The Indicator: Following the White Rabbit through Google Earth

The Indicator: Following the White Rabbit through Google Earth

What does a life look like when viewed through Google Earth? On the surface, it simply looks like different settlement patterns that morph depending on the altitude setting. Some places have 3D buildings, but most do not. In a few cases, the 3D buildings were inaccurately rendered. The person who had done them had never actually visited these places from my life. He was merely going off the satellite image and guessing at building heights and shapes. I, on the other hand, posses a great deal of information.

What would it look like if I annotated these maps with my memories; if I extruded the buildings? The notations would be so dense as to obscure the territory itself. Should Google give the responsibility for these geographies to those who contain them within their memories? Maybe Google should hire me to be the custodian of my own territories, past and present.

More after the break.

The address pointer (removed from these images) more or less marks the center of the property, but not exactly. Because of national security concerns, public sector GPS is not precise. In fact, in addition to this subtle and intentional scrambling, GPS can be off by as much as 10 meters due to accidental radio interference. Moreover, large objects such as tall buildings and mountains positioned between GPS satellites and coordinate points on Earth can cause aberrations of up to 30 meters. For these reasons, the GPS marker as shown in Google places you somewhere near your coordinates, but not right on the money. My memory, however, is more precise. Google puts me in the neighborhood and I can take it from there.

Geographies that were never in proximity to one another can be placed side by side. They can be archived and studied. Territorial differences are striking. In my case, the dominant experiences were shaped by different degrees of density and proximity to different bodies of water.

The Childhood Phase 1 House was near the Atlantic in an area where the tide would come in and go out. When out, it revealed mud flats. Boats would rest on the mud, tilted on their red hulls. I would swim in the water and clam in the mud.

Here, the ocean was the backyard. I had always thought of this as the front yard and never used the so-called “front door.” When I was little, the toilets of all the houses let out straight to the sea. Still, my grandmother and I would take evening swims in that water. To this day, I think this is why I have a good immune system. We had to wear sneakers while swimming because of all the broken shells and rocks. At least, that was the reason I was given.

The Childhood Phase 2 House had an apple tree in the backyard. The tree is still there. No one ever picked the apples. They simply fell to the ground and rotted. When I look at this image that apple smell comes back to me. The whole area smelled like that. This was also the first house I ever did a drawing of. My teacher was amazed that I drew it in perspective while the other kids drew houses flat. I have no idea if this means anything. I simply drew it as I saw it. Or so I thought.

In Google, I note things that have disappeared or changed. I am always surprised when buildings are still there. I shouldn’t be, but when I notice them I get the sensation of having made a discovery. Somehow, it is amazing that they still exist when I am not there. The Childhood Phase 3 House is a good example of this. Due to the real estate pressure on this area I once expected it to disappear. Even while living there, most of the other homes in the neighborhood were torn down and new ones put up. Construction sites were seemingly a permanent part of the landscape. They just moved around.

These sites used to be open back then. No fences. No security. My friends and I would sometimes sneak out at night to sit within the stud framing and smoke clove cigarettes under the stars. By day we might have epic dirt clod wars or make BMX tracks. The Phase 3 House is one of the only original homes left.

So far, every house or building I have ever lived in still exists. There is comfort in this. It is as if they were there as reservoirs of memory. Google Earth allows me to not think about them too much. In most cases I have no desire to actually visit these places again. There are exceptions, however.

The Childhood Phase 1 House was built by my great-grandfather. It now belongs to someone else. The entire neighborhood was once family land and populated by relatives. I keep my eye on that house and wonder if I would ever buy it back if given the opportunity. It is on the other side of the country. Still, if I could, I might buy it and just keep it empty.

Having it on Google Earth helps prevent such insanity. I can observe it periodically from afar. Did they re-landscape the side yard? It looks like they re-paved the driveway. On second thought, Google Earth doesn’t prevent such madness. It merely gives me a way to live with it.

Gazing at architectural imagery produces the impression that the built environment is constantly changing. If they could provide a live video feed—the next logical Google upgrade—one would witness a much slower rate of change. Moreover, such change, in most cases, would occur only at mere points. Within some frames, change might not occur for decades, if at all.

Looking at these images, I am obviously removed physically and temporally, but he photographs themselves are from the past. The oldest image is Overseas Phase 2, from 2007. So this actually brings me closer to the period of my memories than images from 2010. It is also less reliable as evidence.


Of course, the Present Phase contains many stories. The recent past is compressed here. Though I am looking back to 2009, merely one year ago, things are vastly different. Not the buildings. They remain unchanged, for the most part.

The Indicator

The Indicator

About this author
Cite: Guy Horton. "The Indicator: Following the White Rabbit through Google Earth" 10 Nov 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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