Co-Lab explores the use of mapping and visualization as critical research tools in design. Current teaching, projects and publications engage critical mapping as a dialectical and reflexive process. 

Co-Lab is a collaborative faculty initiative in the College of Design @ North Carolina State University. Current publications explore both the theory and application of mapping as a critical research tool, participatory mapping as a dialectical engagement device, and the value of mapping and visualization in fields outside of design, architecture and urban planning. Embedded in this initiative is a new theory of critical placemaking that builds upon the rich heritage of participatory design, placemaking and critical cartography. The value of placemaking underpins a perspective that promotes citizen/community agency and dialectical engagement in design decisions.

Within the tradition of a community-based approach to urban development, Critical Placemaking looks beyond shifting demographics and emphasizes how development of the built environment changes the social fabric of the city. Critical Placemaking encourages the critical evaluation of needs and wants on the part of both the designer/planner and the community member. It seeks to challenge the assumptions that designers and community members might hold about what is valuable and necessary for successful urban development and who is participating in the dialogue around it. Critical placemaking also proposes moving away from the end goal of a design intervention as an isolated object (exhibit, map) or a space (a city park, building) to designing for a civic conversation through platforms, systems and communities that allow co-research and co-creative processes which construct meaningful relationships through a diversity of voices providing agency to all involved.