Mapping: Geographic Representation and Speculation

Maps both represent reality and create it. It is in the context of this contention that this course presents the fundamentals of mapping, spatial analysis, and visualization. In a design process, the act of mapping selectively narrates site conditions. By choosing what features, forces, and flows to highlight—and which to exclude—the designer creates the reality in which their intervention will be situated. This is only becoming more true, as urban space and populations are ever-more pervasively measured, monitored, and categorized by innumerable institutions. Such representations are often a designer’s primary means of responding to a site. Designers are in the difficult position of approaching spatial datasets critically and as sites of contestation while also employing them in their work.

Over the course of a semester, students will work extensively with techniques of spatial analysis. Using desktop GIS software, we will explore data sources, data models, overlays, map algebra, spatial statistics, terrain analysis, and suitability modeling, among other techniques of spatial representation. Students will learn to embed these techniques, recursively, within larger design workflows. Lastly, a portion of the semester will be devoted to visualizing spatial data, programmatically, using the Processing language.

Course format: The course will combine workshops showcasing techniques, and lectures that place these in conversation with design and other forms of spatial inquiry. Students will complete short exercises and reading assignments, as well as two larger projects in which students will deploy mapping techniques to further their own research.

Each week, the two course sessions – in many weeks, a lab and a lecture – will be held synchronously, and students will be encouraged to attend when possible. However, recordings of all sessions will be made available for students who are unable to join synchronously. Furthermore, the instructor, the student TAs and the course TF will be scheduling office hours intentionally to ensure that even those who cannot join class sessions have ample opportunities for face-to-face virtual instruction

Prerequisites: None. No previous experience with GIS is assumed. Familiarity with standard modeling and visual design software is preferred.


This course will be taught online through Friday, February 4th.