The Age of Drones in Spatial Mapping

Cities as bacterial blooms © 2016 Karl Kullmann

The Satellites’ Progeny: Digital Chorography in the Age of Drone Vision

Karl Kullmann, Associate Professor Landscape Architecture + Environmental Planning & Urban Design


Karl Kullmann, Associate Professor Landscape Architecture + Environmental Planning & Urban Design


Research published in Forty Five, A Journal of Outside Research

Project Description


Without being deterministic, accessible imaging technology wields considerable agency in the evolution of architectural, landscape, and urban discourse. In the 1920s, the proliferation of the airplane and the drafting machine respectively inspired and facilitated the modern architectural project. In the 1970s and 1980s, the ubiquitous photocopier was a key technology enabling the sampling, scaling, and compositing that permeated the development of postmodern theory. With digital technology crossing a critical threshold in the 1990s, discourse fell ever more into lockstep with technological innovation. Advances in the usability, manipulability, and processing power of three-dimensional modeling applications were central to the rapid shift from deconstructivism to biomorphism.

In the 2000s, pervasive satellite imagery—initially through Ikonos™ and later through Google Earth™—facilitated the interpretation of cities as organic systems. (1) Characterizing urbanism in ecological, rather than formal, terms ultimately led to the establishment and influence of landscape urbanism within architectural discourse. Roughly synchronously, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), which had hitherto been the domain of specialists in geography, gained more user-friendly interfaces, attracting experimentation within the spatial design disciplines. Coupled with increased availability of spatialized data, this technology was instrumental in the renaissance of mapping, which the design disciplines had neglected for three decades. (2)

Read the paper in full here.


(1) The ecological agency of satellite imagery was preceded by the influence of WWI aerial photographic interpretive techniques on the development of the modern science of ecology. See Peder Anker, Imperial Ecology: Environmental Order in the British Empire, 1895–1945 (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2001).

(2) In the 1960s, the use of transparent film overlays practically curtailed the effectiveness of Ian McHarg’s original method of “suitability mapping.” Although suitability mapping contributed to the development of GIS, the specialized nature of this software influenced its adoption by geography and estrangement from the design disciplines.