Geodesign Explained (briefly)

Geodesign is a new discipline in the world of GIS (geospatial information systems) where designs for change are informed by geographic information. We in GIS produce the data “canvas” on which designs are drawn.

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

What is Geodesign? There are all sorts of explanations on the web, but we’ll let a picture tell the story.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater is an excellent example.  The structure is built atop the rock and of the rock, as part of the waterfall and not as an intruder alongside it. The horizontal lines match the low profile of the Pennsylvania hills. The design takes full advantage of wind currents in the micro-climate along Bear Run.  Who wouldn’t want to live in a place like this?  Why aren’t more of our homes, workplaces and public spaces built this way?

My elevator speech about geodesign? It is about designing on a canvas of what is there, but that’s not nearly enough. So here is my explanation of what geodesign is, as concisely as I can make it.

The thought, theory and practical application behind it is found in the pages of “A Framework for Geodesign: Changing Geography by Design” by Dr. Carl Steinitz, professor emeritus of landscape architecture at Harvard University.

According to Carl Steinitz:

  • Geodesign is a basis for collaboration, usually multidisciplinary, done in a workshop setting;
  • Geodesign IS collaboration and negotiation. It is not the exclusive territory of any design profession, geographic science or information technology, there will be and should be politics and friction;
  • It leverages geographic information and uses systems thinking, resulting in designs that more closely follow natural systems;

“…each participant must know and be able to contribute something that the others cannot or do not. Yet, during the process, no one need lose his or her professional, scientific or personal identity”.

A Geodesign session at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in April 2018 – READ MORE.

The cover of Steinitz’s 2012 book shows geodesign as a collaboration between the design professions, geographic sciences, information technologies and the people of the place. Each of these entities overlap to varying degrees and all converge at the center. GIS technology provides the common ground platform for communication and collaboration between them.

I’ve spent several years learning the Framework, watching Carl’s lectures online and attending some of his presentations and workshops.  Here are some of the materials I’ve found most useful in gaining my understanding of geodesign theory and practice.

Geodesign with Little Time and Small Data – a lecture on two very different case studies of geodesign application. The first was a workshop in Japan to develop a future strategy for the town of Soma, hit by a tsunami and affected by the Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown in 2011.  Attendees were tech savvy and used computers.  The second workshop at the Metropolitan University (UAM) Azcapoltzalco looked at future development around the university after completion of a new Metro station. Attendees drew on plastic overlays rather than using computers and this is a great way to learn framework mechanics. Presented at the 2014 ESRI Geodesign Summit.

A Digital Workflow for Dynamic Geodesign – I asked Carl about the best way to “sell” Geodesign and he told me to watch this presentation about Sydney, Australia from the 2017 Geodesign Summit.  He talks about a digital workflow for geodesign as used in, an online application/API designed specifically around his Framework — I am learning how to use it.

3D Planning with SketchUp and CityEngine – a very useful webinar that covers a lot of ground.  Some very good techniques and time-saving workflows using rules-based modeling in CE and  these tools. If you’re a planner or work in GIS or design, you’ll love this.

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