Monday, April 7, 2008

Architecture Collection Issues

The sessions about architecture visual resources collections will be my last discussion topic from the VRA conference 2008 in San Diego.

The issues that architecture VR collections deal with are often very different from those that art VR collections do. Jodie Double Walz, the Director of Digital Collections and Archives at the College of Design at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, and I
co-chaired a session at the VRA Conference in San Diego called "Architecture and the Built Environment: Special Projects and Cataloging Issues."

Jodie moderated the session and also presented, "Vernacular Architecture: Capturing and Cataloging the Elegant Mundane."
Cataloging "vernacular architecture" presents many difficulties, the least of which is understanding what "vernacular" architecture is, and how the definition of it changes. Jodie discussed how a classification system accommodate temporary vernacular structures, or architecture under the radar - domestic and commercial structures destined to be outdated, replaced, or destroyed. Are these structures even "important" enough to be in a VR collection at all? (On a side note, we have a local example of "vernacular" achitecture being hotly debated this spring, which I may address in my next blog! with pictures!)

The first speaker of the session was Joe Romano, Visual Resources Curator in the Department of Art at Oberlin College. His presentation,
"From Blondel to Pugin: Architects as Authors & Theorists,"
discussed the complexities of cataloging illustrations from architecture treatises. Librarians have traditionally cataloged these treatises as books, with little regard for the illustrations within them. Architecture and architectural history faculty , of course, have a greater interest in these illustrations themselves than the actual books. The image must be cataloged at a "book level" and at an illustration level, and often the illustrator is different from, but of equal importance to, the author. Joe's presentation also dealt with the issues of digital "capture" from these rare, often delicate and/or unwieldy treatises.

The third speaker, Francine Stock, is the Visual Resources Curator at the Tulane School of Architecture in New Orleans. Her presentation was called
“Documenting the City: collaborative collection building with faculty and students."

Francine is a founding member of DOCOMOMO New Orleans, and taught a new course at the school of Architecture called “Regional Modernism: The New Orleans Archives." She collaborated with her students to locate and document the buildings damaged and condemned by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Using Google Earth, GPS Visualizer, and Flickr, the students photographed and identified buildings, which were then mapped to Google Earth.

You can read more about Francine's project at

and on Flickr at

It is a really compelling project - very dynamic and exciting! It is sure to inspire new projects and new methodology. Francine commented that New Orleans is losing an inordinate number of "mid-Century-Modern" buildings as the city os being rebuilt, and that the DOCOMOMO movement has become very string there. For more on this documentation and conservation group, see their website at:

Our final presentation in the Architecture Session was by Chris Hilker,
Director, Smart Media Center, School of Architecture, University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. Chris pulled together a compendium of web and print resources that are of great help in cataloging and finding information about architecture and the built environment. Many of those we resources can be found on the CAUP Visual Reosurces Collection's Web Resources page -

which now has a new and extensive Seattle Resources page as well, compiled by Josh Polansky, a GSA in the VRC this year.

All of the presentations from Session 12 will soon be on the VRA website, under conference highlights, at

Two other Architecture-related events were held at the conference as well that I will mention. The first was a lunch meeting for architecture collection curators as part of the VRA's "Birds-of-a-Feather" luncheons on common topics and interests. Chris Hilker and I were asked to co-host the architecture lunch and ten people signed up; it is our hope to organize a special interest group (SIG) for architecture and the built environment VR issues. I have already created a listserve of interested curators and we hope to begin lively discussions soon.

The second topic of note to the College was the announcement of a new project undertaken by the SAH (Society for Architectural Historians) called the Architecture Visual Resource Network (SAH AVRN). This collaborative project will take the form of a new online bank of architectural images to be used for reasearch and teaching. You can read more about this promising resource at

The SAH AVRN (let's hope they come up with something catchier!) will continue and enhance the work of the SAH Image Exchange, an online image bank begun in 1996 and including images photographed by a number of architectural historians. (The Image Exchange is included in the CAUP VRC web resources page here:

I think this project will be a great resource for us all - and it may be one that this collection can contribute some of its rich and unusual orignal images to in time!

Next time I will blog about the [in]famous Ballard Mannings/Dennys and will share some pictures I took of the boarded up gem/monstrosity (take your pick!)....

1 comment:

Rainer said...


Go vernacular architecture! As part of the built environment, all buildings have cultural value (some more than others) and deserve to be documented in a VR architecture collection. Whether or not the buildings deserve to be historically preserved is another issue. But for buildings that are destroyed, images in a VR collection become even more culturally valuable as historical records. And, sometimes buildings aren't recognized as "significant" until after they are destroyed. Nero's Golden House (if only the Romans had photographed and cataloged it), Mies' Barcelona Pavillion, and the Kingdome are cases in point.

Just thoughts...

Keep up the interesting posts!