Models, Prototypes and Projections

From the discipline’s aesthetic ambitions to its wider scientific background, conceptual models of the environment have formed a thread between practices of landscape design, mapping, and analysis. Digital tools have reinforced these associations, directly linking models with discrete modes of representation and bringing new methods of simulation and evaluation to established ways of working. Accessible and ubiquitous, these models are fundamental to our understanding of the interconnected relationship of built and natural environments.

Accordingly, it is important not only to be literate in the imagery of models, but also to understand the common technologies and processes they assume. In developing novel applications of software, the course will examine the uses of modeling and the potential of modeling technologies to explore the social, ecological, and economic value of policy and design decisions.

The first five weeks of the class will situate the idea of the model in a practical and historical context, spanning from the traditional use of scale models in design to more immediate problems of climate monitoring and simulation. Each lecture will be accompanied by a series of computational exercises, explorations of their applications, and examples that suggest how and why they relate to particular modes of spatial, temporal, and network analysis.

With a fundamental understanding of modeling’s uses and potentials, students will focus on case studies relevant to contemporary landscape practice, developing them as software prototypes and examining their integration into the design process. The case studies will cross scales and disciplinary boundaries, ranging from issues of material performance to landscape ecology to public space policy. Each will involve presenting a hypothesis, gathering and formatting data at an appropriate level of resolution, and then performing a series of operations within a decision making matrix to evaluate results.

At midterm, students will present working models developed from lecture examples and preliminary research into case studies. These models will then be expanded into prototypes for use in a design process, and begin to address larger questions of representation, closely engaging research into existing tools, practices, and related literature. The term project will be framed around these prototypes, consisting of a report on the case study and a proposal for a new piece of design software. These will serve to document the semester’s work and provide a context for exploring the goals and wider implications of the proposed design tool. They will project past the technical and practical limitations of the course to speculate on the model as a design tool, as well as the model as a design problem.

While there are no prerequisites, students are expected to have a working knowledge of 3d modeling and GIS workflows. Exercises will be introduced to familiarize students with Rhino Python and Grasshopper, but the class is not intended to be a comprehensive introduction to programming. In addition to the lecture examples, software resources will be provided on an individual basis.

Required readings will be expected to be complete in advance of class discussion. Students will be graded on class participation, clarity, and quality of presentation as well as effort and creativity in their modeling work. Coursework consists of three assignments, forming 20%, 30%, and 50% of the final grade.

Teaching Associate: Shota Vashakmadze