Wednesday, June 3, 2009

on spatial intelligence

"Aalto('s) are readily shown to be the result of putting together a locally developed spatial intelligence to work....In part this is because so many of Aalto's buildings seem to be sensing out a boundary between internal and external spatial forces or needs...It is not that he ever 'shrink-wraps' the skin of his buildings to a definition of the programme to be housed within it....Rather, it is as if he were working in a third term, neither carving or moulding, nor assembing or draping, but sensing a boundary between inside and outside that makes both spatial realms beautiful to inhabit." (van Schaik, Leon; Spatial Intelligence; p.17-18)
In the first chapter of Spatial Intelligence, van Schaik talks about Aboriginal art in Australia as an example of distribute intelligence at work. He draws attention to the topographic representation of Aboriginal lands in 'dot' paintings, absent any physical method of viewing the land from that perspective. He supposes that through walking barefoot over their lands and know the spaces physically, the people develop a complex spatial knowledge of the area, and the local Aboriginals have been able to resolve that knowledge into paintings which appear to represent that land as viewed from the air. (van Schaik, Leon; Spatial Intelligence; p.26)
Interestingly, when I went looking for such a representation for this blogpost, the only images I found were from a 1970s movement to translate traditional aboriginal art (found on rocks, bark, and inscribed into the ground) into a commercial form in order to bring it to the world at large (Papunya Tula). I wish I could find some more historical examples predating the invention of airplanes to better demonstrate van Schaik's theory. (The World Through Maps is on its way, van Schaik is not alone in his belief!) While I haven't finished reading it yet, Spatial Intelligence seems to be meditating on the question I posed at SciBarCamp: "Is there a spatial component to collective intelligence? How can architecture enhance/address this phenomenon?" Van Schaik proposes that the role of the architect ought not to be as "Master Builder" (as the profession of architecture defined itself at its inception in the 1840s), or as master organizers of human activity in plan (systems design, derived from NASA engineering research, prioritizes the efficiency of relationship in large complexes), but rather as professionals "acutely aware of the architectural capability to think spatially and to create space that awakens the spatial intelligence of clients and users" (van Schaik, Leon; Spatial Intelligence; p.11-14) Spatial intelligence is one of seven types of intelligence human beings posess: Linguistic, Mathematical, Kinetic, Natural, Musical, Personal (inter- and intra-personal), and Spatial (as defined by Howard Gardner in Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century). Van Schaik invokes Henri Levebvre, the "lonely observer", in his argument that in the post-industrial world we are suffering from a flattening of our spatial awareness caused by the proliferation of cars, screens, and personal audio devices which separate us from the 'aurality' (or time dimension) of space. what if there was... "architecture...forged from our ideas about space, our histories in space, our communal mental space, all built upon that combination of inherited capabilities that have evolved into us over millenia, and the unfolding of those capabilites in specific environments," (van Schaik; p.9).

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