Farewell Dumbarton Oaks!

Alexis Del Vecchio, August 6, 2012

It’s been a productive summer for the shared GLS interns, although I’m sad to see everyone leave (including myself!)! Last Wednesday Siobhan Aitchison, Robin Abad and I gave presentations on our research topics from the summer to the GLS and garden departments, as well as the interns and a number of librarians. While Robin completed his own course of study on the Washington Triangle Parks, Siobhan and I both looked into areas of the garden; Siobhan excavated the kitchen garden site and ultimately built a 3-d model based on her research (seen in another post) while I looked at both the historical evolution of the Arbor Terrace as well as the Pre-Bliss property at large. The culmination of this work can be seen in our website www.planetable.org/omeka (note: the site is still under construction) where we constructed a number of web-based “exhibits” to showcase these topics. In the image below you can see a screen shot of the website’s home page.

GLS Intern Website Homepage

As the “GIS” specific intern, the web-based application of my research was meant to build on work from previous summer interns. Three years ago the inaugural GIS intern, Justin Scherma, worked with Paul Cote, GIS Specialist from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, to assemble a Dumbarton Oaks Geo-Database from various digital and analog sources. Information reconciled into a single file includes the James Berrell survey from 1922 as well as recent CAD drawings from Landscape Architect James Urban and Civil Engineer Wiles Mensch. These files were compiled to create a single source for geo-referenced information about the garden, such as utility lines, contours, and material edges.

Dumbarton Oaks Geo-database

The following year David Wooden added trees to the database as geo-referenced points. Each tree is linked with tabular information that captures both physical and maintenance characteristics. Charlie Howe, the most recent GIS intern, created a detailed guide to updating the tree inventory as well as diagrams that chart accessibility and historical cut and fill in the garden.

My goals for the summer were to enhance the historical component of the geo-database while also making the information that we’ve collected over the past four summers accessible to a wider audience.  Paul Cote, with input from the Gail Griffin, John Beardsley and librarians at D.O., determined the best means for public interface would be through an Omeka site. Omeka is an open-share software developed at George Mason University to house digital collections. The software is relatively easy to use (and fortunately makes itself open and easy to hack!) to create exhibits culled from two-dimensional representations of the host organization’s materials.

Arbor Terrace Exhibit on Omeka

Hundreds of libraries, historical societies, collectors, municipalities and other agencies have created their own Omeka Sites. We also wanted to curate exhibits with a geo-referenced component. Luckily the internship coincided with the release of the neatline plug-in from the UVA Scholar’s Lab. http://www2.lib.virginia.edu/scholarslab/  Neatline allowed us to layer images and their associated metadata over geo-referenced maps, thus creating stories that integrated images and text within a spatial context.

this exhibit charts the pre-Bliss history of Dumbarton Oaks

I produced the final iteration of the arbor terrace and Dumbarton Oaks exhibits on Google Earth. Unlike the standard Omeka or neatline exhibit, Google Earth allows us to view two-dimensional images in 3-d. Thus photographs of Dumbarton Oaks in 1894 can be paired with images taken in 2012 from the same vantage point, creating a before and after effect. Because Google Earth can reference images located on your hard drive instead of a web server, we avoided the numerous issues that dogged the neatline production process. Moreover, the kml code that places photographs and image overlays at specific coordinates can be zipped with images into a .kmz file, allowing us to preserve an in-tact package that does not rely on an outside server to work. Omeka, (and the associated neatline) by contrast, will only persist if the servers on which they are housed are maintained.

Ultimately, we found that each service created a unique viewing experience with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. The two other GLS interns and I are currently preparing our sites and content for public viewing so that one day our work might be available to any web or actual visitor to Dumbarton Oaks! We hope that you’ll check back in and visit our sites in the near future! www.planetable.org/omeka

Thanks for reading everyone, and good luck in future endeavors!

Garden Adventures, Past & Present


Notice where the top of the tree snapped off

By Alexis Del Vecchio,

July 10, 2012

Hello from the Dumbarton Oaks gardens! As one of three Garden and Landscape Studies and Gardens and Grounds “shared” interns, I am lucky enough to spend at least two days a week working in the gardens along with 12 full-time gardeners, 2 garden interns, and Gail Griffin, Director of Gardens and Grounds. We typically work Fridays and Mondays with the garden crews to prepare for weekend visitors and clean up after two days without regular maintenance. As a member of Miguel’s crew, I tend to the western, southern, and outlying portions of the property, including the East Lawn, the area south of the Refectory, in front of the Security Office, around the Guest House, and by the Director’s residence. While the work typically entails clipping, raking, trimming, making many trips to the back dumpster to dispose of plant material, and of course, a lot of watering, we’ve also participated in some more unusual garden work days. For instance, the Monday morning after the recent storm was spent disassembling a large, healthy sycamore branch that had fallen on to the North Vista, as well as cleaning up numerous other large limbs and branches that had fallen onto the garden. Last Friday we also helped Jane from GLS replant a portion of the water garden in the Ellipse. Many of the cattails had outgrown their containers, so we dragged them out of the water, divided them into four and replanted two of the four into larger containers.


Cattails now sit it much roomier pots


Herb Garden (predecessor to the Arbor Terrace) Planing Plan, Beatrix Farrand, 1933

As the GIS intern, my other task for the summer is to build on an existing Geo-database for Dumbarton Oaks that has been developed by former GIS garden interns and Paul Cote. Paul is the Geographic Information Systems Specialist at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and is interested in the preservation and consolidation of Geo-referenced data for an historic site such as Dumbarton Oaks. While past interns have reconciled CAD files from various sources to create the underlying GIS map, a tree database, and a terrain surface used to calculate historic cut and fill, as well as ADA accessible slopes, this year we’re focusing on Geo-referencing archival images, plans and sketches from the garden and its design to create an interactive, on-line exhibit. I’m focusing on the Arbor Terrace and its evolution from barnyard in the early 1700s to the site of Cao Perrot’s ‘Cloud Terrace’ installation today. If all goes well, my next blog post will detail the exhibit and invite you to test it!

About me:

I graduated from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design with a Masters in Landscape Architecture. Prior to graduate school I lived in Los Angeles and worked at a Landscape Architecture office, as well as taught art in Costa Rica. I have a BA in studio art from Yale University.