The experience of landscape is made richer when meaning augments the experience. In this project, the team began a pilot study to understand how smartphone and other digital technology might help interpret historic landscapes and to create a database of images and information and the means for users to access information about historic landscapes while on site. The project used four Indianapolis landscapes—Crown Hill Cemetery, Riverdale, Oldfields, and the Indianapolis Park and Boulevard System, as a testing ground.
In the initial stage of the project, the team looked at how technology is being used to enhance visitor experiences in a number of different types of applications. The team assessed the literature regarding digital augmentation and discovered a wide array of digital tools, as well as information on use and on user preferences for several different ways of accessing that digital information. Next, through site visits and interviews with key personnel, we discovered how several important landscapes are implementing digital technologies in the interpretation of their landscapes. These landscapes included historic estate gardens, public landscapes, and cemeteries in Detroit and Boston—sites similar to our study sites and landscapes with varying levels and types of digital application.
In the next step, we assembled the digital drawings and historic images that would assist the user in their visualization of the site’s history and created the platform for users to access that information. Using archives at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Indiana Historical Society, Ball State University, the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site, and personal collections of the project team, we collected more than 100 individual elements to aid in the landscapes’ interpretation. After writing text to interpret these key elements, we then produced a digital database to host all of the assembled and created information, organized into 40 “stations” –ten per landscape—that became the core of the visualization project.
Working at the sites, we used GPS to pinpoint the exact coordinates from which we wanted the user to view the existing landscape and the digital information. Collaborating with an outside vendor, we designed and produced small interpretive signs for each station that would allow the user to use their smartphone to access this digital database of information. Finally, with our partners at the landscapes, we placed the signs in their locations and gathered feedback from users regarding the effectiveness as a tool to enhance visualization and interpretation of these landscapes.
This project was funded by Grant P15AP0009 from the National Park Service, National Center for Preservation Technology and Training.