Digital Library

ImagineRio, Brazil


Farès el-Dahdah and Alida C. Metcalf

ImagineRio is a searchable digital atlas that illustrates the social and urban evolution of Rio de Janeiro, as it existed and as it was imagined. Views, historical maps, and ground floor plans –from iconographic, cartographic, and architectural archives– are located in both time and space while their visual and spatial data are integrated across a number of databases and servers, including a public repository of images, a geographic information system, an open-source relational database, and a content delivery web system. The relationship between the various project elements produces a web environment where vector, spatial, and raster data are simultaneously probed, toggled, viewed, and/or queried in a system that supports multiple expressions of diverse data sources. It is an environment where, for example, historians can visualize specific sites both temporally and spatially, where architects and urbanists can see proposed design projects in situ, where literary scholars can map out novels while visualizing their contexts, and where archaeologists can reconstruct complex stratigraphies. Scaled down into a mobile version, the site allows tourists and residents to walk about town while visualizing the city as it once was as well as it was once projected. Rio de Janeiro’s urban history is particularly well suited to being captured diachronically considering how much the city’s natural environment, urban fabric, and self-representation have changed over time. To make Rio what it is today, hills were leveled, swamps drained, shorelines redrawn, and islands joined to the mainland, while its Tijuca Forest was first cleared due to the planting of coffee and charcoal extraction only to later be replanted for the protection of water sources. Such a changing physical and social landscape, with all its political consequences, lends itself to being spatially contextualized in a digital platform that illustrates the change of time.