New approaches, technologies fuel the future of geodesign

By Diana S. Sinton

The fourth Geodesign Summit recently concluded in Redlands, Calif., and this event may be settling into an annual rhythm. The term “geodesign,” regardless of how one chooses to spell it, has demonstrated its staying power by becoming integrated into curricular programming at different scales, from a single class at the University of Arizona, to a new bachelor’s degree at the University of Southern California, to a massive open online course available through Coursera, among others.

Still, some will always argue over what is new about geodesign. Its roots trace back to fundamental practices of landscape architects, landscape ecologists, planners and others who have envisioned and designed changes to places, big or small, for millennia. Stephen Ervin, from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, has said that modern digital data, collaborative efforts and systems thinking are some of the factors that differentiate geodesign from its historical predecessors.

One could say that the systematic approach to the processes and workflows is what is new. Technologies are better suited to align with practices, whether these are sketching, scenario building or enabling input from multiple sources, local stakeholders and other experts alike. Prototype dashboards provide real-time feedback, and being able to sketch digitally into a virtual 3D environment is more of a reality than ever before.

So whether one calls it geodesign or not, the important things are that it’s taking place around the world and we have new ways to learn the processes and expand its potential. In Indonesia, villagers explore participatory land use with an eye to climate change. Just south of Chicago, rapidly produced simulations are enabling the evaluation of proposed development plans via an application called LakeSim. A new generation of sensors extends to individuals as actors in their landscapes, producing data to be integrated into designs and models, as this four-part blog series (1, 2, 3, and 4) on participatory sensing by describes.

Other Resources and Academic Programs for Geodesign:

Three books:

Educational Info:

Directions Magazine coverage over the years, illustrating the development of geodesign:  

Published Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

Written by Diana S. Sinton

Published in


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