Those interested in the history of landscape architecture take note: there’s a new award winning tool that aims to help students fully contextualize and visualize iconic places through a virtual tour interface of sorts. Its called the Digital Library of Landscape Architecture, and it was developed by Benjamin George of Utah State University’s Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning. George was looking for a novel way to help students learn content in his History of Landscape Architect class, and stitched together already useful tools such satellite maps, clickable panoramic images, and navigational elements to create a strong foundation for fully understanding a site. The web-based app is currently baked in with approximately 40 virtual tour sites, and has the further ability to cover literally all historic sites across the world.
In my testing of the site, I decided to first select a location that i had visited previously to help compare the scope and limits of imagery and understanding. I chose Château Villandry, and was pleasantly surprised by the interface and organization of simple information and data to help understand the site. Beginning with the full size plan of the site on the location’s initial navigation page, one has the option to explore and learn about the landscape through a variety of ways: a virtual tour; generous picture slideshow; a discussion board; a section of related sites; and a metadata space to understand how the data is organized. As a librarian, i truly appreciate the latter feature, and was most impressed by the virtual tour, which is also compatible with Google Cardboard for the best sensory experience complete with sound.
As a landscape architecture student in the mid-2000’s, my landscape history classes relied heavily on two publications: Jellicoe’s the Landscape of Man; and Paradise on Earth: The Gardens of Western Europe by Gabrielle Van Zuylen. Both books were structured around a chronological timeline of human history interjecting significant time periods and civilizations with built landscapes that represent each snapshot in time. While the books contained an equal coverage of both text and images, as a student who was being taught in studios to communicate ideas and narratives effectively, both of these publications still fell short in the storytelling and visual communication categories. One can only learn and retain so much from a single picture of the Villa d’Este and 400 words of text. The experience is very akin to my U.S. history book in highschool which was also sympathetically generous with images to encourage learning, but the 2d format wasn’t interesting enough to find a home in my memory palace for 100% retention. Luckily, these books were just tools, and I had highly capable instructors to help me read between the lines and connect the dots and support the text with a variety of slides [yes, slides!]. I’m not saying that the Digital Library of Landscape Architecture History is a robot that can replace your professor. Its simply a great learning tool to help students experience these spaces in the same ways we’re taught to think about spaces in design studios using the same tools. Least to say, this new tool is a warm welcome to landscape students looking for a centralized tool to understand the full context of a historic site through a variety of visual interactions.
So check out the tool here:
And did I mention that this tool is award winning? It just won an Award of Excellence in the communication category from the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), a very prestigious honor indeed!