GIS-based landscape design research


Landscape design research is important for cultivating spatial intelligence in landscape architecture. This study explores GIS (geographic information systems) as a tool for landscape design research – investigating landscape designs to understand them as architectonic compositions (architectonic plan analysis). The concept ‘composition’ refers to a conceivable arrangement, an architectural expression of a mental construct that is legible and open to interpretation. Landscape architectonic compositions and their representations embody a great wealth of design knowledge as objects of our material culture and reflect the possible treatment of the ground, space, image and program as a characteristic coherence. By exploring landscape architectonic compositions with GIS, design researchers can acquire design knowledge that can be used in the creation and refinement of a design. The research aims to identify and illustrate the potential role of GIS as a tool in landscape design research, so as to provide insight into the possibilities and limitations of using GIS in this capacity. 

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Reconstruction of the development of Stourhead landscape garden (Wiltshire, UK) with GIS (image: S. Nijhuis, TU Delft)

GIS-based design research has the possibility to cultivate spatial intelligence in landscape architecture through three fields of operation:

  • GIS-based modelling: description of existing and future landscape architectonic compositions in digital form;
  • GIS-based analysis: exploration, analysis and synthesis of landscape architectonic compositions in order to reveal latent architectonic relationships, while utilizing the processing capacities and possibilities of computers for ex-ante and ex-post simulation and evaluation;
  • GIS-based visual representation: representation of (virtual) landscape architectonic compositions in space and time, in order to retrieve and communicate information and knowledge of the landscape design.


Analysing visual properties with GIS. Minkowsky model of Piazza San Marco (Venice, Italy) (image: S. Nijhuis, TU Delft)

GIS can be regarded an external cognitive tool that facilitates and mediates in design knowledge acquisition. GIS facilitates in the sense that it can address the ‘same types of design-knowledge’ regarding the basic, spatial, symbolic and programmatic form, but in a more precise, systematic, transparent, and quantified manner. GIS mediates in the sense that it influences what and how aspects of the composition can be understood and therefore enables design researchers to generate ‘new types of design-knowledge’ by advanced spatial analysis and the possibility of linking or integrating other information layers, fields of science and data sources.

The research contributes to the development and distribution of knowledge of GIS-applications in landscape architecture in two ways: (1) by ‘following’ the discipline and developing aspects of it, and (2) by setting in motion fundamental developments in the field, providing alternative readings of landscape architecture designs.

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