For the past seven years, UT’s School of Architecture has been posting videos of lectures, forums, and other presentations hosted by the school to their dedicated Vimeo page. The turnaround is superb; many events held just this fall, like a talk given in October by alumnus Craig Dykers of Snøhetta, are already available online for anyone who missed them, whether for reasons geographical (hard to find a cheap flight from Oslo) or spatial (they simply couldn’t find an open seat in the packed lecture hall).
For the past three years, we at the Alexander Architectural Archives also have been working (until now behind the scenes) to provide online access to past School of Architecture events, albeit from a different, earlier era, when programs were recorded on audio cassettes instead of HD video. Cassette tapes, unfortunately, are a notoriously unstable storage medium. Their magnetic tape is particularly susceptible to degradation through processes like acid hydrolysis. So, since 2013, we’ve been collaborating with Digitization Services at UT’s Perry-Castañeda Library to digitize a collection of approximately two hundred cassette recordings of interviews and public lectures given at the School of Architecture during the 1980s and 1990s by prominent architects and architectural historians from both the United States and abroad, including AIA Gold Medalists Ricardo Legorreta, Charles W. Moore, Glenn Murcutt, and César Pelli, among others.
Once reformatted, we review all the audio to capture index terms like persons, places, subjects, and architectural buildings and sites mentioned by speakers so that when the digital files are uploaded to Texas ScholarWorks, UT-Austin’s institutional digital repository, keywords and other descriptive metadata can be added with the files to facilitate search and discovery of the recordings. The audio review process can be arduous, as the original recordings, many of which were of slide lectures, have neither transcripts nor listings of images. Often we must ascertain, through minimal verbal description, which building an architect might have been talking about at a given moment during a lecture, even though someone in the audience at the time would have known immediately simply by looking at the slide being shown.
So far around one hundred of these cassettes have been digitized. Of these, we’ve currently ingested digital versions of over twenty-five of these historic programs (each program might have several .mp3 files associated with it) into Texas ScholarWorks. Anyone with a University of Texas EID can sign in and download and listen to them. (The collection can be browsed and bookmarked here: https://repositories.lib.utexas.edu/handle/2152/43672) We also encourage outside researchers who don’t have immediate access to contact us (firstname.lastname@example.org) should they want to listen to any particular recording, which we anticipate they will. To read secondary literature about Fay Jones, for instance, is one thing. To listen to his understated, gentlemanly Arkansan drawl reveal the inspiration behind some of his most cherished and sublime of works—how, say, Thorncrown Chapel winks at Sainte-Chapelle—is incomparably more beguiling.