This project seeks to engage a series of Great Lakes rivermouths through design as a process of inquiry. The processes of inquiry—scientific, engineering, and political—are guided by a question-driven design research process that explores the newly possible from a set of givens. 

One aspect of design research,  communication using visual means, will span across multiple project objectives, including network and capacity building.  In particular, physical models, and their various representations,  can be understood, dissected, and discussed by people across sectors and with different interests.  They have also been proven to be highly useful to predict sediment movements in relation to structures, vegetation, or other sediment.

These physical models are not tectonic models in the architectural tradition nor are they large routed sculptures produced by computer aided machining processes. Rather, our physical models are aggregative or particular; used to ask questions about how particles and other objects (small flow obstructions, breakwaters) pile up, erode, or move along with currents.  Used to intuitively ask design questions, these models are less predictive and more demonstrative.  By using the intelligence of the material itself and analyzing for the outcomes, these models can provide insights into what is possible, or good, while simultaneously producing visual aids useful for discussion.

We are not using physical models in place of computational models and analysis but rather as a compliment. However, the main focus of the project relies on asking questions about the complex characteristics of material, and physical modeling remains the best way to capture these characteristics.  We will further link these experimental models to field observations. Whether working digitally or physically, we draw from the lessons of Laurel Larsen  to make the simplest model that can support the necessary question.[ii] In order to generate insight about complex systems, the variables of those systems are reduced to particular areas of foci.[iii]   To further make these insights relevant at appropriate scales, these experimental models, as well as the visuals and analysis they produce, can be linked to conventional design processes—the map, the transect, the section,the plan. 

This method of modeling as a form of research, especially when combined with more conventional modes of design inquiry including fieldwork, mapping, and drawing, will  provide a speculative understanding of specific design outcomes.  This in turn will provide foundation materials for discussion, both amongst the research team and within the larger technical team and constituencies. This ability to get specific with sedimentary differences, or what Francis Bacon simply referred toas form,[iv] even as it crosses scales and concerns (ecological, infrastructural, otherwise) makes possible real conversations that speak to stakeholder concerns.  

[i] Gesche Joost, Katharina Bredies, Michelle Christensen, Florian Conradi, Andreas Unteidig, (eds). Design as Research: Positions, Arguments, Perspectives (Birkhauser: Basel, 2016).

[ii] Laurel G. Larsen, Chris Thomas, Maarten Eppinga, and Tom Coulthard. “Exploratory modeling: Extracting causality from complexity”. Eos 95, no. 32 (2014): 285-292.

[iii] Laurel G. Larsen, Maarten B. Eppinga, Paola Passalacqua, Wayne M. Getz, Kenneth A. Rose, Man Liang, “Appropriate complexity landscape modeling”, Earth-Science Reviews, Volume 160, (2016): 111-130, ISSN 0012-8252,

[iv] Francis Bacon, Novum Organum, or True Suggestions for the Interpretation of Nature. (New York: P. F. Collier & Son, 1620), Book II, Aphorism I. (accessed November 21, 2018).