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Image Sources for the Built Environment: Home

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.

Authoritative Website

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.


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:

  • Name of the creator such as the designer, architect, landscape architect, planner, engineer, or artist
  • Name of building, site, or object
  • Date of construction
  • City or place where located

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:

  • the specific kind of thing you are looking for: barns, skyscrapers, paintings
  • the general kind of thing you are looking for: farms, office buildings, decorative art

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.

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