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What is Geodesign?

An explanation of the term "GeoDesign" and what it could mean for our future.


                GeoDesign is a design process that is based off of Ian McHarg’s book “Design With Nature”. The concepts of GeoDesign have been around for decades, but these concepts have more recently been combined with new and more powerful technology, as well as with each other. The improvement and development of new technologies, mainly ArcGIS and ArcSketch, have allowed designers to completely embrace the concepts and the benefits of GeoDesign.

                The main factor of GeoDesign is the integration of analysis and design. New developments in GIS allow designers to input multiple design alternatives into GIS and this subjects each alternatives to a suitability analysis based on the geodata in the map. This allows designers to develop multiple alternatives and to easily analyze each one during the design process, resulting in designs that are tested for suitability throughout the design process. By designing in this manner, we are able to create “science-based” designs, rather than designing a complete site, then adjusting it slightly to fit the existing geography and natural systems. Integration of geographic science with design is crucial when designing places to suit the existing conditions and the natural systems. Geodesign is a process that uses concepts from landscape architecture, environmental studies, geography, and planning to accomplish this overall goal of “science-based” design and fitting seamlessly with natural systems.

                The true power of GeoDesign lies in the ability to test sketches of alternatives extremely fast against a massive amount of data. The development of ArcSketch and CommunityViz allows designers to do many quick sketches of design alternatives and ideas. As soon as an alternative is sketched out using these programs, the computer can immediately test it for suitability based on the data for whatever criteria are the most important. This means that designs can be analyzed throughout the design process, and each part of the design can be analyzed, rather than just certain aspects that were thought of during the actual analysis process.

                GeoDesign has the capacity to radically change how we design. New development plans can be put through this process, making “smart growth smarter”. The new plans will be based on much more accurate data, and designers have access to an incredible amount of data. Potentially the largest benefit is that the new design’s implications and effects on people, natural systems, and on the land are immediately recognized, and adjustments can be made very early in the design process.

“Changing Geography by Design.” Esri – The GIS Software Leader | Mapping Software and Data. ESRI, Oct. 2010. Web. 28 Sept. 2011. <>.

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