Design happens, with or without thorough analytics. While green values, various analytical processes and visualization techniques that can ameliorate the potential negative impacts of environmental design have existed for decades, many design firms do not incorporate them as a regular part of the design process when not required to do so.
In recent years, the publishers of the industry-leading ArcGIS suite of software, Esri, has placed increased emphasis on incorporating the analytical power of GIS into design process. Advanced developments in their software, the rise of cloud computing and the ongoing digital integration enabled by the internet have accelerated these processes through efficiencies created through the technologies themselves as well as increased access to encapsulate these pro the data required for them. Esri has dubbed their advocacy towards integrating geography and design with the title Geodesign, and for several years they have been holding a two-day summit to engage practicing professionals in the subject; this year’s summit will be held on January 24 and 25.
Geodesign builds upon long-standing practices and processes advocated by people such as Ian McHarg and Harvard’s Carl Steinitz and incorporates current and burgeoning technologies to advance not only the process but sustainable design.
Part of the idea behind geodesign is creating a format that can bridge differing parties, be they professionals from different disciplines or political players who are opponents in the design process. The flexibility engendered in the concept makes it useful across a wide variety of scenarios, but can also make it difficult to define and comprehend.
“The thing about Geodesign is that it's flexible enough because it's a framework, it's basically a mindset... When you view this kind of geodesign framework and it's for your design, you can set your key metrics based on what it is you value,” according to Esri’s Shannon McElvaney, a proponent of geodesign and the author of a recent book on the topic published by Esri.
What could make that meaningful for designers, especially those in small firms that aren’t yet functional in GIS, is that it could not only enhance their scope of practice but it could also accelerate processes they are already engaging in. Take, for example, sustainability indicators such as LEED and Sustainable Sites. Geodesign technology can be programmed to actively evaluate your design as you are working on it.
“You could take something like LEED for neighborhoods, and you could say these are my key performance metrics that I want to evaluate," says McElvany. "You set this up in your model and then as you're working you count off the points. OK, I'm not using prime ag land, I'm near transit, and you just go click click and it scores your points because you're following certian guidelines.”
Much like GIS already does when it incorporates pre-existing geographic data, the geodesign process may not have invented the LEED system, but if you are working on a project that incorporates the LEED evaluation system, geodesign can enhance your ability to actively evaluate your design according to LEED standards while you’re designing.
One real-world example where Geodesign has been incorporated recently was when Esri was asked to provide a transit-oriented design analysis for the city of Honolulu, Hawaii. Using the geodesign framework and Esri technologies such as CityEngine allowed Esri to enable residents and city officials to visualize differing built scenarios and analyze the implications of each. In the end, the analysis came up with a solution that would diminished the resulting asphalt by 1 billion square feet and save an anticipated 105,000 acres of farmland on an island with a total land area that is approximately equivalent to the Denver Metro area, according to McElvaney.
This year’s two-day summit will be held in Redlands, California. Attendees will have the opportunity to see a variety of projects that have incorporated the Geodesign framework. Also available will be a variety of sessions ranging from theoretical explications to practical instruction on some of the technology. Speakers and practicing practitioners to be represented at the conference will include academics, representatives of large corporations such as IBM and small innovative start-ups.