Vol.8, No. 2 • February 2000 
Architecture Online:
A Search Engine Review
by Mary Colette Wallace, Associate AIA President
The Wallace Research Group

The birds have had enough, both of Humanity on Earth and the Gods in the Heavens. And so, they decide to found a city in the clouds, between Heaven and Earth. They name it “Cloud-Cuckoo-Land.”
The Birds by Aristophanes

In June 1999, the architects of the world found a new design tool — a new search engine for the Web called Architecture Online []. This free search engine from the Brandenburg University of Technology at Cottbus, Germany, is only a part of an entire site devoted to architecture called Cloud-Cuckoo-Land that also contains an online journal, the International Journal of Architectural Theory []. In addition to the German origination site, there are two mirror sites for the online journal — a Russian mirror site [] and a second mirror site [] maintained by McGill University in Canada. All three constitute links to a language specific version of the journal and lead to the same mixed language search engine site, Architecture Online.

Cloud-Cuckoo-Land (CCL) refers to the utopia envisioned by The Birds in Aristophanes’ play. The site offers an international forum for online discussion of architectural theory. It also supports databases that provide access to research data, a network of libraries, an electronic journal of past topics, lists of architectural experts, new literature, and the Architecture Online  search engine.

In 1994, to encourage international participation in the forum, a group of 30 colleagues worldwide, collectively called “The Chair,” began to produce a six-language architectural dictionary used by the International Journal of Architectural Theory and the search engine Architecture Online. Today, The Chair consists of eight teachers and researchers who edit the trilingual online journal and review sources for the search engine.

According to Dr. Eduard Führ, editor of International Journal of Architectural Theory, CCL creates space between two spheres, space in which architectural theory can meet architectural practice, where creative ideas can confront banal reality. It offers a space where thinking is based on action, building on living, creation on its process, and art on the everyday. The architectural magazine CCL has, in an Aristophanian sense, attracted urban critics and theoreticians across all languages, cultures and disciplines as “inhabitants of its new world.”

The Search Engine
This [Architecture Online] is a search machine, which provides you with precise architectural results of your precise architectural search.

— Dr. Eduard Führ, editor, International Journal of Architectural Theory

Architecture Online is represented by the Greek letters alpha and omega in logo and meaning — first to last. Whether or not anyone considers the word omega in terms of architectural design, it is a potent word and holds out the promise of longevity and unique coverage through international cooperation and expansion of the search engine.

The word architect comes from the Greek — “archi” for chief or master and “tekton” for worker. The ancient connection between architecture and Greek culture stems from the three Greek Orders of Architecture: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian Orders (circa 650 B.C.). These Greek classical orders, styles, and visual proportions are considered the foundation of Western architecture. Later, the Romans (circa 500 B.C.) developed two more classical Orders — the Tuscan and the Composite — as well as new design and engineering principles.

During the past 15 years, the computer software and hardware industries have co-opted many terms from the architectural and engineering professions, resulting in major difficulties with search terms and search retrieval. While everyone else surfs the Net, architects wade through ghost retrievals — those with the correct spelling but totally wrong context and meaning. To architects, the Information Highway is a kind of high-tech Western motion picture street scene providing access to many facades but few buildings. Put in the search request “architecture AND online” in and you get 156 hits, with over one-third covering computer industry software developments.

It is the nature of architects to see design opportunities where others see problems. Inherent in every problem is an opportunity or answer. So it is entirely appropriate that architects envisioned, created, and now maintain the search engine Architecture Online. They decided a great need existed for a purely architectural search engine — one that would retrieve architecturally relevant results and information.

“The motivation for the work arose from disappointing results when using the normal search machines (e.g., Hotbot or Yahoo!). They provide us with a lot of results but very often without any context to the subject wanted. It has to do with the metaphorical use of original architectural terms, e.g., in the information technology; see for example ‘Hardware Architecture,’” explains Dr. Eduard Führ. The configuration of the search engine along with a source database and peer review gives the search engine precision in retrieval of architectural information. At this time, the search engine can search and retrieve English, French, German, Japanese, Russian, and Spanish language sites. The number of pages indexed is not available at this time, but the precision of this search engine is quite remarkable. Even when using the most difficult terms in English, there was less than 5 percent rate of dead links and moved-page references, with 95 percent of relevant and appropriate links and pages.

Interface Structure and Design
The Web site is elegantly designed with subdued color and minimal graphics. Accessibility is stable and no delays occur in loading because there are no advertisements except for the three links to other architecture sources. The site’s organization is practical and professional, with few icons to confuse or distract searchers or hamper loading times.

Bear in mind that the search engine has just begun its online existence and still has some kinks to work out. The improvement process involves regular and constant updating and tweaking. The first thing you notice is the search bar with three words on it. Two words you may understand; the third is in Russian. Since the Russian word sits on the same bar beside the words “Search” in English and “Suchen” in German, it hardly takes the Rosetta Stone to guess the meaning of the Russian term.

Text for the forms appears in German, while the search instructions page has an optional English translation (see figure 3 at left). However, form usage is so intuitive, usage will teach you the few German words you need to understand. Also, the German language shares many of the same root words as English. Some of the translations are Gefunden (Found) = hits retrieved; Tagen = day, Stunden = hours; Jeder Sprach = all languages; Anzeige = display; Weitere = further; and Ergebnisse = results.

The site interface is relatively easy to navigate, with one exception: The designers must have used a large monitor and forgotten about people who work on smaller screens. The page is visually divided in half — with search query button, pull-downs, and query window on the left side while the right carries the retrieval window. There are no frames to read the entire line of link information — unless you have a large monitor. To solve the problem, you have several options: For a small monitor, enlarge the window to its maximum size, slide the window off the edge of the screen, then enlarge the window again in order to fully see the retrieval side (unfortunately, this prevents access to the query side of the page without re-setting the screen); enlarge the window to its fullest extent, then use the back-and-forth scrolling as well as up-and-down scrolling to read the retrievals; buy a larger monitor; ask the site designers to correct this problem.

Drilling down two to three levels, there are pages not yet offered in all three languages. But these can sometimes go to unexpected gold mines of images. Many of the links connect to pages that use languages other than English but often have English translations or versions available as options. Even if a site seems to use only one language, you might find a little U.K. flag somewhere that links to an English version. Be a little adventurous, a little determined, and you’ll be rewarded with some truly remarkable architecture sites.

The architects plan to add more languages to the site to enable greater access to global architecture information. In the meantime, if you find a page that has no other language options, yet looks promising, you can easily find translation sites on the Web such as or

Hidden Aspects
Unless you read German, you might miss one of the best parts of this search engine — the page of hot links to 48 Architecture Schools & Universities in Germany, the page of hotlinks to 44 worldwide architecture journals, magazines, and newsletters, and the page of hotlinks to seven architecture museums. At this writing, these lists are only accessible in the German language “search tips” portion of the Architecture Online Web page, but an English version will soon be added. Also, the site continues to add new links to these categories and new categories. Look for the black lettered, underlined hot link lists:

One interesting item — if a search turns up “Mehr als 200” (more than 200) or some other number, you can keep hitting the “Anzeige” (display) right button at the bottom of the retrieval window and keep more hits coming in groups of 25 (see figure 4 on page 52). For instance, if you type in a search for “magazine OR journal” using limits “Englisch” and “365 tagen,” you’ll receive “Mehr als 200” at the top of the retrieval window. After scrolling and clicking the window to get to 200, if you continue to click the button “Anzeigen,” each retrieval page will give you “Mehr als 225,” “Mehr als 250,” “Mehr als 275,” and so forth.

Needed, Good, and Getting Better
The wonderful aspects of this search engine are a result of the fact that it is designed for and maintained by those in the architectural community. The search engine is free, yet it functions as smoothly and almost as accurately as high-priced, subscription fee databases. The large fees charged to access most architectural journals and magazines via databases cause most architects and architectural researchers to simply go without. Plus, most of these databases are image-deficient. You’re lucky if you get a line drawing — much less plans, elevations, sections, or photos. In architecture, images are extremely important features of articles and magazines. Since architects draw inspiration from images, and visions from ideas, one can only wonder what utopia might exist if architects had better online access to images.

Almost a year old, Architecture Online allows quick access to many primarily Eurocentric images at this time, a welcome addition to Western architects and architectural researchers. The creators continue to add links and sources each day, providing access to some spectacular architectural and urban photos. Bookmark this architectural search engine for a more global perspective in your searches.

Alternative Architectural Sources
Among the few indexes and directories for architectural sources, there is only one other genuine architecture search engine maintained by architectural and landscape architecture professionals: the Centre for Landscape Research at the University of Toronto []. Both the U.S. resource directory CYBURBIA [] and the U.K.’s ADAM — Art, Design, Architecture and Media [] — provide Western source coverage. Struggling to continue, ADAM remains in funding limbo. “Even if ADAM runs out of money, the database will still be made available in some shape or form even though the name might change,” says ADAM project leader Rebecca Levy.

Searching for architectural information can lead you to many confusing and very few satisfying places on the Web. And trying to Boolean your way through a regular search engine in an effort to narrow down a search and retrieve genuine architectural information doesn’t begin to cut it either. With Architecture Online users can find many sites that give case studies, sustainable building information, great photos and images, sources to European databases, and sites both inspirational and informative. Architecture Online makes the global architectural world much more accessible for architectural researchers. The search engine Architecture Online may not be utopia yet, but it’s a great start.

Mary Colette Wallace, Associate AIA, is president of The Wallace Research Group, providing research services to architects, engineers, and those in the building industries. To find out more, go to, or contact her at

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