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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

things
“My success is built on a mountain of failure.” This bit of wisdom among others is from Biz Stone, one of the co-founders of Twitter, who shared stories from his new book, Things a Little Bird Told Me: Confessions of the Creative Mind, at an event organized by the Greater Washington Board of Trade in Washington, D.C.

Stone, who is regularly cited as one of the most influential people of the information age, believes failure is inevitable, at least before stumbling upon success. “With each failure, you learn something new. You cross off the list all of the things you shouldn’t do.” Now aged 40, Stone is certainly a success. He has earned hundreds of millions from his share of Twitter, the now-ubiquitous micro-blogging services that attracts 240 million visitors each month. Twitterers send out 500 million tweets each day.

Some of Stone’s lessons learned will be useful for all design professionals:

On being entrepreneurial: “Most people think opportunity is defined. But no one takes a step back and looks at the circumstances. I made the circumstances and then took the opportunity.”

On your designer ego: “Don’t love ideas so much that other people can’t participate. Take your ego out of it.”

On creativity: “Creativity is an endlessly renewable resource.” As a part of this, Stone talked about his time designing book covers. He said he learned that “there is no one perfect book cover. There are infinite perfect covers.” If your client doesn’t like one book cover — or landscape or building design, for that matter — simply create another.

On being vulnerable: “There is value in vulnerability. We put a human face on our early failures at Twitter. Twitter wasn’t built for success. We had to do that. Our underdog image helped us.”

On leadership: “Always be positive, the north star. You have to keep your employees happy, laughing. You can’t yell at people when they are stressed out.”

On profit: “If you love what you are doing and believe that a company or product will do better by aligning with a meaningful cause, then passion will be aligned with profit. Find value and then amplify that value through a business model.”

On creating value: “You will always win if you are doing right by your users.”

On major credit card debt: “I had faith my future self would be smart enough to solve this.”

On great wealth: “It amplifies who you are. If you are a jerk, you will become the biggest jerk. If you are a thoughtful, empathetic person, you will go into philanthropy.”

On philanthropy: “You don’t need to be rich to start giving. You should give early on. In fact, giving has compound impact.”

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ecovative

Ecovative natural Styrofoam / Greener Package

The Buckminster Fuller Institute is looking for solutions to the world’s toughest problems. They just released the call for entries for their 2014 Fuller Challenge, “socially-responsible design’s highest award.” Landscape architects, architects, planners, artists, entrepreneurs, and students from everywhere are invited to go for the $100,000 prize for most outstanding strategy.

Buckminster Fuller, who died in 1983, was way ahead of his time. While he is famous for his geodesic dome, which took form in Disney’s “Spaceship Earth” Epcot Center and other buildings, as well as his innovative maps, Fuller’s deeper impact may be on our thinking. He was one of the first modern Western thinkers to connect architecture to ecology and the environment.

According to the institute that bears his name, Fuller called for a “design revolution to make the world work for 100 percent of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone.”

This worthy goal is now being pursued through the Fuller challenge, which seeks to identify global change-makers. Winners haven’t just taken on a building or landscape but a whole broken system.

Last year, an amazing group of materials innovators at Ecovative took home the prize for their game-changing Styrofoam made of mycelium and agricultural waste. The year before, the Living Building Challenge won for showing the world how a green building could become a self-sustaining system.

Submit your concept by April 11, 2014.

Another competition is a bit of good news for Ukraine, which faces challenges on so many fronts at the moment. A new ideas competition from the Can-action 2014 festival will award 5,000 EU for the best user-generated public space concept. Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei is one of the judges. Submit ideas by April 17.

 

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Global Forest Watch

Global Forest Watch, a new $25 million dollar, web-based tool — which was created through a partnership of the World Resources Institute (WRI), ESRI, United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), Google, and a slew of other environmental groups — aims to provide a “near-real time” view of deforestation (and reforestation) around the world. According to data from Google and the University of Maryland, the world has lost 2.3 million square kilometers of trees from 2000 to 2012 from logging, diseases, and storms. BBC News tells us this is the equivalent to 50 football fields of trees being lost “every minute of every day over the past 12 years.” But during the same time frame, about 800,000 square kilometers of new forest were also planted. Still, this means the world has lost forest cover equal to the size of Mongolia in little more than a decade. The world can’t keep going at this rate given only about 15 percent of the planet’s original forest cover now remains.

Since the late 1990s, WRI has led the development of the forest watch service, which “unites satellite technology, open data, and crowdsourcing to guarantee access to timely and reliable information about forests.” The program uses more than half a billion high-res images from NASA’s Landsat program, which are organized with new algorithms created by the University of Maryland, and then made available for easy online access thanks to the cloud computing power of Google’s Earth and Maps engines. BBC News writes that high-res images of global tree loss and gain are updated annually while data on tropical forests is updated monthly.

The program’s ability to crowdsource information is particularly interesting. Campaigners and local communities can also submit data, pictures, and video on the ground. This picks up on an existing trend: “In Brazil, the Paiter Surui people are already using smart phones and GPS software to monitor illegal logging.”

The watch service will visualize protected areas, as well as concessions for logging, mining, and palm oil. For example, any user can look up whether a given area is protected or whether a company has the right to take down the trees there. Policymakers and regulators can now point to the map to see if laws are being followed on logging in vulnerable areas. Multinational companies like Nestle say it will enable them to better track where they supply palm oil and other ingredients. And sustainable forestry companies can better prove their products are coming from sanctioned places. Dr. Andrew Steer at WRI said: “Global Forest Watch is a near-real time monitoring platform that will fundamentally change the way people and businesses manage forests. From now on, the bad guys cannot hide and the good guys will be recognized for their stewardship.”

The world no longer has to rely on guesstimates. As Rebecca Moore, engineering manager with Google Earth, explained to Reuters: “With the exception of Brazil, none of the tropical forest countries have been able to report the state of their forests. Now it will be possible to have near real-time updates of the state of the world’s forests, open to anyone to use.”

The trick will be getting out some final kinks, writes The Christian Science Monitor. Critics of the program say it currently can’t distinguish between forests and industrial plantations, a major problem given rows of palm trees shouldn’t really be counted as a forest, given these mono-cultures provide very few ecosystem services.

Also worth reading is “Networking Nature: How Technology Is Transforming Conservation,” a phenomenal article in the past issue of Foreign Affairs magazine. Conservation scientist Jon Hoekstra gives us many reasons to be optimistic about the power of new technologies. “Conservation is for the first time beginning to operate at the pace and on the scale necessary to keep up with, and even get ahead of, the planet’s most intractable environmental challenges. New technologies have given conservationists abilities that would have seemed like super powers just a few years ago.”

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worldman
Buckminster Fuller was way ahead of his time. While he is famous for his geodesic dome, which took form in Disney’s “Spaceship Earth” Epcot Center and other buildings, as well as his innovative maps, Fuller’s deeper impact may be on our thinking. He was one of the first modern Western thinkers to connect architecture to ecology and the environment. In a fascinating new book edited by Daniel Lopez-Perez called R. Buckminster Fuller: World Man, Alejandro Zaerao-Polo writes that he was one of the first to describe “the modern world as an ecosystem to be reconciled with nature.” Back in the mid-60s, way before the sustainable design movement took root, he was talking about “energy, fossil fuels, food, and pollution.” He was one of the first systems-thinkers, serving as one of the intellectual godfathers of today’s integrated approach to sustainable design.

His geodesic dome, which was featured at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), brought him fame, but he was perhaps more interested in using these large-scale illustrations to promote the “concepts or operative principles” behind these works, writes Lopez-Perez. In the late 1920s, Fuller wrote, “I made a bargain with myself that I’d discover the principles operative in the universe and turn them over to my fellow man.” Arguably, Lopez-Perez says, Fuller’s conception of these operating principles became more widely known than his inventions.

When invited to give a major lecture at Princeton University by Princeton School of Architecture dean Robert Geddes in the nascent field of environmental design in 1966, Fuller outlined his unique approach, which cut across disciplines. As Geddes describes, Fuller was “hard to classify … either [an] engineer or architect or inventor or geographer or mathematician or all of these.” Early on, Fuller was promoting the spaces in between disciplines, saying they were the places where true innovation happens.

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For a “globe map,” a project with Princeton architectural students created in conjunction with his lecture, he demonstrated some of his discipline-breaking ideas about the universe and architecture. The model was described in the Princeton Alumni Weekly as a nothing less than “the characteristic structural principle of the universe.” It’s no accident that the “sphere is 400 feet in diameter. Mr. Fuller believes that the discontinuous compression principle is the characteristic structural principle of the universe. And with a 40-foot diameter, his sphere becomes a sort of scale model of the world, at 1:1,000,000.” He was using the globe map as a sort of experiment. While the globe map was useful for cartographers — it apparently was more accurate in its depiction of the planet than the conventional map at the time — it was meant for architects and other designers. His goal was to “provide a better comprehension of world geography to help architects plan their work in a larger perspective.”

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In his lecture, which is republished in full in World Man, we get insights into his thinking. He speaks in non-disciplinary terms, as he says designers must also act like entrepreneurs and inventors. He elevated the role of the inventor, saying, “If his invention works, it is a facility for man. It will very probably decrease the frustrations of man’s realization of his highest potential.”

He believes we must design — and create inventions — with a clear understanding of the systems in which we work. “The earth can be a system, because clearly there is that which is interior and that which is exterior to it. Some part of the universe has to be invested in the system to differentiate what is in or outside at a given moment. That is what I mean by a system.”

By more fully understanding the Earth system, humans can participate more “consciously” in its “evolutionary transformation and success.” Just as his globe map enabled visitors to both view it as an object — and then also stand within it and look out of it — people can place locate themselves in the broader system. If they do that, “I think all of humanity is about to be born into a new kind of relationship to the universe.” Fuller was articulating a concept we all now know: local actions have global effects.

He goes on to make the case for sustainability within the Earth system, calling for increased use of wind power, arguing that “the burning up of fossil fuels” is an error. He also foresaw the need for a way to capture and store wind power, which is what many wind power manufacturers are working on right now. He called for capturing power from tides. He saw the need for more energy-efficient fuels.

He put a lot of faith in the young — future generations — to do better than the ones before, finally arguing that “the best I can prophesy to myself is the young world is about to take the initiative as inventor-scientist, and in the employing of principles which are operative in universities immediately make available to them and will succeed in converting the resources available to us to such high order of effectiveness as to care of 100 percent of humanity.”

Read the book and explore the work of the Buckminster Fuller Institute, which promotes his ideas through their annual design competition.

Image credits: Princeton Architectural Press

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Microalgae
In a session at the 2013 Greenbuild in Philadelphia, Taimur Burki, Global Green Building Program Manager for Intel Corporation, and Joshua Wray, Graduate Research Assistant (PhD) at Arizona State University, discussed the possibility of using algae as an industrial emissions control strategy.

The session picked apart the results of an experiment between ASU and Intel to analyze algae’s impact on the industrial sector. Wray, a self-professed algae farmer, has been involved in many bioremediation projects in the past that involved capturing nutrients from waste streams, but, in this case, the algae was intended to draw carbon and nitrogen from flue gases.

After identifying the many alternate uses of algae—biofuels, pharmaceuticals, even cookies—researchers found that some strains are very adaptable. Picking and choosing the best strains for this was incredibly important. Essentially, only specific strands of algae will feed on carbon dioxide and help reduce emissions.

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The desert is used as a perfect test site for many reasons. These dry places offer a lot of sun (which is key to photosynthesis), heat, access to wastewater and non-arable land. Not to mention, many world-renowned algae scientists live there.

ASU worked with Intel to erect flat panel bioreactors on the roof of one of their fabrication buildings to capture boiler emissions and convert them into biofuel. These reactors were filled with algae grown from ponds or other bioreactors.

Researchers studied the bioreactors to see if they could grow algae, whether the CO2 was filtered out and if this process could be used to create clean-burning fuel. There is still much research to be done and many follow-up experiments on the docket, but they had great success in growing algae and filtering carbon and nitrogen oxides out of the flue gas.

[See what the bioreactors look like; learn more from Intel’s Brad Biddle in this video].

Though the desert light and heat are desirable to the algae farmers, this process happening all over the country. In a similar partnership, Duke Energy and University of Kentucky will soon start using algae to convert flue gas emissions into biofuel.

It doesn’t just stop in America. In a recent article in The Times of India, the country’s largest generation utility has launched a project to use algae to minimize CO2 from their power projects.

It’s still a process that researchers are learning about every day, but its potential is outstanding. A key to sustainable building is to reduce carbon emissions, and if something as small and plentiful as microalgae can help bring plants to near-zero emissions, it means exciting possibilities for the future.

This guest post is by Phil Stamper, ASLA PR and Communications Coordinator.

Image credit: (1) Microalgae / Spirulina Info, (2) Flue Gas / Think Progress

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The Art of Rendering

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Rendering in SketchUp: From Modeling to Presentation for Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Interior Design
is a comprehensive manual designed to teach SketchUp users how to generate photo-realistic images using integrated rendering programs (IRPs). The author, Daniel Tal, ASLA, is a licensed landscape architect who has been working in the architecture and site design industry for over fifteen years. Tal has tailored the book to suit the needs of a wide range of professionals who want to digitally render models and produce inspired images. They include architects, landscape architects, interior designers, set and stage designers, and product engineers. The book is useful for students of those professions who are new to the rendering techniques that are increasingly becoming a standard in many design programs.

Several levels of SketchUp users can benefit from the book, but it’s not appropriate for absolute beginners. The book doesn’t offer basic instruction, so users need to know the essentials of modeling in SketchUp before getting started. The book also focuses on three IRPs, third-party plug-ins that are installed and work within SketchUp. They are Shaderlight by ArtVPS, which the book references most often, and SU Podium and Twilight Render, which Tal covers in the accompanying online chapters. These companion chapters are a useful resource. They review settings and tools for the IRPs, which are constantly changing.

The manual consists of ten parts ordered in linear progression. Part one gives an overview of the general concepts, including the order and objectives of each step in the rendering process. The book explains how rendering actually works and provides computer specifications and requirements for optimum performance. Parts two through seven cover the three-part process for rendering. This process includes preparing models for rendering in SketchUp, using IRPs to create graphic images, and enhancing final images in post-production. Part eight demonstrates the entire modeling and rendering process with a step-by-step example that uses the various programs’ tools and settings. The last two parts are the companion chapters for IRPs available online.

The first part of the rendering process covers preparing a model in SketchUp. The manual describes how to create and edit textured surfaces, insert, and adjust details that provide context and scale, and add appropriate lighting. The book also explains how to use the camera tools to compose and adjust different views. In addition to technical advice, Tal shares helpful tips for organizing and expediting this process. He shows users how to build an external texture library and link it to SketchUp. Tal also tells them where to find details like pre-made models of elements like furniture and vegetation.

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The second part covers using the IRPs to provide render values to a model. The book demonstrates the various settings of the IRP Material Editor, which accentuates textures so they take on realistic qualities when rendered. These settings affect elements like an object’s surface condition and reflectivity. Here, Tal describes the IRPs’ various light settings, as well as how to insert and adjust the different types of light sources. This portion of the process requires extensive trial and error. The manual offers helpful suggestions for optimizing it, such as how to determine the resolution for draft versus final renders to save time when working through multiple iterations. It also offers a method for saving and organizing draft renderings, and a criteria by which to evaluate them for final output.

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For the third part, Tal demonstrates how to use external photo-editing software to enhance the generated images. He mainly refers to Adobe Photoshop for CS 5.5 for the post-production process. He explains how to make light and color adjustments and how to add atmospheric effects such as haze, blurred objects, and light lens flares. The book also demonstrates how to make entourage modifications by  placing realistic vegetation, enhancing water, and including backgrounds, skies, and objects in the images. These tips are merely a starting point for finalizing a rendering. The guide suggests a couple comprehensive post-production guides for further information.

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Overall, the book delivers a clear and thorough explanation of the rendering process. Tal covers the technical aspects in detail, guiding users through complete step-by-step examples. He also instructs users to approach rendering as an art form to create hyper-realistic images. The book provides numerous examples of rendered images, most in various stages of completion to highlight the effect of different techniques. It also suggests several outside references to aid in developing graphic image making ability. With its thorough approach, Rendering in SketchUp is an ideal guide for those who want to refine their digital design process.

Explore the book and the sustainable design SketchUp animations Tal created for ASLA.

This guest post is by Shannon Leahy, former ASLA summer intern and recent Master’s of Landscape Architecture graduate, University of Pennsylvania.

Image credits: (1) Wiley, (2) Daniel Tal, ASLA

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“My whole life has been leading up this presentation,” said Jack Dangermond, ASLA, founder and president of ESRI, to an audience of thousands of landscape architects at the opening session of the 2013 ASLA Annual Meeting in Boston. He was trained as a landscape architect, but couldn’t find a job when he graduated, so he started his own firm focused on digitizing geography. That small firm grew into ESRI, which now has 9,000 employees across the globe. Dangermond said his life has been focused on creating accessible geographic information systems (GIS) that can help us reach a “better, more sustainable future.” But to achieve this, Dangermond said we must also “apply the logic of landscape architects,” merging design and technology into “geo-design.”

“The world is facing incredible challenges,” including climate change, population growth, and urbanization. “Sometimes I feel like things are not going to work out for humanity.” When Dangermond gets down though, he starts thinking about a 50-100 year plan for the planet, which involves harnessing the “best design talent and science and technology.” He believes the framework for this effort is really the “landscape architect’s methodology,” boosted with the power of the Web.

Landscape architecture provides a systematic approach for creating a more sustainable future. He said Ian McHarg, who wrote the seminal book, Design with Nature, was right, “landscape architects have the skills to deal with our common problems.” GIS is then how we can “bring science to that design process.” Dangermond’s goal is to “geo-empower landscape planning and architecture through a set of applications.”

He said GIS tools are central to efforts in public health, agriculture, forestry, resource exploration, urban and transportation planning and design. They are now being used to monitor climate and other planetary changes, and respond to natural disasters. Furthermore, conservation organizations are using GIS to “analyze and design strategies to protect our landscapes.”

GIS technologies are becoming more pervasive. Dangermond said a few million people now use these systems. To further expand the reach of these tools, the new approach is to put “geo information into the cloud, like Steve Jobs did with music.” With geo data in the cloud, “we can better mash-up and analyze.” There’s now no “need to download software, we can just use our browsers.” Dangermond called Web GIS a “transformation.”

With faster machines and web-based services, landscape architects can “analyze changes in real time,” and also make changes instantly, creating a “living atlas.” Furthermore, designers can “integrated tweets, spreadsheets, enterprise data, and sensor from infrastructure to interpret data dynamically.”

As with open-source GIS systems like Harvard’s World Map and others, the Web now allows ESRI to more easily share data and designs, “further breaking down barriers between professional design disciplines.” Today, “more than a million maps are now shared via the cloud.”

In the new iteration of Web GIS, ESRI GIS specialist Suzanne Foss said there’s a “suite of base maps,” which include “authoritative sources, not just commercial sources – but the owners of the data.” She said “these are intelligent maps about people – including demography, health, and even behaviors.” Income is provided down to the census area.

Designers can then use ESRI’s GIS systems to overlay data, which can be weighted to create different “suitability maps.” This will enable users to “determine how well we are achieving goals, and use analysis to inform design.” As an example, she demo-ed how to find the most biodiversity-rich and endangered areas to protect from sprawl in Santa Cruz, California.

Another ESRI expert, Eric Wittner, introduced ESRI’s “procedural modeling” technology, which can be used to create 3D designs on top of existing maps. “These maps are data-driven and rules-driven. It’s not like Sketchup; it’s more intelligent.” In a preview, he showed how an entire urban design can be created on the fly, and even show how much sunlight would hit the community at different times of the day. Once these dynamic 3D designs are created, they can then be saved and shared as PDF files so clients and community groups can fly-through them, too.

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Dangermond believes these technologies will “transform landscape architecture,” as they will scale-up the ability of landscape architects to affect change. But for them to work, landscape architects need to actually use these GIS tools, not just “pass off the work to the CAD guy.” Geo-design represents a more “rational-based design” approach that will ultimately help the planet.

Image credits:ESRI

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eletric
While Google is racing ahead to create a data-driven, self-driving car, one Dutch designer is working on the opposite end: designing a smart highway that will communicate with your car. As one of the winners of this year’s Index awards, which comes with a €100,000 prize, Daan Roosegaarde, collaborating with Hijmans Infrastructure, will test out a road that will “communicate with its drivers in order to promote both traffic safety and efficiency.”

Roosegaarde writes: “We live in cities of endless gray concrete roads, surrounded by steel lamps and they have a huge visual impact on our cities. But why do the roads remain so rough and without imagination? Why not turn them into a vision of mobility – a symbol of the future?”

His smart highway concept is pretty mind-bending. He wants to embed highways with technology that can “visually communicate when the road is slippery,” actually charge your electric vehicle as you drive, and use its own electricity to create spot lighting as needed. “The goal is to make roads more sustainable and interactive by using light, energy and road signs that automatically adapt to the traffic situation. New design concepts include the ‘Glow-in-the-Dark Road’, ‘Dynamic Paint’, ‘Interactive Light’, ‘Induction Priority Lane’ and ‘Wind Light’.”

The roads would be covered in a kind of responsive paint so that if the temperature dropped below freezing and it started raining, the paint would turn on, covering the road in snowflakes.

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At night, the road could actually light itself, which Roosegaarde thinks would be more efficient. “Glow-in-the-dark paint treated with photo-luminizing powder could reduce the need for auxiliary lighting. Charged in daylight, the glow-in-the-dark road illuminates the contours of the road at night for up to 10 hours.”

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With his pot of money, Roosegaarde wants to further develop and even patent these technologies. He sees other wild applications, like “taking the bioluminescence of jellyfish or fireflies and applying this to nature, thus making roadside plants and trees glow at night as an alternative to public lighting – resulting in a 100 percent new natural lighting.”

A few other projects also won Index awards. One certainly worth highlighting is Copenhagen’s climate change adaption plan. Index writes: “Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen, found a way to connect and address the climate changes in one master plan. The city’s Climate Adaptation Plan aims to prepare Copenhagen for the future by developing the Danish capital as a climate proof, attractive, and green city.”

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While municipalities in Denmark must create climate action plans, Copenhagen has actually gone a step further, creating a plan that “can be of pleasure and benefit to the city immediately.”

They write: “The Copenhagen Climate Adaptation Plan really stands out with its main focus on seeing flooding and climate adaptation as a resource rather than a problem, benefiting businesses and citizens alike. Thus, by rethinking climate adaptations as a whole, via in-depth analyzes, the Danish capital will use excess water as a vital resource – while implementing flexible design solutions that reduce construction work and saves money for the city.”

Index: Design to Improve Life is a Danish non-profit organization “under the patronage of HRH The Crown Prince of Denmark.”

Image credits: (1-3) Smart / Highway / Index: Design to Improve Life, (4) Copenhagen Flooding / Index: Design to Improve Life,

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Suzanne Blier is Allen Whitehill Clowes Professor of Fine Arts and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. She is an historian of African art and architecture in both the History of Art and Architecture and African and African American Studies Departments. She also is a member of the  Institute for Quantitative Social Science. She is Co-Chair of an Electronic Geo-Spatial Database AfricaMap, a site that expanded into WorldMap.

WorldMap is an open source GIS tool that enables anyone anywhere in the world to create their own maps and overlay them with data for free. Why did Harvard create this?

GIS has been transformed in the last 20 years. I was using it in a project when I moved up to Harvard from Columbia in the early 1990s. I received some outside funding to put together a GIS mapping system of Africa. When that project came to a conclusion, I applied for some additional funding for innovative computing. At that time, Harvard had established a new center for geographic analysis. They hired a really brilliant young GIS scientist named Ben Lewis, who is a graduate of University of Pennsylvania program in urban planning. It was his belief that one could actually put together a system, making it available to everyone using open source technology. This is what became WorldMap.

We began with Africa. The idea was to bring together the best available mapping anywhere in a format that would allow us to overlay different kinds of data. Soon, other people around Harvard began to look at it. From the sociology to the geology to the history departments, other scholars said, “we’d love to do that as well.” And there was serendipity: this was the first large project at the new Center for Geographic Analysis. There, lots of people contributed ideas.

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Why not just use Google maps engine or ArcGIS?

You can go into WorldMap, create a project there, and upload it to Google Earth. We do bring in Google mapping and other mapping data. The two are not at odds in that way but you can do more with WorldMap. For example, if you are creating a project in Google Earth, you can’t bring in other mapping data and then share with others as you can in WorldMap. With our site, you can bring in your own historic mapping data. You can bring in text, images, or video. With the system one is encouraged to draw on any available mapping resources to build one’s own. You can also create and visualize things as you want in your own way, give them your own look, and have your own data symbolized and presented as you like.

ArcGIS is a terrific product. It’s still very effective, used by many, as well it should be. As you probably know, it’s very complex to learn. I’ve approached how many undergrads and grad students, trying to convince them that it’s worth the time spent to do it. But it’s still like climbing up a cliff with a bicycle. There are cost factors, too, for people using ArcGIS. Granted, you can use it in part online now, but we didn’t think there was the same kind of potential for bringing in your own data, historic maps, sociological data into the system, then being able to share it with other people in the same kinds of ways. We’re collaborating with ESRI, too. There’s plenty of room for both kinds of products. Each of them offers something slightly different.

In some ways, WorldMap can be more easily grasped by the less technically astute among us, whether a landscape architect, planner, historian, or student. I also really love the way we can share our projects with people anywhere in the world.

I’ve seen map makers on WorldMap already overlaying river systems, poverty rates, ethnic groups, and then showing how these have changed over time. What other types of layers are people using? What are the most popular mash-ups?

We should be hungry to learn not just from what our own individual disciplines are offering, but from what everybody else is doing. This technology allows one to do that. So sociologists are bringing in different kinds of data than we might be, a lot of demographic data, information on transportation systems, neighborhoods, etc. Landscape architects and urban planners offer new data on some environmental questions, ecosystems, and city plans.

chicagomap_blog
You can go through all of the different layers people have brought in and see what are the most popular. These tend to be environmental — river systems like you mentioned — and ecosystems, but also transportation, railroads, etc. A number of projects have taken up historical data we brought in from Euro Atlas, which shows the history of Europe going back to the earliest period. And because WorldMap users are generally happy sharing their data, there is a lot to chose from. Almost 90-95 percent of the map data can be used by anyone.

You can bring those layers into your own layers. It’s a little bit like Wikipedia in this sense. You can build your own map in part out of what other people put together, but done in new ways that suit your research interests.

You mentioned AfricaMap, your project that then created this larger World Map. In Africa Map, users can overlay religions and ethnic groups. They can see areas where there’s high population density. They can use the map to imagine transatlantic trade routes. There are historical maps, which I really love, dating back to 1606, which seem to magically appear over the baseline Google maps. How is this powerful tool being used? Is it being used in ways you didn’t expect?

I’m also fascinated with the seeming magic of taking early maps and laying them on top of current ones. One the most fabulous additions in the development of the system was when we created our map warper or map rectifier. This means you can take any historical map or any map, whether it’s of the world, a continent, a country, a city, a neighborhood, a street corner, and very quickly add three or four points — more if it’s a very historic map, because of discrepancies. You can then co-join the lat-longs and bring this map into your own mapping system.

africaold_blog
You can also take a map or plan that may be poorly done or is under copyright, but you’re really interested in the data. Well, we’ve also provided the means so that you can in essence use WorldMap like tracing paper. You can basically copy it by adding lines, points, and shapes on top of it, stylize it in new ways, and create your own particular manifestation of that plan.

Some interesting work is being done within or on the perimeters of a new project in WorldMap called TweetMap. This project in WorldMap has been used to harvest all of the geo-referenced data in Twitter. You can do a search within that. You can frame it by time or a particular area for any term or phrase you might want. That could be really useful for thinking through perceptions of the city.

tweetmap_blog
Twitter Map was developed originally by Todd Mostak, a student in Middle Eastern studies, and the Kennedy School here. He was interested in the Arab Spring and locating how that was being framed in Twitter.

Another fascinating map by Professor Colin Gordon, University of Iowa, maps decline in St. Louis, showing how blight took over parts of the city. The map tells a powerful visual story of blight and then redevelopment. What kind of urban stories are you also seeing told? What else could this tool be used for in terms of urban policy, advocacy, or even design?

His project is a fascinating one. There’s a corollary in Chicago, another important map in WorldMap by another sociologist named Robert Sampson. One important thing with both Professor Gordon’s and Professor Sampson’s projects is they’ve actually integrated their WorldMap projects into books that they’ve recently published.

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A graduate student here is using WorldMap to analyze New Orleans, thinking through the early history of the city where the slave markets were, how the concept of neighborhoods were changing in the city from the early Spanish and French periods to the later American period. You can even correlate that with building design changes.

I’ve been fascinated with the impact of World’s Fairs on cities so I’ve put up a series of World Fair plans, whether it’s St. Louis, San Francisco, Chicago, Brussels, or New York City. You soon realize how important some of these World’s Fairs were in terms of the changing dynamic of the city. That brings in plans from great landscape architects such as Frederick Law Olmsted.

We also have a plan up of the 1876 World’s Fair in Philadelphia. Of course, as you know, some of the World Fair buildings are still standing. You can overlay on top of this not just the plan of the fair, but also the plans of the landscapes and buildings at the fair. You can then embed into this project photographs taken at the fair. Within WorldMap, you can link directly to photographs and add points by creating particular symbolic icons so that once you click on them, you’ll be able see what was the view in 1876 or whenever.

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Landscape architects, planners, and other design professionals could really use WorldMap to root designs in local social and economic contexts and even histories. These maps could also be used to create compelling presentations of different design alternatives. How do you think designers should be using WorldMap? What features do you think would be most useful for them?

There’s some terrific work being done by Europeans using WorldMap to evaluate economic disparities in European cities. There’s one on Athens. There’s another fabulous set on Barcelona. One of the great things about World Map is you can actually make it a collaborative project — not just for landscape architects per se, but also for the people who are living in and with these landscapes. You can bring in the informal. We have provided people in these communities with the tools to upload their own data, let’s say their own experiences in a landscape through text, video, or photographs. That could be a really positive addition to landscape architecture preservation, and help outline the importance of these places as lived space.

You can use this tool to promote the importance of landscape architecture in school systems, from K to 12, getting teachers and students to use this to upload information about their own experiences with their landscape and help to preserve them at the same time — to not just preserve them historically, but also to become caretakers for these spaces. You could compare the area of X plot of land versus Y plot of land or distances or simply add cell phone and other imagery of a particular landscape.

We are increasingly thinking about pooling resources in documenting the works of key individuals, whether it’s Frederick Law Olmsted or Frank Lloyd Wright. People who use these parks or live in these structures can create a project on WorldMap, with people in different locations adding information. Making these maps available on the site to the world — and really using these people to do some of the more labor intensive and expensive work of geo-referencing plans — is a great idea.

Lastly, are you worried that people will misuse these maps, display false data to build specious cases? If data can be manipulated, is there any truth in maps?

Well, personally, I would love to see the creation of fictional maps, imaginary places based on real places. That’s the positive side. Another positive side is that we now have a tool to evaluate maps, meaning that we are providing a means for users of WorldMap to tag maps and identify those that are really well done versus those that are problematic. That’s the open source nature of it.

We don’t have enough staff to go through and evaluate maps, nor is it something we want to do. We would rather keep this as a toolbox available to everyone and rely on people who are using these maps to let us know if there’s something that is indeed really problematic.

Maps are things that have this necessary complexity. There will always be disagreements on borders, for example, now between China and India. At WorldMap, we’re perfectly happy to have a Chinese and an Indian version and various ones in between. Some of these disagreements are enriched or complicated by the possibility of creating competing maps.

In the same way that river systems notoriously change over time, which is why you shouldn’t geo-reference from them, these kinds of discrepancies are great within a system.

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It’s far easier to create or change something in WorldMap than in a printed book. WorldMap allows for more creative approaches and different opinions in map making.

Image credits: (1) Image credit: Suzanne Blier, (2) AfricaMap by Suzanne Blier / image credit: WorldMap, (3) Chicago Map, poverty rates in 2000 by professor Robert Sampson / Image credit: World Map, (4) Federico de Wit map, 1675 in Suzanne Blier’s AfricaMap / Image credit: WorldMap, (5) TweetMap of Manhattan / Image credit: WorldMap, (6) St. Louis map by professor Colin Gordon / Image credit: WorldMap, (7) Philadelphia Centennial Expo, 1876 / Image credit: WorldMap, (8) Rivers of Africa map / image credit: WorldMap

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Frost flowers, sharp-edged, ice-cold blossoms, grow off of imperfections in the surface of ice at extreme sub-zero temperatures. More than just amazing natural phenomenon, these spiky structures are home to islands of psychrophiles, or “cold-loving microbes.” Design blog This Is Colossal tells us that we’re seeing photos of these beautiful natural formations because Jeffrey Bowman from the Integrated Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT) program and his mentor Professor Jody Deming of the University of Washington Department of Oceanography broke cracks in the ice up in the Arctic Ocean.

Once room was created for these structure to take shape, “the cold, moist air above the open cracks becomes saturated and frost begins to form wherever an imperfection can be found.” Then given the opportunity, “flower-like frost structures” quickly grew vertically, rising to centimeters in height. “The hollow tendrils of these ‘frost flowers’ begin to wick moisture from the ice surface, incorporating salt, marine bacteria, and other substances as they grow.”

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The frost flowers are fascinating to these researchers because the microbes within them may provide answers as to how life survives in extreme conditions. “These delicate ice structures turn out to host microbes that survive to extremely cold temperatures, informing us about the limits of life when we search on other ice-covered planets and moons for possible extraterrestrial life. They also produce chemicals such as formaldehyde that may give clues about the origin of life on the early Earth.”

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Astrobiological studies are then also occurring on earth — as we are part of the same system, too: “Since many of the planets and moons in our solar system that might harbor life are very cold and covered in ice, determining the habitability of these planets and moons requires an understanding of the limits of life (as we know it) in the very coldest environments on Earth.”

According to the IGERT web site, Bowman and Deming are now working on an “ultra-clean chamber” where they can artificially grow these frost flowers, in order to determine how life can survive elsewhere in the universe.

Image credits: Matthias Wietz / IGERT

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