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Image Sources for the Built Environment

The design and study of buildings, landscapes, and cities depends on visual information in the form of images such as photographs, drawings, diagrams, maps, and paintings. These images exist in many forms: digital files, photographic film, and paper documents. Images of the built environment might seem to be everywhere, but it often is difficult to find the exact images one needs. There is no single catalog and no single easy source for images. Because images vary widely in format, size, quality, and kind, it is difficult to know where to start. Often you may not even know if such an image as you are imagining exists.

To begin searching for images, you must have a sense of what you are looking for. You may think "I'll take anything that's available"- but that is not a useful starting point. You must be specific. Make a list of terms. It needn’t be very long. Ask yourself: am I looking for photographs? Maps? Drawings or plans? Digital images? Paper documents? All of these? Images are produced and used in a wide variety of settings and unless previously collected together, the kinds of images you are looking for may exist in different places, based on how and why they were made or how and why they were used.

To identify what you are looking for, you should know some or all of the following information:

Alternately, you may be looking for a variety of examples of a type of object, rather than a specific example, so in that case you may wish to know:

Once you have a clear idea about what you are looking for, and have written down some terms to search on, think about where these images might be produced, reproduced, or collected. These are the “sites” where you can look for images.

  1. Where images are produced:
    Architects, Landscape Architects, Planners, Artists, Photographers, and other creators all produce of images of all kinds.
  2. Where images are reproduced:
    Books, Journals and Magazines, Newspapers, authoritative Websites, and other publications all disseminate and display images of all kinds for consumption.
  3. Where images are collected:
    Archives, Photograph Collections, Stock Photography Houses, Visual Resource and Slide Libraries, Museums, and other institutions collect both original and published material and facilitate access to them.

These three sites are jumping-off points for finding images. You may find some of these sites more useful than others. These sites may overlap; for example a Journal may publish drawings of a building and they may also produce drawings and photographs of the building.

Image sources by site of image production

To find the source of images particular to a creator, search the internet for the creator's (architect, designer, photographer, firm) name. For historic, defunct, or non-current creators, you may need to look for library, archives, and museum collections that maintain the original imagery that these creators made. To identify photographers, published photos usually include credit information somewhere: in books it may be in an image credit list in the front or rear of the book. In journals and on websites, photo credits are usually below each image or listed with each article.

Architects’, Landscape Architects’, and Planners’ Websites are a good place to look for images of specific projects, because the designer is the originator of the original objects. Besides images, they may list statistics, related people, dates, and other information about the project. Some designers’ websites list publications where the project in question has been featured - providing you with a bibliography specific to this work. Some will send a .pdf "press kit" or flyer of information about the project if you ask. Please write to them regarding use of their images. It is youir job to understand and respect copyright.

Architects’, Landscape Architects’, and Planners’ Websites can be found with Internet search engines or via directories of professionals or firms.


Professional associations, directories, Social Networks:

Photographers produce the photographs we see in publications, often in the service of designers and firms. Their websites usually have high quality images. Please write to them regarding use of their images and respect copyright.

Photographers’ websites can be found with Internet search engines or via professional directories.


Professional associations & directories:

Image sources by publication or reproduction site

Books and Monographs may be published on the work of a specific architect or designer or may focus on particular types of projects (e.g. Barns, memorials, parks), or projects that share particular traits (e.g. Sustainable Buildings, [something landscapy or planning here), or projects in a particular location. Books usually contain photographs, drawings, plans and any other kinds of images.

Search for books in the library catalogs, using the architect, landscape architect, firm, building or place name, or subject term.

An extensive list of books which have been found to be useful in study here at CED is at the bottom of this page.

Journals and Magazines publish articles illustrated by photographs and drawings of buildings and environments. Journals tend to be more up-to-date and may contain images of objects that have not yet had the chance to be published in book form.

Search for Journal articles in article databases.

After finding an article in an index that matches what you are looking for, you must find that issue of the journal in paper or digital form.

Newspapers publish photographs and news about noteworthy projects.

Newspaper articles are indexed in databases much like Journals.

Search newspaper indexes and find that article in paper, microfilm, or digital form.

Authoritative Websites are websites that are published by Archives, Museums, Historical Societies, Scholars, and other non-commercial entities. They may be specific to a place, creator, or subject. Most of these websites can be relied upon for the accuracy and authenticity of the information they present.

Image Databases are collections of images that span genres and subject areas.

Image sources where images are collected

This place of images contains all the places where images wind up after they have been created and/or published and consumed. Often these places become a site for consumption as well, because they are a useful place to encounter images outside of the structure of publication formats. These places include Archives, Visual Resource collections, Museums, Stock Photography Houses, enthusiast websites, image sharing websites, and the open web.

Archives hold original visual documents, including, but not limited to, photographs, maps, drawings, and plans. Archives organize their material by Collections, which are groups of documents that belonged to or were created by a person or organization. Therefore, images are usually indexed along with many other kinds of textual and non-visual records.

Visual Resources Collections are image libraries created to support teaching in educational institutions. They almost always hold reproductions (copies) of images for use in research and teaching, although some also have original images. These images—digital, photographs, and slides-- come from many different sources, including all the kinds of sources listed on this page.

Museums generally hold collections of objects and art work for which they produce different kinds of imagery. Many museum websites publish and display images, some may act as image vendors, selling or depositing their images in image databases or with Stock Photography Houses.

Photography Agencies and Stock Photography Houses are commercial enterprises that exist to sell images for publication. They frequently own large collections of historic photographs. They may be narrow in scope or may regularly produce new images. Some allow their images to be searched in other image databases. They may or may not be easy to search; almost all charge significant fees to obtain images.

Enthusiast websites are websites where anyone with interest or desire publishes images, usually arranged thematically. Basically, these are any websites that focus on displaying images, often regardless of source or legality. Many re-publish images that they have found elsewhere on the web or that they have digitized themselves. These types of websites can be found by search engines when searched for by a topic name. Many of the images on these pages can be found with an image search engine. Some are more reliable than others but be careful about accuracy and proper copyright when using them.

A few select examples:

Image sharing websites are websites where users upload photographs and can search for images other users have added. Many users also upload quantities of scanned material and submit their photographs to groupings of similar images. Some are more reliable than others but be careful about accuracy and proper copyright when using them.

The open web is search-able with Internet search engines. Some provide image-specific searching options. Search engine image searches only find a small fraction of imagery available online. Most images found through a search-engine image search will be lacking in quality, variety, authoritativeness, and applicability. But images found using these search engines may lead you to more in-depth sites which may prove to be of use.


Selected books