The Spatial Information Design Lab is now the Center for Spatial Research at Columbia University. Visit our new site at to find out about current projects and upcoming events. This site is an archive of work completed up to 2014.

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Posted on February 6, 2012 by Spatial Information Design Lab

The global 2011 Visualizing Marathon program challenged university students in five cities around the world to use data and design to tackle some of today’s most complex issues -- from sustainable development to the impact of demographic shifts on healthcare. One winning and two honorable mention teams were selected in each city by an esteemed global jury. The 15 finalists were then asked to submit a brief essay highlighting an insight into their city's challenge topic that was revealed through data visualization. Today, Visualizing and GE are proud to award the “Imagination at Work” Grand Prize to the winning team and $10,000 to their university to support research and education in data visualization.

Visit the link below to find out more:

Posted on January 1, 2012 by Spatial Information Design Lab

“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.”

Visit the link below to find out more:

Posted on November 30, 2011 by Spatial Information Design Lab

The Spatial Information Lab at Columbia University has a new project which measures how people vote with their feet by using Foursquare and Facebook check-ins. The exhibit, entitled Here: Now Social Media and the Psychological City, is currently on display at Columbia University’s  Avery Hall.  Sarah Williams, the co-director of the lab, and her team analyzed two weeks of check-in data pulled from Foursquare and Facebook API to explore how people communicate their thoughts and preferences on locations in New York City. What’s unique about this analysis is that it links psychological information about the city with hard statistical and spatial analysis. Using urban planning tools such as GIS, the exhibit  re-purposes and visualizes where people are at a given place in time and what they are saying about it.

Visit the link below to find out more:

Posted on August 23, 2011 by Laura Kurgan

In 2011, a version of Exits opened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York as part of their "Talk to Me" exhibition.

See   for a description of the exhibition.

And see

For the amazing website designed by Stamen.

Posted on June 23, 2011 by Laura Kurgan

In a new series, the design curator of MoMA reflects on the status of central design disciplines today. The first installment reflects on the currency of visualization design.

"Commissioned by the Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain, in Paris as part of a 2008 exhibition entitled Terre Natale and realised by a stellar team of architects, designers and programmers, Exit is a testimony to the political power of design. It was conceived to illustrate curator and cultural theorist Paul Virilio's belief that "humanity is now defined by migration". Through a series of six panoramic data-visualisation narratives displayed over the course of forty-five minutes on a round screen, the installation "quantifies both voluntary and forced movement across the globe due to political, economic and environmental factors". In one instance, a glowing map of the world is projected onto the walls, with blooms of light indicating relative responsibility for carbon emissions aggregated by population density; in another, remittances (money sent back by a migrant labourer to his or her nation of origin) are tracked by country, demonstrating that in some nations total remittances received exceed foreign aid. The design of the theatre and installation was such that viewers were literally wrapped in a universe of information, transmitting a sense of both global scale and immediacy that is lacking when these facts are presented through the usual media channels.

Good visualisation design, one of the most promising and important forms of contemporary practice, helps merge quantitative and qualitative by giving data a sensual, aesthetic and therefore humanly communicative face."

Exit also presented innovative ways of fusing data and geography in dynamic, multidimensional maps.

Posted on May 26, 2010 by Spatial Information Design Lab

Data visualization is something of a cottage industry these days—witness Edward Tufte, an emeritus professor of political science at Yale University, who has built a mini empire founded on his well-received books, which bear titles like Visual Explanations; Envisioning Information; and The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. In addition to leading one-day courses and securing a recent presidential appointmentto an advisory panel relating to accountability in the economic recovery package, Tufte is, according to his Web site, opening a gallery, ET Modern, in New York City's Chelsea neighborhood.

Visit the link below to find out more:

Posted on October 1, 2009 by Laura Kurgan

Architect Laura Kurgan is the Director of the Spatial Information Design Lab at Columbia University. Kurgan visualizes complex political and social data to advocate for social reform. One project, “Million Dollar Blocks”, shows how the government spends more than one million dollars to incarcerate prisoners who live within a single census block.

Here is the video:


Posted on August 23, 2009 by Laura Kurgan

Exits, a exhibition with Diller Scofidio and Renfro, Mark Hansen, Laura Kurgan and Ben Rubin in collaboration with Stewart Smith and Robert Gerard Pietrusko, originally exhibited at the Cartier Foundation in Paris, traveled to the Kunsthal Charlottenborg in Copenhagen during the COP15, the exhibition Native Land, Stop Eject will be presented from May 18—August 1, 2010 as part of the opening of a new cultural centre in Spain, the AlhondigaBilbao.

Posted on May 5, 2009 by Spatial Information Design Lab

Since February, this strange caravan has been wending its way across the continental United States: a 39-foot RV; the gnarled carcass of a car destroyed two years ago in a suicide bombing in downtown Baghdad; and a rotating cast of artists, soldiers, and journalists, including an Iraqi national named Esam Pasha, and Jonathan Harvey, an American who fought in the Iraq war.

"It Is What It Is" was created by British artist Jeremy Deller to stimulate conversation about the conflict overseas. In cities from Santa Fe to Cincinnati, the participants disembark and invite ordinary Americans to speak their mind on issues political and personal. The car – ravaged and rusted – serves as a centerpiece: a steel-cast stand-in for the 38 Iraqis killed in the 2007 attack.

But for Nato Thompson, who is helping to curate the show on behalf of New York's New Museum and the nonprofit group Creative Time, the exhibition is more than a simple forum. It is also an integral addition to an emergent art form known as "experimental geography," which mashes the academic rigor of traditional geography with politics and the principles of modern multimedia and performance art.

Visit the link below to find out more:

Posted on April 23, 2009 by Spatial Information Design Lab

Far from being just an accessory, mobile phones are starting to be used to collect data in 
an increasing number of disciplines. Roberta Kwok looks into their potential.

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