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Cultivating Spatial Intelligence

Spatial Information in Design Education

The Graduate School of Design(GSD)is home to Harvard University's graduate programs in Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Urban Design and Urban Planning. Each of these endeavors is very information intensive. The work of designers and planners amounts, in large measure, to these information processing activities:

Designers and Planners:

All of our work is oriented toward understanding and improving the built environment. Each term, every GSD student whatever their program, is concerned with how a geographical site, its context and associated spatial processes relate to one-another in space and over time. Paper maps, statistical digests and physical models have always been important tools for designers seeking to understand the physical, cultural, historical, and regulatory context of projects. In the past decade, digital media and the internet have come to replace paper maps as the primary means of recording and sharing contextual information. At the same time, the quantity and diversity of spatial information available to designers has increased tremendously. Part of the challenge of design research and education is understanding what might be learned from all of these new information sources -- how do they affect our ways of understanding places: developing new ideas, communicating, collaboration? Information technology has changed the environment for design and the opportunities and expectations for design practice and scholarship.

The GSD has an important place in the history of the development of today's ubiquitous technology for spatial representation and analysis, and their application in design curriculum. Many of today's pioneers of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) were associated the GSD's Laboratory for Computer Graphics and Spatial Analysis (LCGSA) between 1965 and 1989, and many of the fundamental data and software models for GIS were developed here. For more information about the history of GIS at the GSD, see Nicholas Chrisman's 2006 book, Mapping The Unknown: How Computer Mapping Became GIS at Harvard. Though the LCGSA has disbanded, the geographic information systems remain imbedded in the GSD's curriculum and infrastructure.

This collection of tutorials was developed by Paul Cote, Geographic Infromation Systems Specialist at the GSD from 1994 to 2013. Paul has moved on, but continues to maintain many of these pages on his own web site: Cultivating Spatial Intelligence: www.gismanual.com