Pivot is a drawing system, created in the coding environment Processing, that can be used to represent American farmland as we see it from above, grids of circles within squares created by pivot irrigation systems. The program uses two variables, water supply and crop homogenization, to visually alter its randomly generated landscapes. By modifying these variables, the landscape can range from lush and diverse to dry and distorted by large dominant plots. The image above is a matrix of these two variables, water supply along the x-axis and crop homogenization along the y-axis, showing the ranges of the programs output. It can be seen representing the possible states of the American agricultural landscape. All the code from this project can be found here.

I began the project hoping to develop a program in Processing to generate a random sprinkler circle design. The uniqueness of some farmland in the real world was the inspiration for this goal; I was captivated by the strange irregularities that occur when we try to impose a strict geometric system on the landscape. For example, in some places the terrain can force the grid of farming plots to deviate from a perfect grid pattern, or a pond in the middle of a plot means the farmer must build tracks through the water (see examples below). I found these deviations from imposed structures more compelling on the larger scale, where small variations in size, orientation, and color of individual plots combine to affect the larger picture of the landscape. Following this thinking, my system progressed from one that focused on the drawing of individual sprinklers to the drawing of a landscape of sprinklers.

I created a system where a square plot of land is populated by pivot sprinklers. I chose two variables that I would then control to create my system of drawing: the amount of water at each plot (plot color), and the decreasing diversity of America’s agricultural landscape (plot size). For largely economic reasons the American agriculture industry has become much more specialized, causing areas of the country to be more fully devoted to corn or to soy. The production of wheat and small grains have suffered, as has the nutritional value of the crops produced. https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2018-crop-shift/

Using Perlin Noise, the program randomizes the colors of the plots, and a recursive function chooses the plots that increase in size. These functions combine to create small plots that are random and unique, but only random within a range defined by the two variables. These individual squares then can be arranged into a matrix of plots, where the the color variable is on the x-axis and the size variable is on the y-axis. The matrix represents a map of possible states, or futures, of the agricultural landscape.

The next step for this project is definitely to use the system to convey more meaning. This could be accomplished by the usage of real world agricultural and water data, but the project could also remain speculative, and simply imply a correlation between crop diversity, water, and the health of the landscape. Perhaps places where the crops have been consolidated and homogenized the earth becomes dry and depleted of nutrients. This project leaves a lot of room for further development.

Materials - Processing, Adobe Illustrator


Instructor: Tim Durfee

Everything is part of a system, and nearly everything is comprised of systems. Today, unlike other times in our history however, more and more things have to be understood as parts of systems in order to understand that thing at all. In spite of that fact, so much of the design we see today is still based upon seeing the world as comprised of unrelated, singular objects with local contexts. Even design that accommodates multiple systems still often maintains languages of form and relationships base on an older way of seeing the world. The argument in this class is that to design anything- of any scale - it must be understood as an entity among vast continua of technological, informational, social, economic, political, urban, cultural, infrastructural, and logistical systems.

Despite the general theme of ‘systems,’ we will actually spend very little time on the academic or historical questions - but focus instead on how the increased importance of systems might influence our way of seeing, how we understand what we see, our way of analyzing it, and how that gets translated representationally. It is only through this process that we can develop new directions for design that are authentic to the world we actually live in.

Create a drawing or a system for drawing that represents an assigned real world system.

Assigned Topic: Agricultural Systems