Photograph © 2012 Justin Knight Photography by Justin Knight Photography.

Visualizing Systems Exhibit at Harvard GSD

To celebrate the launch of this website, Visualizing Systems was recently featured in an exhibit at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. The exhibit, designed to function as an index and timeline of the most influential mappings and spatial visualizations over the last 200 years, was intended to reveal trends and developments in the mapping of the human and natural environment, and how they coincided with major events in world history. Images are grouped by themes, revealing how, for instance, colonialist period resulted in the first large-scale botanical indices and comparative geographical diagrams, or the environmental movement in the 1960s influenced charts and non-linear timelines that explored ecology from geological or urban perspectives.



Copyright 2012 Andrea Hansen/Visualizing Systems by Andrea Hansen/Visualizing Systems.

Visualizing Systems presents an in-depth timeline featuring many of the most important visualizations and mappings of the human environment from 1800 – present. The collection considers the three-dimensional world—and the spatial, material, and temporal complexities that come with it—in order to document visual language that balances quantitative rigor and scientific methodology with tangible experiential descriptions of the groundplane as seen at eye level.

The exhibit aims to harness growing interest in data visualization and shift its focus toward the spatial environment. Moreover, through the cultivation of a rich collection of historic imagery, the exhibit and site shine a light upon the origins of technologies and techniques that are all but ubiquitous today–while infographics and data visualizations are trending now, however, the methods they employ are founded upon several milestones in visualization and analysis—from design, art, and the sciences—that are called out in this exhibit. The experiments section of the exhibit, below, retraces the development of representational techniques that are commonplace today so that we may encode new layers of meaning, thereby increasing the operativity of the drawing.



The vignettes shown above offer a series of experimental techniques for representing spatial data. Drawing from a selection of work from the Visualizing Systems collection, the techniques are the beginning of a catalogue of system-specific modes of representation that characterize the material, temporal, scalar, and modal qualities of systems as diverse as storms, rivers, highways, and cellular networks. The parametric techniques, developed with Grasshopper and GH components, are largely founded upon GIS spatial analysis, but unlike GIS, utilize rendering modes such as point clouds, gradients, grids, and vector fields to relate more closely to the systems they measure. The scripts shown in this video will be posted to the Visualizing Systems script library shortly!


Visualizing Systems: The Reading and Representation of the Human Environment
Harvard Graduate School of Design
Experiments Wall, Gund Hall Lobby
48 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA 02138
November 19 – December 22, 2012


Andrea Hansen, Lecturer in Landscape Architecture (2011-2012 Kiley Fellow)


Charles Waldheim, Chair, Department of Landscape Architecture, Harvard Graduate School of Design
Dan Borelli, Director of Exhibitions, Harvard Graduate School of Design
David Zimmerman-Stuart, Exhibitions Coordinator, Harvard Graduate School of Design
Additional image collection by GSD2241: Landscape Representation III (Fall 2012) and Kate Smaby (MLA I ’13)