Map Spotting: WE, Water, Earth Exhibit

There are some facts about the person typing this to which only a select few are privy. One of these facts? My immense love of lattes from Cafe Brasil...OK, so this may not be a heavily guarded secret since the lovely ladies who work there can recite my order as soon as I groggily prance in.

One of my favorite things about this coffee shop is its support for local art and an ever-changing cycle of pieces lining its walls. Don't get me wrong. There are plenty of shops in this city that encourage this kind of community - but then again, not all of them have my order memorized...yet. With that being said, I was more than pleasantly surprised this past week to come in and find maps...yes, all their glory on the brick and mortar. Maps, you guys.

WE, Water, Earth - A Data Visualization and Mapping Exhibition

As it turns out, these pieces are a product of students from the University of Houston, College of Architecture and Design (UH COAD). Architecture and Design. Not GIS.

Lovelies, I sincerely thought my caffeine-deprived haze had transformed itself into hallucinations at this point. It's like a nerdy academic dream of mine come true. After getting in touch with one of the students who took part in the project, I can honestly say my jealousy over such an education has skyrocketed. Yes, I get jealous of people's coursework. There is no such thing as nerd shame.

The WE, Water, Earth project is the result of a semester of work by UH COAD students in Professor Cynthia Dehlavi's Visualizing Data: Diagram and Mapping course. This course, apparently, is an elective for Architecture and Interior Architecture majors, both Undergraduates and Graduates alike. Meanwhile at USC, our electives consisted of responsibly useless things like Shoreline Management and Mitigation Practices. I refuse to get past this jilting.

This exhibit in particular features the work of the 13 students in this past semester's course. Students were introduced to such platforms as ArcGIS and Rhino to aide in the collection and organization of data through a series of lectures and mapping exercises. Meanwhile, Dehlavi's instruction and guest lecturers helped to encourage the students to find new and exciting applications for visualization and mapping with a variety of media. This media entails everything from print to wood to beading to plexiglass. My past self who once spent 12-hours straight embroidering a book cover for a Graphic Design project finds this exceptionally fascinating. Much respect. Nerd dreams.

For the subjects of the pieces themselves, students were guided through choosing locations for both placement and research, building data stories for each project. Pieces were then designed and built by the students, with the more involved 3D basemaps and fabrications milled via CNC.

Academia Enhancement, One Visualization at a Time

This project, in general, is fascinating - as is the celebration of the students' work by showcasing it in such a public capacity. What really fascinates me, however, is that this subject was approached in coursework that typically might not involve things like silly 'ole data visualization. Because of this, many of the students approached the project in a way that might not be done so in a typical GIS-centric course. Those 3D maps, y'all. Nerd dreams.

Aside from the different approaches, these students also now have skills and new ways of thinking to which their peers and future colleagues might not have had exposure. That in itself is an amazing take-away.

For anyone reading, I'm curious to know - What was the seemingly most out-of-the-box course you took in school that helped you to see cartography and visualization in a different light? Were you educated in an environment that encouraged this kind of exploration?

As of Sunday, May 22nd, the WE, Water, Earth Exhibition is still up at Cafe Brasil (2604 Dunlavy St, Houston TX) for those who might like to see the work in person.