American Association of Geographers 2016

Creative spatial thinking with Tangible Landscape

Brendan Harmon, Anna Petrasova, Vaclav Petras, Helena Mitasova, & Ross Meentemeyer

Tangible Landscape

A tangible user interface powered by open source GIS


An evolution of Illuminating Clay and the Tangible Geospatial Modeling System

Piper, Ben, Carlo Ratti, and Hiroshi Ishii. 2002. “Illuminating Clay: A Tangible Interface with Potential GRASS Applications.” In Proceedings of the Open Source GIS - GRASS Users Conference 2002. Trento, Italy.

L. Tateosian, H. Mitasova, B. A. Harmon, B. Fogleman, K. Weaver, and R. S. Harmon, “TanGeoMS: tangible geospatial modeling system.,” IEEE Trans. Vis. Comput. Graph., vol. 16, no. 6, pp. 1605–12, 2010.

Image source: MIT Media Lab

Tanigble interaction with GIS

With Tangible Landscape you can hold a GIS in your hands - feeling the shape of the earth, sculpting its topography, and directing the flow of water.


Tangible Landscape couples a digital and a physical model through a continuous cycle of 3D scanning, geospatial modeling, and projection

Intuitive scientific modeling with Tangible Landscape

Tangible Landscape is designed to make scientific data, models, and simulations exploratory, engaging, and fun


Designing performance landscapes

through an iterative cycle of ideation, geospatial modeling, and critique

Geodesign applications

Visibility analysis

Geodesign applications

Solar analysis

Solar irradiation and cast shadow

Geodesign applications

Trail planning

Optimized trail routing between waypoints based on energetics, topography, and cost maps with feedback including trail slopes and viewsheds

Scientific gaming

Termite infestation game

Manage the spread of termites across a city by treating city blocks

Scientific gaming

Coastal flooding game

Save houses from coastal flooding by building coastal defenses


A comparative study of 3D spatial performance with 1. digital modeling, 2. hand modeling, and 3. tangible interaction


Spatial statistics

The standard deviation of the differences of all participants using 1. digital modeling, 2. hand modeling, and 3. tangible interaction


Cut-fill analytic

Tangible Landscape's cut-fill analytic enabled participants to generatively shape form and critically assess the results in an iterative cycle


Simulated flow statistics

1. Reference depth, 2. max depth with digital modeling, 3. max depth with tangible interaction

Tangible Landscape's water flow simulation enabled an iterative cycle of form-finding and critical assessment that helped participants to learn how form controls process

Open science

Fork us on GitHub

Repository with experiment instructions, scripts, data, and results

Repository for the Tangible Landscape plugin for GRASS GIS

Open education

Open source software, open algorithms, open data, and open educational resources

Petras, V., Petrasova, A., Harmon, B., Meentemeyer, R.K., Mitasova, H. Integrating Free and Open Source Solutions into Geospatial Science Education. ISPRS International Journal of Geo-Information. 2015, 4, 942-956. doi:10.3390/ijgi4020942

Set up your own system

Read our book and give it a try