For 16 years, Charles Birnbaum worked for the National Park Service (NPS), helping to identify significant cultural landscapes that were not a part of the park system. He dreamed of creating a comprehensive and searchable database to celebrate these places. After leaving the NPS, Birnbaum founded the Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) in 1998, and today he has realized that vision.
Last fall, TCLF’s website launched What’s Out There, a database with several hundred landscapes from around the country. Highlighted places are categorized using a precise glossary of terms, including type (e.g., amphitheater), subtype (Depression-era theater), and style (Mission Revival). Each entry includes a succinct summary accompanied by carefully selected images that illustrate key design characteristics. For some entries, there are also oral histories of the places and the pioneers who developed them.
What’s Out There is the culmination of a decade’s worth of planning, research, and countless volunteer hours—not to mention seed funding from the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation and the NPS’s National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. The database is searchable by type, style, region, state, or pioneer (think Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.). Soon, visitors will be able to use Google mapping technology to home in on landscapes contained within a specific geography.
In addition to generating entries in-house, TCLF encourages submissions from the public. What’s Out There is not, however, a Wikipedia-esque site of self-edited data. Every entry is thoroughly vetted and edited by a team of experts. (There are about 3,000 additional entries being readied for the site by staff and a corral of volunteers, he says.) Birnbaum hopes the database will support the creation of new nationally designated historic sites. “In many cases, there are iconic landscapes that lack designation because we don’t have the context. What this project is going to do is allow a state preservation office to be able to create their own Russian nesting dolls of how these places stack up,” he says.
If you’re a DIY-hacker type with access to 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC machines, and the like, Thingiverse offers a growing archive of user-generated designs—from the functional to the whimsical—just waiting to be downloaded and realized.
Which is larger, the Millennium Dome or the Pentagon? How much of Europe would fit in Hudson Bay? Does Golden Gate Park offer more green space than Central Park? Kelvin Thompson’s nifty MAPfrappe tool, which lets users trace outlines on one Google map and overlay the shapes on a second Google map, helps answer such cartographic conundrums.
Over three years, James Welling photographed the Glass House using homemade color filters. The resulting images—a dozen of which can be seen at this Flavorwire post—offer a trippy, occasionally blissed-out take on Philip Johnson’s iconic abode.
Created by Idée, which develops image-recognition and visual-search software for high-profile clients such as Adobe Systems and the Associated Press, TinEye launched in 2008. The free tool is a reverse search engine: You upload the image or provide a URL, and TinEye scours the Internet to discover if that image is being used elsewhere, what resolution versions exist, etc. Now it’s available as a plug-in for Firefox, Chrome, and I.E. that lets you search by right-clicking on any image.
Caroline Stevens, a docent for the Chicago Architecture Foundation, offers brief histories on local buildings that have piqued her curiosity.
An iPhone/iPod Touch game for the passive-aggressive set, Stair Dismount has a simple premise: players give a stick figure (Mr. Dismount) a shove, and points accumulate as he tumbles down a series of staircases. There is a social-networking aspect to the game, but we’re more excited by the architectural mashup possibilities.