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Geodesign is a set of techniques and enabling technologies for planning built and natural environments in an integrated process, including project conceptualization, analysis, design specification, stakeholder participation and collaboration, design creation, simulation, and evaluation (among other stages). "Geodesign is a design and planning method which tightly couples the creation of design proposals with impact simulations informed by geographic contexts."[1]


Geodesign as a labeled field owes much to the sponsorship of ESRI and its president, Jack Dangermond. However, geodesign builds greatly on a long history of work in geographic information science, computer-aided design, landscape architecture, and other environmental design fields—and it's still somewhat unclear whether geodesign differs greatly in substance from existing efforts. See for instance, the work of Ian McHarg and Carl Steinitz.

Members of the various disciplines and practices relevant to geodesign have held defining discussions at a workshop on Spatial Concepts in GIS and Design in December 2008 and the GeoDesign Summit in January 2010. GeoDesign Summit 2010 Conference Videos from Day 1 and Day 2 are an important resource to learn about the many different aspects of GeoDesign.

The 2013 Geodesign Summit drew a record 260 attendees from the United States and abroad (watch video coverage of the summit). That same year, a master's degree in Geodesign — the first of its kind in the nation — began at Philadelphia University.[2] Claudia Goetz Phillips, director of Landscape Architecture and GeoDesign at Philadelphia University says "it is very exciting to be at the forefront of this exciting and relevant paradigm shift in how we address twenty-first-century global to local design and planning issues."[3]


The theory underpinning Geodesign derives from the work of Patrick Geddes in the first half of the twentieth century and Ian McHarg in its second half. They advocated a layered approach to regional planning, landscape planning and urban planning. McHarg drew the layers on translucent overlays. Through the work of Jack Dangermond, Carl Steinitz and others the layers were modeled with Geographical Information Systems (GIS).[4] The three components of this term each say something about its character. 'Geographical' implies that the layers are geographical (geology, soils, hydrology, roads, land use etc.). 'Information' implies a positivist and scientific methodology. 'System' implies the use of computer technology for the information processing.[5] The scientific aspects of Geodesign contrast with the cultural emphasis of Landscape Urbanism but the two approaches to landscape planning share a concern for layered analysis [6] which sits comfortably with postmodern and post-postmodern theory.


Nascent geodesign technology extends geographic information systems so that in addition to analyzing existing environments and geodata, users can synthesize new environments and modify geodata. See, for example, CommunityViz or marinemap.

"GeoDesign brings geographic analysis into the design process, where initial design sketches are instantly vetted for suitability against myriad database layers describing a variety of physical and social factors for the spatial extent of the project. This on-the-fly suitability analysis provides a framework for design, giving land-use planners, engineers, transportation planners, and others involved with design, the tools to leverage geographic information within their design workflows."[7]

See also


  1. Flaxman, Michael. Geodesign: Fundamental Principles and Routes Forward. Talk at GeoDesign Summit 2010.
  2. Goldberg, Debbie. Educating the Next Generation in Geodesign ArcWatch, january 2013.
  3. Wheeler, Carla. Geodesign in Motion ' 'ArcWatch, march 2013.
  4. Landscape Planning and Environmental Impact Design, (UCL Press London 1998). ISBN 1-85728-321-X p.9
  5. Landscape Planning and Environmental Impact Design, (UCL Press London 1998). ISBN 1-85728-321-X p.20
  6. Pe, R. (2012) Hyper-localism and Parametric Mapping for Collaborative Urbanism. Digital Landscape Architecture conference, 31 May 2012
  7. Dangermond, Jack. GIS: Designing Our Future ArcNews, summer 2009.


  • Ian L. McHarg. 1969. Design With Nature. Garden City, NY: Doubleday/Natural History Press. ISBN 0-471-11460-X
  • Ian L. McHarg and Frederick Steiner, editors. 1998.To Heal the Earth: Selected Writings of Ian L. McHarg. Washington, D.C.: Island Press. ISBN 1-55963-573-8
  • Ian L. McHarg. 1996. A Quest for Life: An Autobiography. New York: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0-471-08628-2
  • Frederick Steiner, editor. 2006. The Essential Ian McHarg: Writings on Design and Nature. Washington, D.C.: Island Press. ISBN 1-59726-117-3
  • Frederick Steiner. 2008. The Living Landscape (paperback edition). Washington, D.C. Island Press. ISBN 978-1-59726-396-2
  • Carl Steinitz, Hector Arias, Scott Bassett, Michael Flaxman, Thomas Goode, Thomas Maddock, David Mouat, Richard Peiser, and Allan Shearer. 2003. Alternative Futures for Changing Landscapes: The Upper San Pedro River Basin In Arizona And Sonora. Washington, D.C.: Island Press.

External links