Hello! This is Abbie Norris, back with an update on the born-digital Volz & Associates, Inc. collection. For those who haven’t read my previous blog post, I am the digital archives Graduate Research Assistant at the Alexander Architectural Archives. I’m currently working on the Volz & Associates, Inc. collection, which documents the work of a historic preservation firm based in Austin, Texas.
When I published my previous post, the collection was in the midst of being processed. I’m happy to report that processing for this collection is complete – all 813 floppy disks, CDs, zip disks, and flash drives of it. Processing is one of the first major stages of getting a collection from the donor to the public. It’s when the bulk of archival preservation happens. In this case, as in many born-digital collections, “processing” involved imaging (essentially, copying) the disks, capturing metadata like disk size and file types, and recording everything for documentation in the finding aid. We’re now able to determine the size of the collection, the types of files, and what we need to provide access to them.
One of the things I love about born-digital archiving is the problems that arise that require creative solutions. This is especially true for an archive’s pilot born-digital collection, as is the case for Volz. Items like CDs and floppy disks degrade at a faster rate than paper materials, meaning that sometimes you try to open a disk that physically appears fine, and it won’t show any of your files. One major question people have is, “If all of the information is stored on a CD, why do you have to copy the contents in a disk image? Why can’t you just continue opening the CD to access the contents?” Luckily, the answer is simple.
Imagine you have a 13th century codex and a 1990s floppy disk. Which one is easier for you to read? With the codex, all you have to do is open it. It will be fragile and you might not know the language in which it’s written, but much of the information held in the book will be visible to you. Now, consider the floppy disk. When was the last time you used one? Does your computer still have a floppy disk drive? More than likely, the answer is, “No.” Even if it does, think about the files on that disk. Can you still open a WordPerfect document from 1992?
Given that the Volz collection dates between 1980 and 2009, the types of files present on the disk vary widely. Some, like .txt and .tif files, are still widely accessible and are projected to remain active filetypes in the future. Others, like .jpeg, are still accessible but are not recommended for preservation because of their lower quality and the potential for their use to cease. Finally, there are the files that you try to open with modern software…and nothing works. These files can be either old versions of proprietary software and discontinued software.
This is where creative solutions come in. There are a variety of tools, many borrowed from the criminal forensics world, that allows us to look at files from twenty years ago. Because the digital archive field is still developing and many of the projects use open access tools, the software an archive uses to read and provide access to old files can resemble a patchwork quilt. Now that I know exactly what types of files are in the collection, I love exploring access solutions and finding answers to questions that have persisted since I began working here.
In many ways, finishing processing feels like finishing the first segment of a relay race. I feel accomplished for finishing a major task, but there is still a long way to go. Now that processing is complete, we have to finish writing the finding aid and establish methods for researchers to access the collection. It’s going to be an exciting few months, so check back here to learn about what providing access to a born-digital collection looks like at the Alexander Architectural Archives.
Hello Battle Hall Enthusiasts! We may not have met yet, so I’d like to take a moment to introduce myself. My name is Mandy Ryan and I’m a Graduate Research Assistant at the Alexander Architecture Archives. I’m currently in my second year at the School of Information at The University of Texas and I’m about to finish my MSIS with a focus in archives. My position with the Alexander has been an incredible experience and I’ve gained a lot of knowledge about working in an academic archive and particularly with an architecture collection. In addition to being the processing archivist for analog materials, I’m also the resident facilities monitor and pest identifier. If you’re ever wondering what that creepy bug is in your office, I’m your go-to person.
The Volz & Associates, Inc. collection contains the construction documents, field sketches, and historic finishes for some of Texas’ most notable buildings and homes. This architecture firm specializes in historic preservation and the collection details the rehabilitation and remodeling of several Texas landmarks, such as the Gonzales County Courthouse and the Governor’s Mansion.
The analog materials are comprised of over 4,860 sheets of drawings, 192 linear feet or 187 boxes of papers, 20 boxes of historic building artifacts and samples, and 152 project binders filled with photographs and slides. Combined they document over 300 architectural projects undertaken by the Volz & Associates firm from 1987 to 2008.
I absolutely love working in the archives and processing is my favorite part because you never know what you’ll find in the collections. Working with the Volz & Associates, Inc. collection has been truly fascinating due to the sheer diversity in papers and documents contained in each box. In the course of my inventory, I’ve discovered everything from tile chips to field sketches.
It is remarkable to see the work and planning that goes into every project and to be able to read through the details from start to finish. Each project begins with historical research which documents the original drawings and construction notes and even includes the original paint colors or light fixtures used.
As of right now, the biggest part of my job is ensuring that we know as much information as possible about the collection, so that we can make it easier for our patrons to access all of the project materials.
I’m currently halfway through completing a large-scale inventory of the collection materials and drafting an appraisal report and preservation plan. The inventory and the plan will ensure that all of the materials are properly housed and preserved, while still allowing our faculty, students, and general researchers the opportunity toview it. This collection is truly one of a kind and I’m so grateful to be a part of it!
Hello again, this is Processing Archivist Kathleen Carter with more information on progress of the Alofsin archive.
As the processing of this collection comes to a close (things are nearly complete!) I’ve been at work on two standout areas of the collection: Anthony Alofsin’s student work from his years studying architecture at Harvard University and Columbia University and his professional work as an architect. In step with materials I’ve already processed, both contain a wealth of information and a large number of stunning visual materials. These are also the areas of the collection that contain the largest number of drawings by Alofsin, which currently fill a flat file cabinet.
Alofsin attended the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) from 1978-1981 and began researching the history of the GSD and design pedagogy there (which eventually led to his book on the history of the GSD, The Struggle for Modernism, published in 2002). The archive includes his course notes and design work, including architectural sketches and drawings and a model built as one of his first projects for the school. The Alofsin archive also includes notes and work created during his time at the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University, where he received Master of Philosophy and Ph.D. degrees. It was there that Alofsin began his research on Frank Lloyd Wright, and his doctoral dissertation was on Wright’s connections to Europe.
After completing his education and in addition to his teaching position with the School of Architecture at The University of Texas at Austin, Alofsin worked professionally as an architect. He designed his own residences, including a house and condominium in Austin, Texas, in addition to building homes for clients. This year he was named a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (FAIA), the highest membership honor reserved for architects who have made substantial contributions to the field.
Architectural plans as well as reports and documentation from every stage of the design process are included in the Alofsin archive. As with previous materials, I have carefully rehoused and inventoried all of the materials regarding Alofsin’s professional work. Both his student work and his professional work are organized and have been described in the finding aid of the collection to be available to researchers.
With these parts of the archive rehoused and inventoried, the project is getting close to completion! Remaining are some of Alofsin’s personal correspondence and administrative documents from his work as professor with the School of Architecture.
Hello, I’m Kathleen Carter and this is another post documenting my work processing the Anthony Alfosin archive.
As discussed in previous blog posts, Dr. Anthony Alofsin is a prolific writer. He is also an accomplished professor. So with all of his research and manuscripts carefully inventoried and rehoused, I’ve now moved onto another area of the Alofin archive: the course materials.
Dr. Alofsin has taught at The University of Texas at Austin since 1987 where he was instrumental in founding the School of Architecture’s Ph.D. program and has offered many courses over his career. Materials from these courses, especially from the architectural survey courses that provided overviews and comparisons of architecture from around the world and throughout history, are included in the papers that he donated to the Alexander Architectural Archive. Though some of these courses are no longer taught, the Alofsin archive contains their lecture notes, reading materials, syllabi, and many, many 35 mm slides used for lectures – 2,415 to be exact!
The slides include stunning images of architecture from around the world and provided the visual accompaniment for Alofsin’s survey courses on the history of architecture. A big part of processing this portion of the collection was rehousing all of them – each of the 43 carousels took an average of about twenty minutes to completely rehouse, which added up!
All of the slides were kept in slide carousels organized by each individual lecture, still arranged in the order that they were used in the class. While this was great for seeing exactly how the slides fit into Alofsin’s lectures, each carousel took up a great deal of space and wasn’t the best environment for the long-term storage and preservation of these slides. For their well-being, I carefully removed each from its carousel and (while maintaining their order) rehoused them into archival boxes. Here they will be more easily accessible and safe while still remaining in the context that Alofsin used them in the courses that he taught for the School of Architecture.
These slides, along with a great deal of notes and materials from courses that Alofsin taught, make up one of the most fascinating parts of the collection, but a small part of Alofsin’s overall career. Next I will be working on organizing and rehousing the administrative documents from Alofsin’s career as a professor at The University of Texas at Austin as well as some of his professional work as an architect.
This is Kathleen Carter again with another update on the processing of the Anthony Alofsin archive. The Central European Architecture materials have all been safely rehoused, leaving me with the next area of Alofsin’s research to complete.
As I mentioned in a previous post, Dr. Anthony Alofsin has been a prolific writer and has a dozen books and over 80 articles, essays, and reviews under his belt. In addition to When Buildings Speakand The Struggle for Modernism, work for two other of Alofsin’s books are currently in the collection of his papers.
First is A Modernist Museum in Perspective: The East Building, National Gallery of Art, published in 2009.Alofsin edited and contributed to the book, which contains a series of essays on the National Gallery of Art’s East Building in Washington, DC. The East Building contains the National Gallery’s modern and contemporary art and was designed by architect I.M. Pei (whose student work from his days at the Harvard Graduate School of Design also appears in the Design Education materials). Materials in the Alofsin archive include research that Alofsin accumulated on the East Building, drafts of his and others’ essays, and papers from “The East Building in Perspective” symposium hosted by the National Gallery that Alofsin participated in as moderator and speaker in 2004.
Another of Alofsin’s books that appears within the archive is Dream Home, What You Need to Know Before You Buy. Alofsin wrote Dream Home as a guide to buying a home and insight into the real estate industry. Alongside manuscripts and the final proof of the book are Alofsin’s notes and research. This includes many property listings used as resources for this book.
As these materials also all carefully rehoused into archival folders and boxes, this completes processing of Alofsin’s research records. Next up are the extensive materials relating to his role as professor of architecture, including the course materials for some of the classes that he taught!
This is Kathleen Carter again with another update on the Anthony Alofsin archive processing. The Design Education materials have all been safely rehoused, so I’ve moved on to the Central European Architecture materials in the collection.
In the early 1990s, Dr. Alofsin led a team of scholars from all over the world in a research consortium called “A Tense Alliance: Architecture in the Habsburg Lands, 1893-1928.” The Tense Alliance research project was supported by the Internationales Forschungzenstrum Kulturewissenschafe (IFK) research institute in Vienna, the Getty Research Institute, and the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA). Scholars explored the role of architecture in Central Europe and the project resulted in an international traveling exhibition “Shaping the Great City: Modern Architecture in Central Europe, 1890-1937.” Alofsin independently continued his research from the Tense Alliance project and also wrote the book When Buildings Speak: Architecture as Language in the Habsburg Empire and Its Aftermath, 1867-1933on emerging architectural styles of the late Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Both the field notes and research from the Tense Alliance project
and Alofsin’s work on When Buildings Speak make up the Central European Architecture materials of the Anthony Alofsin archive. Alofsin also made a point to have beautiful color photography taken of the architecture explored in his book. As a result, not only do the Central European Architecture materials contain accumulated research and multiple drafts of When Buildings Speak, but also thousands of stunning visual materials including photos, transparencies, 35 mm slides, and negatives.
As with the Design Education materials, I have been rehousing these materials into new archival quality folders and boxes. I’ve also been at work adding the Central European Architecture materials to a draft of a finding aid of the collection. The finding aid will eventually provide researchers with a guide to all of the Alofsin materials. While carefully placing all of these photographs into protective sleeves and papers into new folders is time consuming work, it’s necessary for their long-term preservation, and the materials themselves are incredibly interesting and beautiful to see. I’ve really enjoyed both working with them and the knowledge that in the future others will be able to access them as well.
Hi, I’m Kathleen Carter. As I detailed in my last blog post, I’ve been processing the Anthony Alofsin Archive, the papers of the University of Texas at Austin professor and author of several works on architecture. Currently, I’m in the rehousing stage of the project. I’ve been removing materials from their original boxes and folders and putting them into brand new archival folders and manuscript boxes. As with anything, these materials will age and may become unusable if not stored properly. By placing the papers into acid-free folders, putting all photographs into protective sleeves, and removing any damaging materials (for example, rusting paperclips), we can ensure that the Alofsin Archive will remain in good condition for as long as possible. To start with, I’ve been working on the materials that Dr. Alofsin collected on the history of design education.
The bulk of these materials are about the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD). Dr. Alofsin was commissioned by the GSD’s Dean Gerald McCue in 1985 to write a thorough history of design education at Harvard for its 50th anniversary in 1986 (also Harvard’s 350th anniversary). With editor Julia Bloomfield and research assistant Andrea Greenwood, Alofsin accumulated over six hundred pages of documentation on the history of school. These were used to plan the exhibition “The Founding Decades of the Schools of Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and City Planning at Harvard, 1895-1935” held at the GSD in 1986. Alofsin also laid down the framework for a multi-volume series about the school. While those books were never published, Harvard later passed the rights of the materials to Alofsin. He used the research to write The Struggle for Modernism: Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and City Planning at Harvard, published in 2002.
Drafts of both the original volumes and The Struggle for Modernism are in the Alofsin Archive. The research for the 1986 project and other materials on the history of design education accumulated by Alofsin have also found their home in the Alexander Architectural Archives. These records include interviews with GSD alumni and faculty, work by students dating back to the 1930s, charts of the evolution of the GSD’s courses, hundreds of photographic materials, and even papers from the personal archive of the first GSD Dean Joseph Hudnut.
These materials will all be described in a complete finding aid of the Alofsin Archive and available to researchers to see for themselves!
My name is Kathleen Carter and I’m a recent graduate with a Master’s of Science in Library and Information Science from Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts. I moved to Austin to begin work as the Processing Archivist for the Anthony Alofsin Collection for the Alexander Architectural Archives. The position was generously funded by Dr. Alofsin along with the donation of his papers. Since the end of July, I’ve been processing the collection of the University of Texas at Austin professor, award-winning architect, author, exhibit curator, and expert on modern architecture.
If Dr. Alofsin seems like a man who wears many hats, the Archive of his materials certainly verifies that. A major part of the Alofsin Archive is his personal library, now housed in Special Collections of the Architecture and Planning Library. The collection of books, academic journals, and other publications varies from several volumes on architect Frank Lloyd Wright (Dr. Alofsin is a leading authority on Wright) to art books to collections of Irish ghost stories.
This wide array of interests and professional work comes through in every part of the collection, and has made it interesting to work with. The approximately 57 linear feet of archival material follows Alofsin’s personal and professional life from his days as a master’s candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Design to the intensive research accumulated for several of his publications. Over his thirty-year career, Alofsin has published a dozen books, founded The University of Texas at Austin’s Ph.D. in Architecture, and kept up a professional practice as an architect (including designing his own home). Alofsin has also, as the creator of the collection and therefore the preeminent expert on its contents, proven to be an invaluable resource himself. His office in the School of Architecture is a few minutes’ walk from where I’m working on his materials. Meeting with him has provided me otherwise impossible insight into the collection.
While completing the detailed inventory of the collection, I found Alofsin’s drawings, both his student work for Harvard and for his professional practice, some of the most visually stunning parts of the collection. For his final project at Harvard, Alofsin created a design for a new Boston City Hall. For another student project, Alofsin visited Jerusalem in 1980. The collection includes drawings and several 35mm slides of the Jerusalem Gates that he took on the trip. Later work includes drawings and plans for an addition to a historic home in Santa Fe, New Mexico and the plans for his own Austin, Texas home.
Other highlights of the collection include his work as a professor. The complete lectures and slides for Alofsin’s Survey courses on the history of modern architecture make up a substantial part of the collection. These allow for the study of courses which no longer exist and include an abundance of stunning visual material. Many photographic materials also exist for the body of research that Alofsin completed on Central European Architecture. Photos of beautiful architecture in Vienna, Prague, and Budapest used in Alofsin’s book When Buildings Speak: Architecture as Language in the Habsburg Empire and Its Aftermath, 1867-1933 fill several folders of the collection. Carefully rehousing all of these photos to preserve them for future research will make up the next large part of the project.
Along with rehousing and description, I will also create a complete archival finding aid of the materials. The finding aid will be available online and the collection open to researchers, allowing for the discovery of the wealth of information available within the Anthony Alofsin Archive.
Now one of the largest repositories of its kind in the United States and housed at UT-Austin’s venerable Battle Hall, the Alexander Architectural Archives began as an associate professor’s private passion, an ad hoc gathering of student reports written for the “Survey of Texas Architecture” course taught by archives namesake Blake Alexander (1924-2011). For the class, which Alexander, a Texas native and Longhorn alum, began teaching in the 1960s, students were sent into the field and also into reading rooms of city and county libraries and archives across the Lone Star State to research land titles, conduct oral interviews, and photograph and make measured drawings of Texas buildings. Students wrote about and drew a wide swathe of edifices, some of which no longer stand, lost to indifference or to the vested interests of urban developers; some of which are currently under threat, like Austin’s Palm School, named for 19th-century Swedish immigrant Swante Palm, a diplomat and bibliophile whose donated book collection essentially started the University of Texas’ library system and whose house stood just off Congress Avenue, right where the thermal-glass tower Texas Monthly calls home now looms; and some of which, through the rugged persistence of high-minded preservationists like Alexander and his indefatigable colleague Wayne Bell, have been saved from the wrecking ball and repurposed, like the old Lone Star Brewery complex in San Antonio that today is the San Antonio Museum of Art. Buildings grand and mundane, commissioned and vernacular, everything from aristocratic 19th-century hotels to lowly log jails, were documented by students in these class reports, which were kept personally over the years by Alexander until the collection outgrew both his office and a storage room known as “Alexander’s closet” and were transferred to the care of what is now The University of Texas Libraries.
Since then, the Alexander Architectural Archives has grown into a major collection of over 280,000 drawings, 1,150 linear feet of papers, and some 300,000 photographic items related to architectural projects not just in Texas but throughout the United States and abroad as well. Though now just a fraction of the archives’ total holdings, Alexander’s seed assemblage of student reports—formally the Texas Architecture Archive (TAA)—still retains a special position with both archives staff and researchers. Its materials get heavy and loving use, so to provide even better access to this signature collection, archives staff spent much of last summer and fall reviewing and updating descriptive metadata for each and every one of the nearly 1,400 student reports. When needed, these reports, filling more than 25 record storage boxes, were also individually rehoused into acid-free folders, though it should be noted that most of these reports, many of which were written over half a century ago, well before personal computers and inkjet printers became fixtures in campus dorm rooms, are in fine fettle given the high-quality, durable cotton paper (sometimes watermarked with a vintage University of Texas bookstore logo) on which students typed their final drafts. With enhanced metadata (project dates, architect names, location information) researchers will have new access points and avenues into the collection, whether they’re looking for scholarship about a well-known Texas architect (Abner Cook, Nicholas J. Clayton, James Riely Gordon, to name a few) or have more general queries about historic structures within a specific city or county.
Richer metadata has also allowed us at the archives to begin exploring different ways to visualize the collection’s wide-ranging materials, the vast majority of which are related to the built environment of Texas. For instance, we’ve been able to use Palladio, a free browser-based digital humanities toolset developed at Stanford, to map the subject locations of each student report.
Not surprisingly, most students wrote about buildings and structures in Travis County or in cities and towns a (relatively) short drive away along the I-35 corridor north to Dallas-Fort Worth or south to San Antonio, a route that roughly follows the scalloped curve of the Balcones Fault. Conversely, the map reveals how strikingly few structures west of the Hill Country were researched. The Llano Estacado of the Lubbock area or, further south of that, the Trans-Pecos region near Fort Stockton, are more onerous distances from Austin, and impecunious pupils no doubt preferred to examine historic structures closer to the Forty Acres. One of the buildings written most frequently about, the Greek Revival Neill-Cochran House, built in 1855, is just a few short blocks from Guadalupe Street, the university’s main commercial drag. The mapped reports also simply mirror well-established historical trends of 19th– and 20th-century settlement in Texas, the limits of which were always around the 98th meridian, east of which there was enough (if not plenty of) rainfall and west of which there was land so dry that it was difficult to cultivate, making both town-building and its byproduct architecture risky propositions.
Over the next few months we’ll be writing posts meant to illuminate how the Texas Architecture Archive student reports make visible this intersection between the architecture and history (natural, social, political, industrial) of the Lone Star State. Above all, the hope is that this occasional series, which we’ll call Tales from the Texas Architecture Archive (or Tales from the TAA), will convey the elemental pleasure of time spent in our archives. Whether the subject is food, transportation, entertainment, military affairs, or demographic shifts, architecture is everywhere a foil to life. It’s always there, shaping or reflecting the world at large, a locus or backdrop to the lives we lead.
One of the more delectable documents in the TAA collection is a 59-page report on the history of Austin’s Enfield Grocery. Designed by Hugo Kuehne, founding dean of UT’s School of Architecture, it was built in 1916 with barge-board trimmings by locally-renowned Swiss woodcarver Peter Mansbendel. It offered “staple and fancy groceries” until after Prohibition, when it became The Tavern, a neighborhood beer joint. (A sports bar operates there today under the same name, serving sinfully good queso burgers on kolache buns to sudsy Longhorns fans who gather to watch televised games.) For her report, written in 1987, the student interviewed one C. J. Schmid, an old-timer who recalled the motley regulars who’d drink there in the 1930s, including Mansbendel, Paul Cret, the architect who developed the UT campus master plan, and Italian-born sculptor Pompeo Coppini, who worked with Cret on UT’s Littlefield Memorial Fountain and whose bronze figures of Jefferson Davis and Woodrow Wilson were removed last August from their prominent limestone perches on UT’s South Mall. (They eventually will be on display at their new home, the Briscoe Center for American History.) In the interview, Schmid lamented that The Tavern’s current “kindergarten” clientele was objectionably green and boorish and that fellows of his advanced age therefore avoided it, as they did Scholz Garten, where the snot-nosed college kids “kind of looked ill-kept, you know, all whiskered up” and had “stringy hair, you know, kind of greasy.” As for the waitresses, Schmid opined, “soap was not their main possession.” We can see from the TAA collection’s student reports, then, that while buildings come and buildings go, some things, like griping about younger generations and the newest out-of-towners (a seemingly inexhaustible parlor game in Austin) never change.
Last week, Katie Pierce Meyer received an advanced copy of Architecture and Urbanism’s (A+U) special feature issue on the Kimbell Art Museum in Dallas Texas, which was designed by Louis I. Kahn (1972). Much like the theme of this issue- highlighting the collaborative design process between Louis I. Kahn, Dr. Richard Fargo Brown, and the office of Preston M. Geren & Associates- this special feature was a collaborative effort between the School of Architecture, the Architecture & Planning Library, and the Alexander Architectural Archive.
The seed for the issue began with the archive’s exhibition series, To Better Know a Building. The first exhibit featured the construction drawings of the Kimbell Art Museum from the Preston M. Geren Drawings. Through the coordination of Professor Wilfried Wang, O’Neil Ford Centennial Chair in Architecture at the University of Texas School of Architecture, and Nancy Sparrow, the archive’s Curatorial Assistant for Public Services, this special feature issue came to fruition. Professor Larry Speck, The W. L. Moody, Jr. Centennial Professor in Architecture at the University of Texas School of Architecture, contributed an essay. Katie Pierce Meyer, the interim APL Librarian, interviewed Frank H. Sherwood and Dewayne Manning, who both worked on the Kimbell project through the office of Preston M. Geren & Associates. The Alexander Architectural Archive contributed numerous drawings from the collection. In addition to the drawings included in the issue, the archive also holds structural, mechanical, and electrical drawings as well as photographs. Finally the Kimbell Art Museum and Carlos Jimenez from Rice University made contributions to the publication, photographs and an essay, respectively.
The library has not yet received a copy of this issue; however, it should hopefully be available on the new book table by late summer or early fall!
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