SYSTEMS MODELLING | Geodesign – a wholistic and evolutionary approach to environmental planning and design – is gaining momentum with new digital tools emerging since the launch of Google Earth in 2005.

Coined as the title of a 1993 essay by German spatial planning professor Klaus Kunzmann, geodesign now is the subject of international conferences with increasing attendances, two new white papers, a forthcoming textbook and various proposed university courses to help freshly educate 21st century planning professionals.

Basic principles of geodesign originated with observations of natural environmental systems by ancient villagers on all continents – and grew sporadically to inform various 20th century approaches to ‘organic architecture’, ‘Gaia theory’, and ‘sustainability’.

Promoted for the past three years by California-based leaders of Esri, a global corporation selling geographic information science (GIS) software products, geodesign is a vision to advance modelling, photo-imaging and other geo-tagged information mapping technologies which can support multi-disciplinary groups to ‘design in geographic space’.

In a geodesign white paper draft-released in January 2012, Esri’s founder and president, Jack Dangermond, wrote: ‘You and I are living in a world where we’re going to have to move away from simply conserving places, towards proactively creating healthy places. … Geodesign represents the dawn of a new era in man’s relationship with the environment – the age of designing a better future.’

Jack Dangermond (Robot sketch programmed by Patrick Tresset and Frederic Fol Leymarie/Goldsmiths for d_city)

British landscape scholar Carl Steinitz, Dangermond’s former professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design in Boston, is writing the world’s first textbook on geodesign for release in English and Chinese later this year. Included will be his widely applauded 1995 diagram called ‘A Framework for Landscape Planning’ – advocating a choice of six types of models for landscape planning. During the mid-1990s, Steinitz and most of his peers were mainly working on paper but his six types of models now are being envisaged by younger followers as ‘digital online models of the geoscape’.

Steinitz assigned a question to be answered by each type of model:

• Representation models (how should the context be described?)

• Process models (how does the context operate?)

• Evaluation models (Is the current context working well?)

• Change models (how might the context be altered?)

• Impact models (what differences might the alterations cause?)

• Decision models (should the context be changed?)

Steinitz and Dangermond recently led a workshop with the City of Redlands (California) to assess performances of six multi-disciplinary teams applying each of these models to environmental management and development issues for the central Redlands land zone.

Carl Steinitz (Botplot generated by Patrick Tresset and Frederic Fol Leymarie/Goldsmiths College for d_city)

Writers of other geodesign white papers are Bill Miller and Shannon McElvaney, both members of Esri’s geodesign services team. Esri also has a substantial publishing division and specialist library informing geographic information science/systems (GIS) professionals.

Before Google Earth, the GIS industries tended to enable urban planners via 2D (flat maps) and 2.5D (relief maps) linked to databases of information usually filed as spreadsheets. Now the technologies are being progressed towards a concept described by British science writer Richard Dawkins as ‘evolutionary jelly’.

Download: ISDE Vision 2020 Long Paper 2011