Architecture on the spot: recording the location of photographs representing architectural objects

For architectural historians flickr offers a potentially useful feature: you can record the exact coordinates where a picture was taken and thus make pictures of buildings, cityscapes, an the natural environments of architecture browsable by map. All one has to do to make this happen is shoot a picture, upload it to flickr, and add a so-called geo-tag.

The possibility of applying geo-spatial attributes (latitude-longitude coordinates) to digital arts & humanities resources has been a topic of interest at least since the early 1990s. A scholar like Kim Veltman, just to give an example, wrote about the potentials of building (what he called) systems of universal media searching (SUMS) and invested time and effort in the actual implementation of his ideas. [Understanding New Media: Augmented Knowledge And Culture is a recent (2006) publication by Veltman. It is fulltext online at: http://www.sumscorp.com/kavai/newmedia/.] Then came the Web. And today some of these early ambitions are beginning to be realized on a worldwide scale.

Just to see what geotagging can do, start flickr, and search for “Rem Koolhaas”. (The brackets make your search more precise.) When I did so on March 4th 2007, at 7:17 am, the application retrieved 3,870 photos matching the search criterium. That is quite impressive.

After some browsing I found a photograph taken by a Japanese student with the alias “yeussguai”: rem koolhaas’ campus center, iit, chicago (“with chicago’s metro train”). Upon clicking this image I learned that the image was added to a pool of images, collected by a group named Architecture Travellers. This may be interesting, since people who organize their photographs collectively (and are serious about that…) may add geospatial data to their pictures, which is especially advantageous when searching for architectural photographs.

Now to get some geo-tagged images of architecture – using the information found here above – let’s do another search, this time using the search criterium “Architecture Travellers”. If you give it a try, be sure to click Groups (just above the input field) in the Search area. Apparently this group has (on 2007/03/04):

227 members | 7 discussions | 1,956 photos | …

The group was created 6 months ago and it is a group… about people who love travelling and visiting architecture from all over the world, where everyone can ask and find suggestions about place worth to be seen, more or less…

If you select this group by clicking the name of the group, you will be linked to the groups’ homepage. Here you can learn what brings these 227 people together, what they discuss, etc. To inspect the locations where architectural pictures (by this group) were taken, click Map, just below the group name. What you see next is self-explanatory. Pink circles on the world map indicate locations where (architectural) pictures were taken. The numbers within these circles give the numbers of photographs taken at the spot. You can navigate within these sets using the Next and Prev markers:

20070304_flickrMap_LondonBuckinghamPalace_s.gif

To be sure: these pink markers are somewhat imprecise when zooming out of the map, as in the example above. The more you zoom in, the more precise the location markers become.

An additional useful feature is the option to display all public photographs taken on a particular map. To do this, just deselect filters from the tab on the bottom of the page. The amount of hits is already amazing:

20070304_flickrMap_ZoomedLondonBuckinghamPalace_AllGeotagged_s.gif

What remains to be done? Well, as of today, reliable metadata are lacking in applications such as flickr. And the photographs are of varying quality. So the architectural community has a nice job to do in relating trustworthy collections of metadata and high quality images to the kind of services offered by flickr.

P.S. Rem Koolhaas has group of his own as well: Architect РKoolhaas, Rem. The Casa da M̼sica in Porto (Portugal) appears to be well represented here. Why that?

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