Tag Archives: Alexander Architectural Archive

Disk ≠ Image: Creative Solutions to Issues in Born-Digital Processing

Hello. It’s Abbie again, back with another installment on processing and publishing the Volz & Associates, Inc. collection. I recently had the opportunity to present on this collection at The University of Texas’ 2019 Digital Preservation Symposium, where I discussed some of my solutions to born-digital access and preservation issues.

In the course of processing this collection, some of the most significant roadblocks were related to problematic disk images and metadata generation. These revolved around two distinct media types: zip disks and CDs. The collection contains 85 inventoried zip disks. When these were imaged and analyzed in BitCurator, the report came back riddled with error messages. Even though the disk images had been generated successfully, something was keeping fiwalk from generating the correct metadata. This made it impossible to determine necessary information like disk extent, content, and the presence of possible PII or malware.

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Results for the zip disk analysis. Not what you want to see!

When processing CDs, I noticed a group of about a dozen disks each had the exact same metadata. While some similarities are expected, I thought it was strange that that many disks from different projects could each have identical specs. I analyzed the disk images and physical disks and found that they were all CDs of photos processed by the same company. The original content of the disks had been overwritten by the company’s built-in structural and technical metadata, making the disk images virtually useless for research purposes. However, when these disks were mounted in FTK Imager, a write-blocked environment, it became clear that the original images were still extant – they just weren’t being picked up in the disk images.

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Optical disks with identical metadata.

In both of these cases, I knew that the original content could be reached but didn’t know how to access it while adhering to the best practices set up by both the digital archiving community and the resources at my disposal. The disks with these issues amounted to nearly 1/5 of the imaged collection, and many hours of research and testing were put into how I could reprocess this information. Ultimately, I found myself faced with a choice – I could either preserve inaccurate representations of the disk by retaining the existing disk images or preserve inaccurate representations of the metadata by extracting extant files instead of preserving a disk image. The issue with preserving the metadata as it stood was that it was wrong to begin with, and the resources at hand didn’t provide a solution.

When thinking about how best to reprocess this information, I was drawn to this quote from a study undertaken by Julia Kim, the Digital Assets Manager at the Library of Congress:

“Most of the researchers emphasized that if it came to partially processed files or emulations and a significant time delay in processing, they would take unprocessed and relatively inauthentic files. Access by any means, and ease of access were stressed by the majority.”

“Researcher Interactions with Born-Digital: Out of the Frying Pan and into the Reading Room,” saaers.wordpress.com

While we certainly don’t want to prioritize patron opinion over archival standards, this quote made me question whether sacrificing access and preservation to retain imperfect metadata could truly be considered “best practice.”

Working closely with the UT Libraries Digital Stewardship department, I created a workflow whereby I extracted files using FTK Imager and generated SIPS and a bulk_extractor report using the Canadian Center for Architecture’s Folder Processing Tool in the BitCurator environment. The only impact on the metadata was a change in the “Date Modified” field, which now showed the date the files were extracted and could be amended to reflect the most recent date in the file tree. While this is an unconventional approach to digital preservation, the resulting AIPs and DIPs are better representations of the original disks and will allow us to provide more comprehensive data for future researchers.

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The amended workflow.
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Our new results.

After my presentation, I had the opportunity to talk to a digital archivist about this workflow. We discussed how best practice is ultimately not about perfection, but about preserving and providing access to our materials and documenting the process. While somewhat contrasted from the theoretical approaches I’d both learned in class and adapted from online resources, this approach seemed more natural to me. It affirmed both my processing decisions and the opinions I’ve developed about what best practice in the archival community is and should be. This process has shown me how vital the user is to the archive, especially when developing workflows for digital materials.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I love having opportunities to exercise creativity and problem solving in this position. It’s even better when those opportunities lead to breakthroughs that help me grow professionally and enhance the data we provide patrons. I’m excited to see new developments in our born-digital workflow as we get closer to making this collection available to patrons. Check back soon for a (final?) update from me – I hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about the behind-the-scenes work of born-digital archiving.

Consider the Floppy: Exploring Access Issues with the Volz & Associates, Inc. Collection

A black 3.5 inch floppy disk with a label reading "RJA: Geomsn.zip"
A floppy disk from the Volz & Associates, Inc. collection.

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.

Volz & Associates Collection: The Analog Edition

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.

Field Sketches for the St. Patrick’s Cathedral completed approximately 1994. This was part of an initial condition assessment that outlines potential issues to be addressed during renovations.
Field Sketches for the St. Patrick’s Cathedral completed approximately 1994. This was part of an initial condition assessment that outlines potential issues to be addressed during renovations.

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.

Historical research on The Allcorn House compiled by Volz & Associates, Inc approximately 1995. Historic preservation requires in-depth research into the building and can even mean pulling historical photos or land deeds to ensure accurate revisions and preservation. The above photo shows photographs provided by Jane Barnhill that show original structure of the Allcorn House, plus scanned copies of the original land deeds from1834-1841 and 1878-1888.
Historical research on The Allcorn House compiled by Volz & Associates, Inc approximately 1995. Historic preservation requires in-depth research into the building and can even mean pulling historical photos or land deeds to ensure accurate revisions and preservation. The above photo shows photographs provided by Jane Barnhill that show original structure of the Allcorn House, plus scanned copies of the original land deeds from1834-1841 and 1878-1888.

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.

Field sketches and wood samples from the Garten Verein in Galveston collected between 1995 and 1996. The wood samples from the window frames and roof line were sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Product Laboratory to be studied for traces of fungus that could cause rapid decay.
Field sketches and wood samples from the Garten Verein in Galveston collected between 1995 and 1996. The wood samples from the window frames and roof line were sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Product Laboratory to be studied for traces of fungus that could cause rapid decay.

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.

Part of my role has been to conduct a large-scale, item level inventory of the collection. On the screen is a detailed spreadsheet that allows me to take notes about the box, folder, and items discovered. I can provide relevant dates, preservation notes, and details that will help with the overall arrangement of the collection.
Part of my role has been to conduct a large-scale, item level inventory of the collection. On the screen is a detailed spreadsheet that allows me to take notes about the box, folder, and items discovered. I can provide relevant dates, preservation notes, and details that will help with the overall arrangement of the collection.

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!

The Volz & Associates, Inc. Collection: Born-Digital Initiatives at the AAA

One of the many structures VOH Architects worked on: the Littlefield House on the University of Texas at Austin campus.
One of the many structures VOH Architects worked on: the Littlefield House on the University of Texas at Austin campus.

Hello! My name is Abbie Norris, and I am the current digital archives Graduate Research Assistant at the Alexander Architectural Archives. My primary job is processing the born-digital content received in the Volz & Associates, Inc. collection. This collection contains the records of the Volz & Associates, Inc. architecture firm, which is focused primarily on preserving and restoring historic buildings and interiors. The collection showcases notable buildings from Texas and United States history and is an excellent resource to discover how much is needed to keep historic buildings authentic and alive.

A gray CD reading "Images for Volz: Elisabet Ney Museum, April 2007"
A sample CD from the collection. Born-digital archiving requires preservation two ways: retention of the original media and capture of the data for long-term storage.

The Volz Collection is significant to the Alexander for several reasons, but most importantly, it is the archive’s first large-scale born-digital accession. In addition to analog records and building materials, the collection includes roughly 450 floppy disks, 250 CDs, 90 zip disks, and one lone flash drive. These materials document the life of the firm from the early 1980s to the mid 2010s. So far, we have imaged over 100 filetypes representing everything from office files to construction reports to historic photographs. It’s a diverse array, and as the project moves forward, we’re faced with many questions about how best to provide access to researchers.

As diverse as the filetypes are the kinds of buildings included in the collection – though many are tied by one important identity. Volz  worked on buildings of many functions, styles, and preservation needs. While these buildings span the United States, the majority of them are located in Texas. Included are the Governor’s Mansion, the Alamo, the Lyndon B. Johnson Ranch, and the Alexander’s own Battle Hall. I love working with this visual representation of Texas history. Whether it’s by noticing design similarities between county courthouses or the way historic landmarks are used and maintained, the collection is an in-depth look into how architecture shapes our state and its identity.

Scaffolding covers a green dome atop a white tower.
Restoration underway on the Colorado County Courthouse dome. Photo credit: Volz O’Connell Hutson Architects, (http://voharchitects.com/projects/colorado-county-courthouse/).

In my four months of working with this collection, I’ve learned an incredible amount about both the intricacies of born-digital archiving and the breadth of work architects do. Through the frustration of software bugs and the triumph of imaging previously unreadable disks, this is a fascinating collection that provides many learning opportunities.

The next steps of the project are to finalize the creation of a finding aid for these born-digital materials and to determine methods of access once the collection is published. Check back here soon for collection updates and an in-depth look at the world of born-digital archiving at the Alexander Architectural Archives!

Alofsin Archive: Student Materials and Professional Work

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.

A model Alofsin made for his coursework while a student at Harvard University in 1978
A model Alofsin made for his coursework while a student at Harvard University in 1978

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.

Notebook containing course notes for a Design course that Alofsin took at the Harvard Graduate School of Design
Notebook containing course notes for a Design course that Alofsin took at the Harvard Graduate School of Design
Notebook containing course notes for a Romanesque Architecture class Alofsin took at Columbia University
Notebook containing course notes for a Romanesque Architecture class Alofsin took at Columbia University

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.

Plans for the Rogers Residence
Plans for the Rogers Residence by Alofsin in 2008

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.

Photos of Alofsin's personal home in Austin, TX, which he designed
Photos of Alofsin’s personal home in Austin, TX, which he designed

 

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.

Alofsin Archive: Course Materials

The original carousels that housed all of the lecture slides, now empty
The original carousels that housed all of the lecture slides, now empty

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!

Slides from the Survey III course that Alofsin taught in their new housing
Slides from the Survey III course that Alofsin taught in their new housing

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.

One of the five boxes now containing all 2,414 lecture slides
One of the five boxes now containing all 2,414 lecture slides

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.

Alofsin Archive: Writings

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 Speak and The Struggle for Modernism, work for two other of Alofsin’s books are currently in the collection of his papers.

A Modernist Museum in Perspective, edited by Alofsin
A Modernist Museum in Perspective, edited by Alofsin

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.

Page from the final proof of Dream Home
Page from the annotated final proof of Dream Home

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!

Alofsin Archive: Central European Architecture

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.

Research notes by A Tense Alliance scholar Monika Platzer
Research notes by A Tense Alliance scholar Monika Platzer

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, 1867-1933 on emerging architectural styles of the late Austro-Hungarian Empire.

 

Both the field notes and research from the Tense Alliance project

Color layout of When Buildings Speak pages
Color layout of When Buildings Speak pages

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.

Transparency of a photo taken by Hans Engel for When Buildings Speak
Transparency of a photo taken by Hans Engels for When Buildings Speak

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.

Alofsin Archive: Design Education

Alofsin Archive Design Education materials rehoused in their new manuscript boxes
Alofsin Archive Design Education materials rehoused in their new manuscript boxes

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.

 

Alofsin's book on the Harvard Graduate School of Design published in 2002
Alofsin’s book on the GSD

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.

 

GSD student Raymond F. Leonard's 1931 thesis, an example of student work accumulated in the archive
GSD student Raymond F. Leonard’s 1931 thesis, an example of student work Alofsin collected

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!

A photograph from the archive of early GSD students working in the historic Robinson Hall
A photograph from the collection showing early GSD students at work in the historic Robinson Hall

Work on the Anthony Alofsin Archive

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.

 

Some of the materials that make up the Anthony Alofsin Archive
Some of the materials that make up the Anthony Alofsin Archive before they are arranged and rehoused.

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.

A drawing by Anthony Alofsin created as a part of his coursework at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 1979.
A drawing by Anthony Alofsin created as a part of his coursework at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 1979.

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.

 

Anthony Alofsin's book, When Buildings Speak, published in 2006.
Anthony Alofsin’s book When Buildings Speak, published in 2006.

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.