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 many 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:
Images can be found in 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.
Digitized images of measured drawings, black-and-white photographs, color transparencies, photo captions, data pages including written histories, and supplemental materials on architecture, engineering, and design.
This gateway to architecture around the world and across history documents a thousand buildings and hundreds of leading architects, selected by the editors of ArchitectureWeek.
RIBApix is a database of images from the collections of the British Architectural Library at the Royal Institute of British Architects.
Provides access to images digitized from primary sources and printed rarities in the collections of The New York Public Library. (New York Public Library Digital Gallery)
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.