Landscape on Demand

Tiago Torres-Campos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Imagine a young child donning a Daft Punk-like head-mounted display and wearing a Minority Report-like data glove starring at a gigantic flat screen displaying a high-resolution planet Earth. Now imagine that kid intuitively opening her hand in repeated, almost choreographed movements, synchronised with the response you see on the screen. She keeps zooming in until she distinguishes continents, and then regions, countries, cities, streets, houses and trees. Suddenly, a specific area catches her attention and she sets off exploring it on a vertiginous magic carpet ride above a three-dimensional visualization of the terrain.

With a less evocative but equally graphic description, Al Gore dazzled the world in 1998. Not only did it seem like science fiction of a remote futuristic human way of living but it also triggered the long lost fascination humans have always had of controlling the enormity of our planet. Al Gore was not necessarily interested in selling science fiction per se (although futurism always seemed to be a tremendous ally of marketing when seeding the desire of wishing something that does not exist yet), but rather in explaining the real power of the new wave of technological innovation in harnessing unprecedented amounts of information about our planet, much of which could, and would, be georeferenced.

What seemed like science fiction in 1998 became, in fact, a mundane reality after 2005, when Google Earth was released as a re-adaptation of an earlier version. Al Gore’s description seems everything but extraordinary to us, today, because we can have a very similar (yet, perhaps, with less apparatus) experience in the comfort of our homes, just by connecting our laptops to the Internet.

Today, there is no need to introduce Google Earth anymore; you have most probably used it already or, at least, heard of it. As Mark Dorrian puts it in his essay ‘On Google Earth’, most of us have a “Google Earth story to tell”.

This essay focuses on what we actually wish to see when we use the virtual globe as a browser and the consequences it has brought to contemporary perceptions of the landscape.

The virtual globe is able to offer us a compelling image of planet Earth, but fails in immersing us in it. But, on the other hand, it promotes an apparent remoteness-less, thus completely redesigning our experience of the landscape. Opposing a physical, holistic and limited familiarity, this god-like possibility gains in ubiquity what it still lacks in content. Remoteness is no longer the physical condition of something being far away, unreachable, untouchable. In a progressively virtually shrinking world, that condition will eventually vanish, if not already completely gone.

Perhaps what will remain of remoteness is allowing us to dream about our immaculate utopias, our landscapes of tomorrow.
Original languageEnglish
JournalKERB Journal of Landscape Architecture
Issue number22
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Landscape
  • Digital media
  • Remoteness
  • Google Earth
  • aerial photography


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