GeoDesign Summit 2011 in Review

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Industry News
GeoDesign Summit 2011 in Review
By Susan Smith

The GeoDesign Summit 2011 held in Redlands, California was an interesting event to attend from several perspectives. First of all, this was its second year of existence. Secondly, it is hosted by a GIS company.

The event brought together GIS professionals, architects, landscape planners, professors from various universities, and vendors from both GIS and architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) to consider the possibilities of a conceptual framework for GeoDesign, Esri's term for the convergence of GIS and design. There was a sense of brilliance, of opposing viewpoints, of incredible clarity, balanced by confusion.

In the past, AEC companies have pushed efforts at connecting GIS and AEC data, but GIS companies have complied with some efforts but not promoted it. Products have been produced that simplify the process of bringing GIS into engineering data.

An architect at the event wondered why a company like Esri would invest in such a Summit - what is in it for them?

It would seem from the tone of the event and from the state of the world today, that it is important for engineering and facilities management data to be accessible in GIS databases. There are several possible reasons for this. Today, there is a greater need for accurate facilities management data, and for extending mapping to the indoor environment. The prevalence of building information modeling (BIM) makes it possible to have detailed structural models of buildings, bridges and roads, which enhance the GIS database that may be used in 3D city planning. The availability of greater computing power, the cloud and ability to display 3D even down to a small mobile device open up extraordinary possibilities for design in a geo context. And finally, the need for sustainable design - Esri has “environmental science” as part of their name - doesn't it make sense that the company would want to support an industry that is trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from construction materials for buildings (accounting for 48% of the total) and help in that effort? Since Esri is involved in numerous environmental projects around the globe, why not take it down to the basic level - where people live?

On the AEC side, the industry has changed over the years. While not much building growth is occurring in the U.S., China, Southeast Asia, Brazil and India are not suffering a recession and are building infrastructure at a high pace. Esri may also want to take advantage of that industry growth.

It also may not be spoken about too much, but AEC really knows how to do 3D. Companies such as Autodesk have robust 3D and animation products that are used in the film and gaming industries, and are made available to the AEC segment of the industry. Bentley, too, has powerful 3D tools for visualization and animation. The powerful 3D visualization and satellite imagery data from geospatial adds a rich dimension to be able to visualize the world better.

Beyond all of these technologies, I think the conference was not just about connecting technologies, it was about connecting people. People who ordinarily wouldn't sit down and talk to each other perhaps, whose way of approaching their problem sets did not open up to this type of discussion.

The Event

What I heard at the conference were numerous surprises: one professor from a local university had never heard of building information modeling (BIM) until coming to the Summit this year. An architect was happy to be acknowledged by the GIS community and joked that many people think they can do the same thing he does without training, because they can design in SketchUp.

I had not thought the concept of GeoDesign as fragile as it seems to many. Perhaps because I knew that it was possible just from a data standpoint, to bring CAD and GIS data together.

I covered the event on a daily basis in GISCafe Today but here are my thoughts on the climate of the experience and what it may mean going forward.

Questions Asked:

I was surprised also that each talk seemed to consist of a lot of questions, perhaps because there is so much unknown about the concept of GeoDesign.

Jack Dangermond: How do you want to interact in the future to make things better?

“Why is it when all we measure is quantities we end with bad designs?” Carl Steinitz, research professor at the Graduate School of Design, Harvard.

He said he thinks that “what is GeoDesign?” is a social question and that GeoDesign is here to answer questions that are not easily defined.

AECOM gave a talk about their SSIM Framework methodology for spatial urban design analysis, which begs the question: What makes a plan inherently more sustainable than another?

Rather than rely purely on intuitive judgment, the company's SSIM Framework methodology asks the following questions -
-Which scenario has the least adverse impact on the environment?
-Which scenario has the greatest potential for sustainability?

Stu Rich, CTO of PenBay Solutions asked the question, why GIS for facilities?

“How should geography be changed, what are consequences of change, what are the alternatives scenarios?”

“How do we drive better performance out of this facilities fabric at all levels?”

Participants in the BIM/GIS integration Idea Labs asked the questions: “What are use cases, what are problems we are going to solve, and what are we going to pull out of BIM to put in GIS and vice versa?”

GeoDesign: Is it here already or is it under way?

To some, GeoDesign is already under way. To others, it seems as though it is only just beginning, or hasn't begun yet.

The speakers approached the topic from different directions, but then again, perhaps they were more similar than most realized. Michael Goodchild, professor of Geography at the University of California said we need to close what have many have perceived as a growing gap between GIS and design. He spoke of geospatial innovation - when architectures become service oriented as in GIS in the cloud - this will cause GeoDesign to become collaborative.

Architect and founder of Onuma, Inc., Kimon Onuma, whom many in geospatial had not heard of before, demonstrated in his keynote how a building could be designed quickly with many different sources of input, over the internet, using a unique integrated design approach.

On the contrary, Steinitz felt that we should not try to do things too quickly. Steinitz talked about the cultural aspects of GeoDesign and how different designers and scientists are in their thinking, that this must be understood before a harmonious conversation can be had between the two, and before we actually have “geodesigners.” He summarized by saying that design and geo are complicated - “geodesign is an art, not a science but depends on science.”

In a later conversation, Safe Software's Dale Lutz said he thought that many of the things that were talked about at the conference were things that had been going on for a long time. Lutz quoted one of the speakers who said- “GIS is about what is, Geodesign is about what could be.”

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