#GeoDesign Summit 2011: Day One

If you were watching Twitter the day before this year’s GeoDesign Summit began you may have seen this strange tweet from @BIMstorm:

$15 Billion in one hour. Can we do it at #Geodesign #BIMStorm? http://goo.gl/2gNhx

Now that Day One is behind me I know what it means and that the answer is basically “yes.” But first things first, let’s start at the beginning of the day.

Esri hosted the second GeoDesign Summit which began on Thursday, January 6. That said, so many people referred to a pre-meeting on Wednesday, that perhaps it started then.

Last year the first half day was given over to defining the vision of geodesign, pondering its definition, and wondering if anyone in attendance really did it. This year the visioning, pondering and wondering were set aside and in their place were confident technology demonstrations, recaps of achievements and demo heavy lightening talks.

Jack Dangermond began the day with a recap of some of the ideas in his latest video.

The opening technology demonstrations included the basics of ArcGIS Online, Community Maps, the latest version of ArcGIS Explorer and ArcGIS 10.1. They were framed in the context of geodesign, but were very typical Esri demos. More than one person referred to them in conversations with me as “an Esri commercial.”

Michael Goodchild’s recap of how far we’ve come was far better received, with one Twitter user noting: “That was probably the best Goodchild talk I’ve seen.” Goodchild detailed the foundation work done: the various definitions (he cited four, but there certainly more), the new networks and web pages being built (geodesignworld.org is live), a paper he wrote that’s not yet published, the Esri e-book about geodesign, a first book on the topic (that came out in October, 2009). He talked about geodesign research being done based off the agenda set last year as well as a National Science Foundation grant for $4.4 million over five years to explore “CyberGIS Software Integration for Sustaining Geospatial Innovation.” Most interesting, I think, was his discussion of his personal revelations about geodesign. He noted how all the spaces of his life (boyhood home, school, later homes) were designed by others, not him. He only “rearranged the furniture or paintings on the walls.” Only now was he designing his first house. He wrapped up noting Dangermond’s observation that geodesign is now a year old. Goodchild went on to note that it had taken its first steps and was unlikely to succumb to infant diseases. Still, though, it’s an infant.

The second session of the included a whirlwind of lightning talks. The ten minute time limit seemed to make them less punchy than the shorter versions with which I am familiar. I think it also caused presenters to try to cover too much. The few ideas/technologies that popped out for me included:

- Making sense of the movement to green buildings
- A TAMU demo of GeoSketch which included “sketch recognition” where the software “guessed” at what you were trying to draw and put the correct symbol on the map, such an arrow or star
- Placeways user of DIY touch tables for community involvement as well as paper and pencil maps (where the results were later input into the software system)
- Discussion of cities as growing like fractals.
- A smart phone based demo a gDesigner software

The second half of the day included about a dozen IdeaLabs, were groups tackled specific challenges related to geodesign. As I did last year, I attend the one about developing a curriculum related to geodesign. We pondered many of the same questions (Is geodesign a tool? A major? A minor? A bridging vision? A set of best practices?) but there was more evidence from actual departments of where we were. One department, which was merging several degrees into one had the option of putting the name geodesign into the name. In the end, it was not included. I liked one contributors idea that perhaps geodesign is like learning to do surveys, that is collecting input from individuals via surveys. You don’t get a degree in it, or typically study how to do it, but along the way you learn best practices and use them in your work. In fact, people use them in their work across social and physical sciences, in business, etc. Geodesign might be something like that, she offered.

The keynote was given by Kimon Onuma, FAIA, President and Founder, Onuma, Inc. Many people knew who he was and I confess I did not. But, when he showed a quick video of his vision for design and how his company “does it,” I could see why he was on stage. With software living in the cloud and variety of clients (from Excel to SketchUp to Revit to…) his company has knit together a real time design environment that supports participants around the world. And to help us understand he participated in a BIMStorm, the one noted at the top of this post. We took out our mobile devices and visited a website where we could each define a building (or two or three) with parameters for an area of Hong Kong. After logging in we upload our BIMs (the stats for our building) and his team began rearranging and enhancing the automatically created barebones models.

Here are the key ideas I took away from his discussion:

- When we connect BIM and GIS data explodes in value
- BIM/GIS integration is about connecting people and decisions (not about technology)
the technology should not get in the way of the design process (like Expedia doesn’t get in the way of searching for and buying a plane ticket)
- His team communicates through the model, not e-mail
- BIM/GIS integration looks like science fiction, but is really an opportunity
- His team participated in “low carbon collaboration,” that is designing with limited travel for face to face meetings

These two are thank to Twitter:
- “You can’t wait for the technology to be perfect [for BIM/GIS mashup], you got to just get doing something….”
- “create lots of train wrecks, early. get them out there for critique….before they get to construction phase.”

Below I paraphrase the Q & A:

Q: what about civil engineering data?
A: No single solution will do everything.

Q: How do you control what “stays” when something changes in the model?
A: How close to real time can we get? The ideal situation is to have the conversation right then… best to see it right away and fix it.

Q: Do traditional architects find this scary?
A: Yes. The biggest challenge is change management; losing control is a threat. But it’s also an opportunity. When economy was ok, no one was looking for new solutions. But the down economy has forced folks to look at this. There will be casualties in the transition to this way of thinking!

Q: If you move a building in the model and soil says that’s a “no go,” would it stop you?
A: Could, but not right now it’s not in this implementation.

Q: Implications for education?
A: I’m frustrated since schools are stuck in the past. It’s the whole change issue.

Q: What’s going on in arch in comparison to your stuff?
A: What I wish would happen is if all the folks doing this sort of stuff could get together. The be relevant we need to be connected and to share. It might be threatening, but being isolated doesn’t solve anything.

Q: You are showing hill climbing and trial and error and informal decisions. What if client had a formal decision making process?
A: It’s part of the process. I just didn’t show that part. We need to serve the client.

Q: This process emphasizes speed as positive. Are there competing values?
A: Automate what can be automated to slow down on other things.

Bonus: Esri offers this walking tour video of the event. (2:41)

Esri helped cover some travel and lodging costs related to Directions Media’s attendance at the Summit.

Published Friday, January 7th, 2011

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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