The Center for Spatial Research (CSR) was established in 2015 through a generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. CSR supersedes and builds on the work of the Spatial Information Design Lab founded at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation in 2004. The grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation makes Columbia University a participant in the Mellon Foundation's Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities initiative, which was launched in 2012. As of September 2015, it has awarded grants to 16 institutions. The grants aim to support the development of new relations between programs in the humanities and schools of architecture, experimentation with the architecture studio as a pedagogic model for the humanities, and research about large, humanistic questions that arise in dense urban environments around the world.
The Spatial Information Design Lab received support from the Open Society Institute, the JEHT Foundation, Thomson Reuters, the Knight Foundation, the Brown Institute for Media Innovation, as well as the New York City Mayors Office and other community organizations.
The Center has built upon SIDL's multidisciplinary mapping and data visualization initiatives, its strong civic and social orientation and its creation of aesthetically powerful design strategies that treat data as an urban resource. Likewise, CSR maintains a consciously critical approach to conventional “Big Data” initiatives, especially to the merely technocratic development of “toolkits,” as well as catalyzes humanities oriented work with data.