“We live in an age of data enthusiasm,” Sarah Williams says, sitting with Laura Kurgan in the offices of the Spatial Information Design Lab (SIDL) at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. She’s talking about the sudden ubiquity of seductively authoritative-looking charts and graphs in print and, especially, online. Kurgan and Williams are data enthusiasts, but their work takes a decidedly more rigorous and critical approach than the typical Infographic of the Day. Since 2004, they have pioneered the use of mapping to uncover hidden and often surprising facts about the contemporary city, and to expose social ills in desperate need of design solutions.
Kurgan, an architect by training, founded SIDL in 2004. Williams, who studied geography and planning, and worked at one of the first geographic information system (GIS) companies, joined soon after. (They now direct the lab together.) From the start, their goal was to unite innovative mapping and data-visualization strategies with the spatial expertise of architects and planners. “A lot of people use GIS, but they don’t use it in a design-oriented way,” Kurgan says. “They use it in a sociological or a political way. And I think that what we’ve done together really well is we’ve brought GIS to the design world in lots of unusual ways—technologically and aesthetically.”
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