Spatial Ability and its Implication for Novice Architecture Students
Authors: Sutton, Ken ; Williams, Tony
ABSTRACT: Constructive perception ability that combines perception, conception and spatial
reasoning composed of visual analysis, synthesis and representation in iterative nature can be argued
to be equally related to creative design ability.
One of the more important aptitudes for students studying Architecture design is spatial ability, often
referred to as simply visual perception. Spatial ability encompasses the mental manipulative skills
required to perform mental processes such as the rotation of objects, the understanding of how objects
appear in different positions, and the conceptualisation of how objects relate to each other in space.
The relationship between various cognitive abilities and design creativity is a necessary consideration
for Architecture education.
Spatial ability is a construct generally considered to comprise of several spatial factors called elements
or components where each measures a separate spatial skill. Literature has reported that there is a
relationship between the spatial ability of students and their success in certain types of subjects, e.g.
technical drawing. However, there are not a large number studies that have focused on the relationship
between spatial ability and design-based courses which are prevalent in the Architecture discipline.
This paper reports on a research project concerned with the assessment of spatial ability specific to
design disciplines, Architecture being a primary design discipline studied. The project measured spatial
performance using an online 3D ability test (3DAT) that was developed in accordance with
psychometric test development procedures and properties such as reliability and validity for the 3DAT
are above acceptable standards. The 3DAT measures choice accuracy and reaction times across a
range of abilities that were expected to exist for design students. The spatial performance of students
was compared to their results on a number of design projects in a first year design studio to establish if
there was a positive relationship between their spatial ability and their performance in a course focused