Sustainability (sustainable development) is the theme of our time. However, our world today is replete with unsustainable villages, cities, and regions. To achieve sustainability from local to global scales, our landscapes and regions must be better designed and planned [1
]. This requires sustainable landscape architecture [4
], or sustainable landscape design. Landscape Sustainability Science (LSS), sustainability science at the landscape and regional scales, is an emerging transdisciplinary field that investigates the dynamic relationships among landscape pattern, ecosystem services, and human well-being with spatially explicit methods [2
]. One of the main premises of LSS is “there must be some landscape configurations that are more desirable than others for improving and maintaining ecosystem services and human well-being” [2
]. The identification and design of desirable landscape configurations is a central question in LSS. To accomplish this, LSS needs designing tools to “find” and design such configurations.
Most landscape design practices encounter one or more of the following issues: (1) The lack of real-time assessment. Assessment of design often takes place after designing. However, Building Information Modeling (BIM) realizes real-time assessment when designing a building. If such design methods as BIM can be applied to spatial design at broader scales, it will be possible to implement real-time assessment of landscape design. (2) The lack of dynamic analysis during design. Most designs are presented by graphs and tables in a static way, but today’s advanced GIS technology has a great potential for data visualization. (3) The lack of public participation. A good design requires the combination of a top-down approach and a bottom-up approach. The latter can provide valuable information for setting up an appropriate design goal and optimizing a design solution [5
]. Nowadays, however, the efficiency of participation is low and the cost is relatively high.
GeoDesign, as an effective instrument of landscape design, has emerged in recent decades, which analyzes, simulates, and designs geographic space with the support of geographical science and computer technology [7
]. Compared with other landscape design methods, GeoDesign emphasizes the utilization of information technologies [7
]. Internet of things, big data, cloud computing, virtual reality, and “human–computer” interaction could all be applied in GeoDesign. There is no consensus on the definition of GeoDesign. However, GeoDesign is ready to adopt new integrative science frameworks and advanced technologies, with a great potential for future applications of many kinds.
We are now in a time when technologies rapidly develop while sustainability becomes a global concern. To design a sustainable landscape, LSS needs a tool set for place-specific and use-inspired research. Is GeoDesign a fitting tool for LSS? How to integrate GeoDesign with LSS? These are the main research questions of this paper. Based on a review of LSS and GeoDesign, we will explain why GeoDesign is promising to extend the paradigm of LSS, and then demonstrate the promise by a showcase of GeoDesign applications. At last, we will propose a research agenda for further integrating GeoDesign and LSS.
2. The Need of LSS for a Tool Set to Support Place-Based and Use-Inspired Research
Landscape Sustainability Science (LSS) is a “place-based, use-inspired science of understanding and improving the dynamic relationship between ecosystem services and human well-being with spatially explicit methods” [2
]. As an emerging field of study, it is based on three premises [2
]. The first is that landscape pattern and landscape function (including flows of material, energy, and information) interact with each other, both of which affect the production and transfer of ecosystem services; the second is that ecosystem services are fundamentally important to human wellbeing; the third is that landscape sustainability can be enhanced by improving landscape patterns through design. Compared with the first two premises, much research is needed in the third area.
Design, linking human and landscape, can be used as a systems approach to connect social and ecological sciences for sustainability solutions [12
] (Figure 1
). In this design-in-science paradigm [13
], science can identify a sustainable landscape only in dialogue with multiple stakeholders, offer multifunctional concepts (e.g., social-ecological systems, natural capital, ecosystem/landscape services, green infrastructure and ecological compensation) in the landscape medium, and ultimately, help seek “optimal” or “preferred” landscape patterns to create sustainable solutions.
According to the LSS paradigm, a design or planning tool set is required to analyze, model, and test the relationships among spatial pattern, ecosystem services, and human wellbeing. The tool set must be spatially explicit and scalable. Since such “optimal” or “preferred” patterns will be inevitably dynamic, and the type and number of ecosystem services will vary among different types of landscapes in a specific region, the tool set should be able to conduct dynamic analysis, iterative modelling, and to evaluate interactions between design interventions and a variety of ecological conditions and ecosystem services. Besides, to create a sustainable landscape or region, the combination of top-down approach and bottom-up approach is essential. The tool set should enable multiple stakeholders to participate conveniently and efficiently.
3. A Brief Review of Landscape Design Methods and Techniques
The need of LSS for a tool set can be met by a range of landscape design methods and techniques. Based on Li and Milburn’s work [14
], we listed the main findings of science and techniques of landscape design from 1850s to present (Table 1
). The first era was the analogue era (mid-19th century to mid-20th century). Hand drawing was the basic skill, and Warren Manning invented the map overlay method with a light table. Scientific theory, relatively weak, started to be combined with art. The second era was the poor data era (mid-20th century to 1970s). McHarg’s map-overlay method was applied in land suitability analysis with the awareness of environmental protection. Digital data and computer-based GIS arose to satisfy the increasing need for decision support systems. The third era was the small data era (1970s–2000). During this period, environmental and ecological data increased, and science-based methods, digital modeling, and analysis techniques were also advanced. The development in the field of ecology supplemented design theories. The fourth era was the big data era (2000 to present). Ecological thinking has been gradually changing over to sustainability thinking. Meanwhile, high-resolution remote sensing data, Light Detection and Ranging, Global Positioning System technologies, and interactive drawing devices have been increasingly used for data collection and analysis.
Theoretical developments have continued to support a better understanding of the landscape as an interface between natural and cultural processes [15
]. Ecological planning, landscape planning, and sustainable landscape ecological planning all provided frameworks to help address the designing challenges to achieve the intended goals [15
] (Table 1
). Among these design methods, sustainable landscape design is an adaptive process to understand flows of material, energy, and information through concerted ecological, economic, and social activities within and beyond the landscape scale [3
]. The aim is to improve human wellbeing in a certain period on the basis of environmental protection. Based on the three Es of sustainability (environment, economics, and equity/society), Musacchio [20
] proposed that another three Es (aesthetics, ethics, and experience) should also be considered for designing sustainable landscapes. Another term, “land system architecture,” has been proposed [21
] to expand the reach of landscape architecture beyond the urban built environments, develop the understanding of human–environment systems, account for spatial interaction-trade off consequences as affected by the structure of different types of land units, and consider more on scales [22
]. Sustainable land system architecture delivers similar information as sustainable landscape design.
In the big data era, sustainable landscape design has been taken more seriously (Table 1
). Steinitz has revised his framework of landscape planning of “six iterative steps” [9
], which presents six questions in an informed, iterative, and participatory planning process. Each question is answered with a dedicated model: the representation model is proposed for “how should the context be described”; the process model for “how does the context operate”; the evaluation model for “is the current context working well”; the change model for “how might the context be altered”; the impact model for “what differences might the changes cause”; and the decision model for “how should the context be changed.” Land system architecture considers the architecture of land systems as a major determinant of ecosystem function and the capacity to provide ecosystem services [23
]. Ahern et al. [24
] applied the concept of ecosystem services in adaptive urban planning and design, proposed an adaptive method to promote innovation via “safe-to-fail” design experiments, and suggested indicators to monitor ecosystem services provided by green infrastructure. Forman and Wu [1
] used a diagrammatic model to depict how to sustain ecosystem services for cities/urban regions, in which a large natural or semi-natural land adjoining an urban area, a natural land on vegetated hillslopes, protected natural-ecosystem patches between a large protected area and the urban area, a ring of relatively large parks, and greenspaces within a city can all provide an array of environmental, social, and economic benefits. Xiang [25
] suggested an ecophronetic alternative to the present research in ecosystem services.
4. GeoDesign Provides More Promises to Meet the Need
If GeoDesign is defined as a design-related activity that changes the context of the surroundings [27
], it will be too broad and this kind of practice can date back to ancient times. If it is narrowed down to a design and planning method informed by geographic science and expressed in Geographic Information System (GIS)-based simulations [8
], we can trace the origin back to McHarg’s “Design with Nature” [16
] (Table 1
). McHarg not only developed a systematic way to understand regional planning and design, which involved participation of scientists from multiple disciplines, but also overlaid maps from various disciplines, including physical, biological, and social sciences. During the same period, Laboratory for Computer Graphics (later known as the Laboratory for Computer Graphics and Spatial Analysis) was founded, making it more convenient to implement overlay analysis. Over the past fifty years, overlay mapping has become one of the most widely used methods in spatial planning/design.
With the development of GIS and spatial related technologies, a variety of inventory and analysis methods arose after 1970s. The term GeoDesign first appeared in Klaus Kunzmann’s paper “Geodesign: Chance oder Gefahr?” [28
]. The Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) has popularized the concept of GeoDesign to emphasize the design function in GIS, awakening the deep rooted yet seemingly lost idea of “design with nature” [29
GeoDesign has been defined from different perspectives of related disciplines, including geographic information science, planning/design, and information technology (Table 2
). Steinitz [9
] defined GeoDesign as a new method that produces design proposals and simulates design impacts with the support of systems thinking and digital technology. ESRI treats GeoDesign as not only a new vision for design with geographic knowledge (as cited in [9
]) but also an innovative thought process that helps create any entity in a geo-scape [27
]. Some researchers emphasized tight relationships between science and art in GeoDesign [8
]. From the perspective of science, it emphasizes how environmental systems and social systems operate; and from the perspective of art, it emphasizes creativity, individual experience, self-awareness, interpretation, and expression [8
To clarify the definition of GeoDesign, we should notice that GeoDesign is not a science but a transdisciplinary field of research and practice supported by science and technology. In this paper, we consider GeoDesign as a new method for sustainable landscape design (or land system design), integrated with multiple supporting disciplines and new-generation information/digital technologies. The multiple disciplines include not only traditional space-related disciplines, i.e., urban planning, architecture, and landscape architecture, but also geography, sustainability science, ecology, sociology, economy, and information science. The new generation of information technology is represented by internet of things, big data, cloud computing, virtual reality, etc. The high-new spatial information technology includes sub-meter level remote sensing, light detection and ranging, global positioning system technologies, etc.
Accordingly, criteria for judging GeoDesign should also be clarified. Ervin [11
] proposed 15 essential components of an ideal GeoDesign toolbox: Content/Base, Objects, Configuration, Constraints, Library, Collaboration, Versions, Abstraction, Diagrams, Hyperlinks, Models/Scripts, Time, Simulation, Dashboard, and Methods Coach. Any GeoDesign project should involve all these components to a certain degree. Muller and Flohr [7
] proposed eight underlying principles of GeoDesign: reflective practice, innovation in digital tools, crossing disciplines, iterative modeling, performance assessment and accounting, use of high-resolution data, mixed spatial methods, and community engagement. By categorizing 28 GeoDesign practices, Tulloch [31
] classified the practices into three types, which were involved with computer-assisted design, public participation, and mathematical models, respectively. According to the criteria mentioned above, GeoDesign involves at least the application of big data, virtual reality and high-new spatial information technology in the analysis, modeling, and assessment of the design process. Consequently, it will inevitably cover the following detailed contents, including database, abstraction, configuration, diagrams, iterative models, feedback, crossing disciplines, and collaboration.
5. A Showcase of GeoDesign Applications
The commonly used tools of GeoDesign can be classified into three types: (1) integrating spatial data analysis into traditional design software (e.g., ESRI’s ArcCAD, and ArcGIS for Auto CAD), enabling designers to perform GIS analysis with the AutoCAD platform; (2) integrating design function into traditional GIS software (e.g., ESRI’s ArcSketch provides the function of sketching surface features in ArcGIS environment, and CityEngine provides the function of 3D modeling based on rules and parameters in the ArcGIS environment); (3) assessment systems for design proposals, e.g., Vista in NatureServ, CommunityViz in Orton, INDEX in Criterion Planner, SSIM in AECOM, Whatif?2.0. Among all these tools, INDEX is a human–computer interactive planning support system based on ArcGIS that adopts multiple indicators from its database to quantitatively evaluate design proposals [7
Adopting Steinitz’s framework, researchers have developed a GeoDesign platform of GeodesignHub.com, which supports ten systems and six multidisciplinary design teams to provide GeoDesign for sustainable development of watershed in King County, Washington, for over 40 years [35
]. Based on Steinitz’s framework, “Automated Design Model” was developed to design wildlife corridors between Saguaro National Park East and West, US [36
], a security pattern was incorporated to design Wulingyuan National Scenic Area, China [37
], and CityEngine was employed to implement parametric design in Brazil [38
]. In landscape and urban planning, GeoDesign has been integrated into collaborative design processes, combining people’s demands and scientific methods (e.g., analysis of impacts of change, trade-off analysis of conflicting values) and visualizing the processes and results of design in GIS-based platform [39
]. GeoDesign-related platforms have also been developed, such as “Tsinghua GeoDesign Platform,” with which researchers can perform data collection, current status analysis, assessment, modeling, and presenting design solutions so as to support the whole urban planning process [34
]. Spatial and morphological tools for GeoDesign have been developed to measure street-network configuration, building density, and functional mix [41
]. The GEARViewer developed at the VRVis Research Centre in Austria focuses also on the impact of street and railway networks on a landscape or an urban environment [42
]. It consists of an interactive 3D viewer that allows users to assess planned infrastructure projects, considering the effects of traffic volume, noise pollution, and occlusions. In GeoDesign applications, data availability is usually a limiting factor. Based on a pictorial approach and a touch screen, a Netherland team employed a qualitative method to develop a touch-screen app “Phoenix,” which could help the public to participate in GeoDesign in a data-limited area [44
7. Concluding Remarks
As a transdisciplinary field, LSS aims to understand and improve the relationship between ecosystem services and human wellbeing mainly through optimizing landscape composition and configuration. Among all the methods and techniques of landscape design, GeoDesign is a rapidly developing design method based on advanced technologies, which has potential to break new grounds in the design industry. LSS can benefit greatly from GeoDesign as a research method, enhancing its spatially explicit analysis capacity and boosting its interactions with sustainable landscape/land system design.
Since LSS is a “use-inspired” science, the integration of GeoDesign with LSS needs more, or even extra, attention to “use”. Data preparation, model building, projection and evaluation all cause uncertainties in landscape planning/design [55
]. In addition to these technical issues, human aspects, like institutional bias, lack of analytical rigor, personal advocacy and unrealistic expectations of technology [66
], need to be explicitly noted during any GeoDesign practice. This of course is hardly a new challenge, but it is imperative to the success of LSS/GeoDesign enterprise.
GeoDesign, as a high-tech approach, can work if models inside GeoDesign are built and applied by specialists who are familiar with the models and the planning/design problems. However, GeoDesign is not a panacea. Knowledge of why and how GeoDesign works is a must, so is the understanding of GeoDesign’s possible limitations. One of the limitations is the paucity of frameworks that make the procedure of GeoDesign logical and integrative, which is a main impetus for our proposed LSS-based GeoDesign framework. The major purpose of integrating GeoDesign and LSS is to provide insights into landscape patterns, ecological consequences, and their interactions, which in turn can be used to guide the development of effective designs and decisions. Our science-based and application-oriented sustainable landscape design framework can facilitate multidisciplinary interaction, real-time evaluation, information technology application, and multi-stakeholder participation. It provides a starting point to integrate LSS and GeoDesign, and we hope to see more follow-up studies to further this endeavor in years to come.