Thursday, September 17, 2009

Shakespeare on GeoDesign

I've been trying to figure out why ESRI is suddenly trying to make such a big deal of "GeoDesign" - this announcement talks about introducing "the first generation of geodesign concepts, technologies, and tools". But people have been doing design in GIS for decades - the first release of Smallworld in 1991 was really all about design, with features like version management to enable you to analyze multiple alternative designs, etc etc. In the 1980s IBM GFIS was heavily used for design applications. I've come to the conclusion that maybe they've been trying to think of something they can say that they do which those pesky neogeographers don't do (yet!), and trying to present design as something new and cool is their attempt to do this. Anyone else have any theories? It all just seems a bit odd to me.

Anyway, I was browsing a little Shakespeare in preparation for my talks in Stratford upon Avon next week, as you do, and discovered that actually GeoDesign is even older than this. It goes back to the 16th century at least - here is a surprisingly detailed description of the design and construction process from Lord Bardolph in King Henry IV, Part 2 (maybe there's a reason why this wasn't one of his greatest hits!):
"... When we mean to build,
We first survey the plot, then draw the model;
And when we see the figure of the house,
Then we must rate the cost of the erection;
Which if we find outweighs ability,
What do we then but draw anew the model
In fewer offices, or at least desist
To build at all? Much more, in this great work,
Which is almost to pluck a kingdom down
And set another up, should we survey
The plot of situation and the model,
Consent upon a sure foundation,
Question surveyors, know our own estate,
How able such a work to undergo,
To weigh against his opposite; or else
We fortify in paper and in figures,
Using the names of men instead of men;
Like one that draws the model of a house
Beyond his power to build it; who, half through,
Gives o'er and leaves his part-created cost
A naked subject to the weeping clouds
And waste for churlish winter's tyranny."
(First posted in the comments on a previous post, but I decided it deserved its own entry!)


Kirk said...

It is not so much that geodesign is new, but rather that technology has reached a point that allows artists to participate in the geodesign process - without becoming technologists.

Look at the way Microsoft promotes the separation of programming (in Visual Studio) with UI Design (in Expression Blend).

Clearly, Microsoft has recognized the importance of artists' participation in the design process.

I hope ESRI follows suit, and provides a platform with similar separation. Expression Map, anyone?

@Osbornec said...

perhaps it is because most maps produced by "GIS Experts" look so dire?

Too much focus on the tech and not enough thought about aesthetics. Which is just another area us neogeography types have the upper hand.

Richard said...

Boris Johnson on GeoDesign

Jack Dangermond said...

Thanks for noticing our efforts in GeoDesign and yes, you are certainly correct; the consideration of geographic factors as part of design is not new. Your personal efforts to develop engineering design tools while you were at Smallworld was not only good work but built on a long history of human thought and innovation in this area.

I suppose everyone sees design and design methodology differently as it relates to their background and experience.

In my case, I was first introduced to the efforts of Phillip Lewis and Ian McHarg in the 1960s. They both developed manual techniques for landscape planning involving plastic overlay maps. They used these overlays to describe constraints and opportunities presented by geography. These maps were typically used as the basis for "designing" open space and other land use plans.

Later, Carl Steinitz, a professor at Harvard, laid out a computer-based methodology using early GIS tools. His methods pioneered both computer suitability analysis and environmental impact modeling.
Today my colleagues and I are advancing these techniques by integrating a series of new tools and methods into our GIS software. We are also promoting the ideas that we need to more directly integrate geographic information into many forms of spatial design and decision making. While these techniques are certainly relevant for land use and natural resource planning, they also have enormous value for any type of geographic site selection, corridor planning, or area-wide planning efforts. In fact, they can be a benefit in most human activities which change geography.

The fundamental technology we have developed is not profound. It involves sketching on top of smart analytic maps and getting fast feedback. This technology, however, has to be complemented with a methodology involving the integration of geographic science and other layers with an interactive design process which allows users to sketch and get rapid feedback on the consequences of their alternative designs.

Our technology is being deployed in both desktop and server platforms. We believe that the Web Server technology is particularly interesting because when deployed on the Web, it promises to lead to a whole new way of collaborative and community based planning. Ultimately this platform promises to also provide very broad based access to users of all types. Who knows, a whole new world of "geodesigners" may emerge like neogeographers – people who participate in volunteer efforts to design a more sustainable world.

These ideas are not new. We are hoping our technical efforts and promotion of these ideas will lead to more integration of geographic thinking into all that we do; specifically that people who are responsible for changing our geography are fully aware of the consequences and implications of the changes as they are made.

This January we are having our first GeoDesign symposium in California. It is being co-sponsored by the University of California, the University of Redlands, and ESRI. There will be many academic and design firms participating. Presentations will be made on theory, technology and methodology associated with GeoDesign. We welcome participation by those interested in these ideas. (see