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Interview: Carl Steinitz on GIS and Design

Interview: Carl Steinitz on GIS and Design

September 16, 2009 in Design, GIS, Interviews

cslargeESRI writer Jim Baumann recently interviewed Carl Steinitz on the integration of GIS and design, and we share a portion of that interview here. Steinitz, Alexander and Victoria Wiley Research Professor of Landscape Architecture and Planning, has been teaching at the Harvard Graduate School of Design since 1966. His interests are reflected in his teaching and research on landscape change, methods of landscape analysis, visual quality, and landscape planning and design. In 1984, he received the Outstanding Educator Award of the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture; he also received the 1996 Distinguished Practitioner Award from the International Association for Landscape Ecology (U.S.A.). In 1997, he was chosen by the student body to receive the annual Graduate School of Design Teaching Award.

Baumann: You have stated, “At large scale, you are dealing with strategy, at middle scale you are dealing with tactics and as small scale, you are dealing with details.” Can you elaborate?

Steinitz: It is a generalization. When planning at regional scale, with changes such as new infrastructure, urbanization and conservation, or when looking at a regional scale plan, nobody cares if a village has two or three story buildings. When planning a village or looking at a village plan, nobody cares if the garden of a home has an apple tree or a pear tree. But when we were designing our garden, we preferred a cherry tree to an apple tree. Focus is typically a function of the lens of scale.

Baumann: How can GIS best be used in relationship to design when considering these telescoping scales?

Steinitz: We need to be able to work at several scales of resolution in space and classification.

Baumann: At what point should GIS be introduced into the design process?

Steinitz: GIS does not have an automatic role. If it is to play a role, it must be considered as part of the process of ‘designing’ the methodology of any study.

Baumann: How can GIS be used more effectively as a tool in architectural and landscape design?

Steinitz: This depends on many things: e.g. computer technologies, intuitive, easy-to-use interfaces, relevant software, appropriate data scale(s), needs for analysis, available or adapted models, trained people, and even fear and mistrust. The larger and riskier the design project, the more GIS is likely to be used.

Baumann: How would GIS tools that simulate dynamic processes be best used in the design process?

Steinitz: They can be useful in impact assessment when comparing alternatives, but would “best” be used in making designs—change models—iteratively, in immediate feedback interaction with impact evaluations.

Baumann: Would the development of a GIS data model for GeoDesign be feasible? If so, what would be included in it?

Steinitz: Not “a” data model, but rather capabilities for very flexible data models to meet particular data needs in time, space, and classification to be adapted to meet the needs of any particular design project. This will only be useful if the methodological framework for design can USE the data flexibilities in its several stages.

Baumann: Does a digital environment/alternative reality like Second Life play a role in landscape architecture?

Steinitz: I am not a fan of Second Life and consider it a sad retreat from real life. However, it has a potentially useful software base and is of interest to researchers at the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at University College London where I am Visiting Professor, and at other research groups. I expect it to be used more frequently to simulate projected designed environments. It can be adapted to be the medium of design.

Baumann: Michael Goodchild recently posed the question, “If spatial dependence in the form of Tobler’s First Law—nearby things are more related than distant things—is a general and fundamental principle of geography, what is its meaning in design?”

Steinitz: I have no idea what it means in design. But I do know that more and more designers are NOT following this law, and that technologies are increasingly enabling real time multi-user collaborations in Web-space. I have done this in teaching and research for years, and not with “local” collaborators.

Baumann: What does the future hold for the use of technology in design?

Steinitz: We will increasingly see experimentation in participatory design methods that are technology-driven, and that directly link to data acquisition at the beginning and to constructing changes at the end. Will the results be more “successful”? Who knows…but one can try.

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