The Digital Landscape Architecture Conference is Coming to Cambridge, MA

by Stephen M. Ervin, FASLA

Digital Landscape Architecture Conference attendees
130 landscape architects from 30 countries attended the 20th Digital Landscape Architecture Conference in 2019. / image: DLA

Digital Landscape Architecture (DLA) Conference
Abstracts due: November 1, 2019
DLA Conference: June 1-3, 2020 at the Graduate School of Design (GSD), Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
2020.dla-conference.com

Not too many US landscape architects may have heard of the International Digital Landscape Architecture (DLA) conference, coming to the US for the first time next year in June 2020. The conference attracts a mix of landscape architecture academics, students, practitioners, allied professionals, technologists, scholars, and interested lay people from all over the world. In 2019, participants represented 30+ countries worldwide!

DLA was started in 1999, at the Anhalt University of Applied Sciences in Bernburg, Germany, a small agricultural town 100 km (62 miles) south of Berlin with a strong international landscape architecture program. In its first years DLA was primarily an academic conference, held in Bernburg. In recent years it has become larger, more international, and multidisciplinary, and has recently been held regularly at the nearby Dessau campus—the home of the famed Bauhaus school from the early 20th century. The architect Walter Gropius was the director of the Bauhaus in its most impactful era, in the 1930s, before he left Germany just before World War II, came to Cambridge, and became the head of the Architecture Department at the Graduate School of Design (GSD) at Harvard University.

The links between Harvard and the DLA conference go back to the beginning, when I co-founded the conference with my German colleague Professor Erich Buhmann. GSD Professor Carl Steinitz, Hon. ASLA, now Emeritus, was among the speakers at the first conference; we have both been regular attendees, speakers, and organizers over the years. In recent years, the DLA conference has grown (in 2019, speakers were from more than 30 countries world-wide); and has traveled further and further afield from its base in Germany (the conference has recently been held in Switzerland and Turkey). Next year for its 21st meeting, DLA2020 will be held for the first time in the US, at the GSD just following Harvard commencement, June 1-3, 2020. The conference theme will be Cybernetic Ground: Information, Imagination, Impact.

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What makes it ‘geodesign’?

A Framework for Geodesign: Changing Geography by Design 2012, showing the four necessary components of geodesign. image: Carl Steinitz
A Framework for Geodesign: Changing Geography by Design, showing the four necessary components of geodesign.
image: Carl Steinitz

The term “geodesign” has some amount of buzz around it. For example, there is a Wikipedia entry; the University of Southern California offers a “Bachelor of Science in Geodesign” major; Penn State Online offers a “Graduate Certificate in Geodesign”; Carl Steinitz recently published his book “A Framework for Geodesign: Changing Geography by Design”; and so on.  This is still within a small community, mind you, ask most of your friends if they have heard of ‘geodesign’, or what it might be, and you get (or at least I usually do) mostly puzzled looks.

I’ve been listening, and contributing, to the conversation that gave birth to the term for some time. Last year, in a talk at the ESRI User’s Conference in San Diego, I said “When I first heard the term I felt like I had been using it for a long time – though of course I hadn’t.”  I argued then that geodesign may be “the computer-aided design some of us have been imaging, wishing for, and working on, for many years” — making reference to the common somewhat mundane use of the term ‘CAD’ to mean simply “drawing with computers”, rather than the more ambitious “aiding design”.

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