of aspects on this blog over time. Geospatial
technologies are the tools that enable sustainability to be understood
and decisions relating to governance to be established.
GIS, GPS, remote sensing, surveying tools and other technologies
enable the underlying processes supporting sustainable systems to be
measured, calculated and analyzed – spatially. There are no other
tools that can do this as effectively as these can. Furthermore, they
integrate processes in such a manner that the relationships (design
processes) can be altered, manipulated and managed, thereby providing
further creative possibilities. The coupling of geospatial tools into
the spatial design, as currently defined, is not yet fully exploited.
It is very much at the infancy stage, although IT systems and processes
have realised they can increase efficiency through the use of these
Spatial design and data
There are huge gains to be realised through the use of designing
processes based on quality data and approaches that integrate
information efficiently. In terms of sustainability issues, one might
argue that more holistic methods for reviewing environmental processes,
particularly those connected to human influence, are needed.
Our industry has placed considerable time and effort into
interoperability, for example, thereby enabling disparate systems to
integrate information. This capability has then been used to further
enable spatial design processes in areas such as urban planning,
transportation, utility / infrastructure and business geographics.
We don’t often talk about quality data and technology and their
relationship to design. But we should. The practicality and efficiency
of specific designs might only be assessed (accessible) through the use
of high quality information and tools. What we don’t know can harm us.
What we do know, we can manage.
CAD / GIS integration and spatial design
The integration of CAD / GIS is often viewed as a technology issue
alone. This is unfortunate because the real power behind this
integration lies in the fact that it enables spatial analysis as a
connection to the design process. This is why coordinate systems and
geo-referenced interiors and exteriors are vital to the understanding
and design of more sustainable environments.
This relation of technologies is highly complimentary. But we might
also ask ourselves if other tighter connections to technologies in
surveying, remote sensing and so on are possible. While remote sensing
has increasingly moved toward the analysis function and processes
associated with CAD / GIS, can we say the same for surveyor’s? Why
haven’t surveyor’s seemed to articulate a sustainability message
through the application of their tools and geoinformation that remote
sensing professionals have? These are avenues that ought to be explored
For the moment, automated processes are connecting remote sensing to
the tools of GIS and CAD. This relationship is closing a loop, enabling
the understanding and development of sustainable systems, planning and
Infrastructure appears poised to reap the benefits of the next wave
of spatial design development. We in the geospatial community ought to
be planning to inject, embed and develop approaches for the use and
application of the spatial designs that will lead us further into the
Our role is clearly before us.
V1 Magazine – “Spatial Design for a Sustainable Tomorrow”
Design for All and Sustainable Development
Auckland Univeristy of Technology
Towards a “Leonardo da Vinci approach” of GIS for Spatial Design
Effective Infrastructure is Efficient
GIS for Building and Infrastructure
As Scientists Contemplate Geo-engineering, How Do Geospatial Technologies Assist in Assessing Feasibility?
Communication Design MA
||The tagline of V1 Magazine is, “promoting spatial design for a
sustainable tomorrow,” so the answer to the question is at the heart of
our mission. There’s now a growing interest
in combining design functionality with the broader geographical context
that geospatial tools offer in order to engage more deeply in land use
planning. We find ourselves revisiting our tagline with a renewed sense
of what spatial design can become.
Our use of the term spatial design was a way to address the many
disciplines that use geospatial tools to effect change with an eye
toward more efficient and sustainable communities. While it’s
recognized that many practitioners of geospatial technology have some
element of design in their job description, a predominant amount of GIS
work still revolves around data creation without an eye toward
affecting change. The idea of spatial design is to get out from behind
database maintenance, engage in spatial analysis, and provide direction
and goals from the data we have amassed.
The Design Process
Design in this context is a verb, where practitioners are using the
geospatial toolset to gain a greater understanding of their project
space, and are using these inputs to better manage all aspects of their
work. The process of arriving at the final plan or management approach
is a multi-step exercise, with feedback and input from others, and
perhaps some starts and stops in the process. It’s more work to design
than to simply accept the outcomes of our software routines. Design
involves a give and take, and often times a return to the drawing
board, but good design rewards with a much better and long-term answer
to the problems that we set out to overcome.
Too often, poor design is really just a lack of design. When
engineers and architects take the parameters of building code and
incorporate those into their structure, without worry about how it
affects the flow of people in a structure or the aesthetics of the
building, they’re not taking the time to design. When we see a column
in the middle of a stairway or a building site that won’t drain after a
heavy rain, it’s mostly a matter of too little time spent going over
the inputs and outcomes of the work.
Spatial with Design
When we began the site more than a year ago, the combination of the
words spatial and design wasn’t a term that could be found in a Google
search. When I searched today, I was surprised to find a Wikipedia entry that combines many aspects of my own way of thinking.
The concept involves engaging both people and space at a variety of
scales to arrive at a more livable place. The Wikipedia entry indicates
input from a number of disciplines including architecture, landscape
architecture and curiously interior design. It indicates that spatial
design is included as an area of study in many institutions within the
United Kingdom, and states that spatial design is a discipline in
I wouldn’t attribute spatial design to its own separate discipline,
but rather as a multidisciplinary approach to achieve a more holistic
understanding of place, and a better reasoned approach to living in
harmony with nature. The fact that spatial design is being taught as a
discipline and profession is an exciting development, and an
opportunity for more focused efforts to align tools and foster research
into the meaning and potential for this new way of thinking.
While sustainability was a big buzzword for businesses and
politicians in 2008, it’s not a fad that will be gone tomorrow. The
idea of doing good, while doing well has long-term relevance, and we’re
just beginning to see what software and systems can contribute to the
effort to account for the needs of our planet while also addressing the
economic bottom line.
Spatial design is an approach that is in direct alignment with
sustainability. The disciplined evaluation of projects and places
within a broader geographic context considers potential conflicts and
takes a long-term view of the challenges of competing interests that
need to be aligned.
There’s a good deal of work to be done to engage the many
disciplines that could benefit from the spatial design approach.
Architects, engineers and urban planners stand to gain great benefits
from the broader context of a digital city model and integrated design
and geospatial views for urban planning. Those involved in utility and
transportation planning are already engaged to some degree with spatial
design, but greater inputs regarding their system performance could
greatly improve their design and improve efficiency. And there are
disciplines involved in agriculture and forestry that stand to benefit
from more active planning that take into account our changing natural
systems in the face of climate change.
We’re at a time now where technologies for digital design, spatial
systems, sensors and visualization are maturing. Spatial design takes a
new and proactive approach of combining these technologies to address
the challenges of our changing world.