1 The Vanburgh Landscapes

Seaton Delaval Hall, situated in Northumberland, just beyond the northern boundary of Newcastle, is a great house embedded in a large spreading landscape; yet it is also much more. It is a signpost pointing to the diverse history of a family which acquired land here in the late 11th century. The house occupies the site of a Norman settlement, and its original Norman chapel remains in use today. It is owned by the National Trust and is managed as a partnership with local people.

Built between 1719 and 1730 for Admiral George Delaval, it is not only the finest house in the north east of England, but also among the finest works of its architect, Sir John Vanbrugh, one of the masters of English Baroque. For 900 years, the estate has been a stage for drama, intrigue and romance while the surrounding landscape, owned by the family, has fuelled the industrial revolution.

Seaton Delaval begun in 1718, is actually the last of a series of such houses designed by John Vanburgh which were built over a quarter of a century. Others are Castle Howard (1699-1712) Kings Weston (1710-14) and Blenheim Palace (1705-1724). All tell coded stories of the families for whom they were constructed and carry the baroque icons of culture and ecology from Italy to England. Indeed, the life and times of the familes who commissioned Vanburgh, and his quirky interpretation of this short, yet critical period in the development of European architecture, can be read through the form and iconography of each house in its landscape. They are all of a piece, baroque islands. emanating from the mind of an outstanding polymath yet each tells its own story of time, memory and place

2 Seaton Delaval: a virtual ecomuseum?

The term “ecomuseum” came about in France in 1971. This time is marked by a will to reinvigorate the relationships between local communities and their sense of place. The concept of an ecomuseum thus reflects a concern about reinforcing the cultural connection as a dialoogue between an outdoor museum, its social surroundings and the wider environment.

An ecomuseum promotes the entirety of a local culture and heritage related to a geographical territory and sphere of human activity. This heritage can be material (artifacts, buildings or habitats) or immaterial (personal accounts, and local know-how).

An ecomuseum is a presentational focus for ecosystem services that define a local human ecological niche. As an experience for visitors It has things to picture, to relate, to ponder and act upon. It connects time and memory to place though words and pictures (colours, forms, shapes. plans, processes and stories).

Like all museums, an ecomuseum fulfills, among others, the functions of conserving, researching, exhibiting, educating and diffusing, to which a distinctly social and community role is added. As a result, it favours public participation in its activities; it is anchored in its community and contributes to its development.

An ecomuseum is therefore a dialogue between the environment and its people. Together with its community it explores the potential futures of communities, and the role of ecosystems architecture, design and the arts within these potentials. Besides the design of physical spaces in a locality, an ecomuseum will also engage with the role of the imagination, and how we construct for ourselves an image of place that we can share and with which we can identify.

The heart of an ecomuseum, like any kind of museum, is its inventory or catalogue of things that are valued as indicators and icons of the past, explain the present and which point to the future. These things are cultural artifacts expressed in the local scenery and in the social processes and ecosystem services that serve the community. They also activate the documentation and recording of people’s memories and stories, as well as art, music and other performances.

According to the National Trust's strategy document of Seaton Devaral, the 'Going Local 'programme will require nothing less than "a cultural revolution for the trust", "a new mindset and a new way of working". Yet it is essential, the organisation reckons, if it is to shake off the perception that "we are some sort of exclusive club for connoisseurs". In an objective dear to the heart of its outspoken chairman, the writer and commentator Simon Jenkins, the trust concedes it must "loosen up", "bring places more to life". Above all, it says, it needs to "put all our properties, built or natural, back at the centre of today's communities," fostering "local pride and a genuine sense of belonging".


There are many examples of real outdoor ecomuseums of which the Staffin ecomuseum is a good example to illustrate the type of artifacts in the inventory.

Exhibits of things in the Staffin ecomuseum

3 An on line open community directory

The idea of ecomuseum on line is being developed by Resilience-UK as part of an experiment in on-line social networking. Putting an ecomuseum on line presents it as an open community directory (OCD). The first project in this direction was the South Wales Three Gorges virtual gridded ecomuseum. The following two files illustrate the typical exhibits of an OCD.

The Hall

The next stage is to design a community network using the Google+ tools for social networking.