Tag Archives: Alexander Architectural Archive

“Inside Modern Texas” Opens This Thursday!

A new exhibit, “Inside Modern Texas: The Case for Preserving Interiors,” opens April 10th at 6 pm at The University of Texas at Austin’s Architecture & Planning Library.

“Inside Modern Texas” offers insight on interior design during the period 1945 to 1975, touching upon the development of the profession and the issues faced today in historic preservation. Texas interiors from this period serve as case studies to illustrate emerging ideas in design and practice.

The exhibit includes photographs, original drawings and printed materials from the Alexander Architectural Archive and the Architecture and Planning Library. Featured architects and interior designers include George L. Dahl, Harwell Hamilton Harris, Karl Kamrath, Howard R. Meyer and John Astin Perkins.

Emily Ardoin, a graduate student in the School of Architecture’s Historic Preservation program, curated the exhibit through a new program developed with the School of Architecture.  Head Librarian Beth Dodd hopes that collaborations such as this will provide graduate students with more opportunities to use the archives to produce new scholarship.

“We are always looking for ways to enhance the student experience, and curating an exhibit is an incredibly rigorous process that demands thorough research, careful selection and interpretation of materials, and exhibit design,” says Dodd.  “The endowment created by the late Professor Blake Alexander now enables us to offer our students this funded internship.”

Mid-twentieth-century buildings are gaining widespread acceptance as candidates for historic preservation, but few retain their original modern interiors. Because they are so closely connected to human activity, interiors can be especially important conveyors of historic significance, but they are highly vulnerable to changing tastes and functional requirements. The perceived impermanent nature of interior design components, and historic preservation legislation which often focuses on building exteriors, further complicates preservation efforts.

Repositories such as the Alexander Architectural Archive provide opportunities to study the history of design. “Because interiors are so vulnerable to change, teaching and research rely on libraries and archives for historic documentation,” notes Dodd.  “In this first exhibit, Emily had to dig deep to discover material in the collections of architects who were only starting to recognize interior design as a distinct profession.”

The exhibition will be on display in the Architecture and Planning Library reading room in Battle Hall through September, and is free and open to the public. The opening reception will be held April 10 at 6:00 p.m. in conjunction with the Society of Architectural Historians 2014 Annual Conference.

Inside Modern Texas: Behind the Scenes with Emily Ardoin

Last semester, Graduate Research Assistant Emily Ardoin, a Masters candidate in Historic Preservation within the School of Architecture, introduced us to her process behind developing a curated exhibit – from scratch! Very few have this incredibly unique and rewarding opportunity, and, needless to say, those of us in the library were beyond thrilled for her. As the Society of Architectural Historians Conference swiftly approaches, which coincides with the official opening reception of the exhibition, we decided to check in with Emily and get more details from the curator herself.

To recap, Emily was tasked with developing a display for the Reading Room in Battle Hall for the Spring 2014 semester. During her brainstorming phase, she sifted through myriad issues of Interiors magazine, Texas Architect, and more journals from the Architecture and Planning Library as not only a source for inspiration, but as a gauge for what materials were available to her within the walls of Battle Hall. As most of our library users can attest to, the Architecture and Planning Library is full of information (we’re lucky to say that!), so Emily utilized her Interior Design background, current Historic Preservation studies, and a time range from World War II to approximately 1975 to help narrow her foci and eventually land on a exhibition topic that was specific enough to pin down a clear focus, yet broad enough to encapsulate a spectrum of available archival materials.

Emily also noted that The Society of Architectural Historians Annual Conference, held this year in Austin from April 9th-13th, could also serve as a source of inspiration for unearthing an exhibition focus. While perusing the paper topics for the upcoming conference, Emily noticed one in particular: Placing the Profession: Early Contexts for Interior Design Practice in the US. This, in conjunction with her educational studies, helped Emily land on her topic of “Inside Modern Texas: The Case For Preserving Interiors.” Says Emily of the topic:

“The idea behind it is that, as much as modern architecture is gaining momentum in historic preservation [nowadays], interiors aren’t always considered. This is also true of buildings of other periods, but with modern interiors, significant characteristics like spatial relationships or lack of ornament can be especially difficult to recognize.  And commercial interiors are a challenge. There can be more pressure to update constantly when a forward-thinking image is considered important for the success of a business.”

To articulate her thought process visually, Emily divided her exhibition into three main parts, the first being a brief overview of modern interior design and its principles. As interior designers or architectural history buffs may know, interior design was still in the process of growing into its own profession during the mid twentieth century. Emily, in the first third of her exhibition, lays out the several factors that contributed to the profession of interior design in Texas, focusing on major influences, including the contributions of the Dallas Market Center. Harwell Hamilton Harris created the drawings for the Trade Mart within the Center, which the Alexander Archive possesses – a key example of the types of resources available!

The second part of the exhibition transitions to a chronological overview of interiors, sourced from the Archive and images from the library’s journals. These sections serve as an excellent primer for the final third of Emily’s exhibition: the challenges behind preserving modern historic interiors. To articulate her thought process, emily utilizes three case study examples in Texas: The Wilson House in Temple, former home and showroom of the founder of Wilsonart Laminate Company and current house museum for the same company; the famous Inwood Theatre in Dallas, which features a 1980’s bar addition to its 1947 lobby interior; and the Austin National Bank Building, now McGarrah Jessee Advertising on East 6th Street, a key feature in Austin’s adaptive reuse scene.

By doing exhaustive research and spending her working days fawning over the Archive’s incredible depth of modern architectural drawings, photographs, prints, and more (it was one of her favorite parts!), Emily has created a beautiful and thoughtful exhibition that draws attention to a highly relevant topic in preservation: the retention of historic interiors. Says Emily:

The interior of a building is what its users interact with directly, so it can serve as an especially informative historic record. That same direct interaction can be a challenge for continued use of the building. Adaptive reuse can be a very useful and practical preservation strategy, but it can result in quite a bit of change particularly to the interior. At the same time, not every historic building can be a house museum. You have to balance those priorities. It’s an interesting problem that historic preservation principles do address already, but whether the focus should be stronger is worth considering.

Emily, in the process of her curation, has uncovered so many provocative topics that could benefit researchers in the future. She has made sure to note when specific interior designers are referenced in projects she comes across, providing them to the archive staff to help with future collection. Interior design as it is today is a relatively young profession, so archival material can be more difficult to find. Though it may not seem like it for her now, Emily’s exhibition will go far beyond its display dates of late March to September 2014 – at least in terms of its research!

We are so excited for her work to be displayed concurrently with the Society of Architectural Historians Annual Conference. Please join us on April 10th for the opening reception!

Inside Modern Texas: Developing an Exhibit

I’ve been working all semester on a new GRA assignment in the Architecture and Planning Library/Alexander Architectural Archive, and I’m finally ready to let the word out. My task is to develop an exhibit for display in the Battle Hall Reading Room during the spring 2014 semester. See previous examples of Reading Room exhibits here and here. I’ve never worked in a museum or archive before, so the curating process was completely new to me. Here is how it’s happened so far.

After weeks of thinking about it, I chose to combine my interior design background and current focus in historic preservation and look at interiors of the modern movement as a consideration for preservation. First I set a few limits (modern nonresidential interiors, located in Texas only, between 1945 and around 1980). The next step was browsing hundreds of the Alexander Architectural Archive‘s holdings to find images that fit the theme. I also looked for background information on specific projects in the project files for various architects. This was my favorite part of the process. What could be more enjoyable than looking through beautiful drawings all day?

Browsing the Archive with Nancy Sparrow, Curatorial Assistant for Public Services
Browsing the archive with Nancy Sparrow, Curatorial Assistant for Public Services

Meanwhile, I completed preliminary research to inform the structure of the exhibit.  For this I discovered the reference collection located in the Reading Room. This area houses building code books and general reference volumes like encyclopedias, but it also includes great specific subject reference books related to architecture and design. Books such as A Century of Interior Design, 1900-2000 and Dallas Architecture, 1936-1986 helped me to establish a framework of development of the interior design industry and overall architectural development of Texas during the chosen time period.

I also decided to do outside research on recent historic preservation projects in Texas that gave some consideration to the original interior design. Several of these projects will be featured in the exhibit.

The next step was to outline the structure of the exhibit and select final images to display. Then came the title. The title needed to convey the subject (interior design), design era (modernism), time period (post-WWII), place (Texas), and the intent (consideration for historic preservation) in a concise and catchy package. After brainstorming and rearranging words what must have been hundreds of times, Inside Modern Texas: The Case for Preserving Post-War Interiors rose to the top.

Lots of behind-the-scenes tasks are still ahead to get this exhibit up and on display. Look for Inside Modern Texas some time in March.  Meanwhile, don’t forget to go beyond the stacks to the reference collection, Alexander Architectural Archive, and even special collections for your own research needs.

Karl Kamrath’s Stamp Left on Books Throughout the Library (Literally)

Throughout the past few weeks, I’ve been on a search for all 176 of Karl Kamrath’s books from the collection his children donated to the Architecture & Planning Library, with the goal to add a provenance note to each item’s record in the catalog (so all of you checking out books can know that it belonged to an influential architect!). At first, the project seemed just like just another task to complete – but it’s become so much more.

It’s amazing how much you can learn about an architect’s primary influences through the books he or she possessed. A hearty library is like a trophy for architects, and books are indispensable tools for practice. Karl Kamrath was immensely influenced by his friend Frank Lloyd Wright, and his dedication to creating organic modern architecture is what made him such a key player in Texas modern architectural history.

A little background: Karl Kamrath grew up in Austin and received his Bachelor of Architecture from The University of Texas in 1934. Upon graduating, he moved to Chicago, where he worked for Pereira and Pereira, the Interior Studios of Marshall Field and Co., and the Architectural Decorating Company. In 1937, he and another graduate of The University of Texas, Frederick James MacKie Jr., opened their own architectural firm, MacKie and Kamrath in Houston. MacKie and Kamrath were among the first Houston architects to follow a modernist approach to design for which they received national recognition.

Shortly after his 1946 return from a stint as a captain in the Army Corps of Engineers, Kamrath met Wright and immediately became an advocate of Wright’s Usonian architecture style. Kamrath became a member of the American Institute of Architects in 1939 and was elected to fellowship in the institute in 1955, and at various times served in an adjunct capacity at the University of Oklahoma, The University of Texas, Texas A&M University and the University of Oregon. He was also a founder and served on the board of the Contemporary Arts Museum from 1948 to 1952.

The fact that books owned by successful architects are circulating every day is a phenomenal asset of the Architecture & Planning Library. Other great collections include those of William Storrer, another Frank Lloyd Wright scholar, and Drury Blakeley Alexander, the namesake of the Alexander Architectural Archive, to name a few. I may be a little biased, but Karl Kamrath’s collection might be my favorite, mainly because of the diversity of publications and his signature ‘stamp’ that is found within the covers of most of his books.

Here are few that I’ve come across:

Perhaps my personal favorite, Kamrath drew his logo directly within Frank Lloyd Wright’s signature red box, found on most publications documenting his work. It’s clear just how influential Wright was on Kamrath.
Kamrath’s stamp can be found on a number of pages in some of his books. I thought this placement was especially unique.
Though faint, a raised stamp often accompanies many of Kamrath’s books with his logo, name, and FAIA association.
In addition to books with Kamrath’s personal stamp, many can be found with the joint MacKie and Kamrath firm logo.

Stamps aren’t the only thing you’ll find within the books of former owners. Notes or correspondence between friends and other practitioners is fairly common, and sometimes can leave you star struck.

Yep, that’s THE Mrs. Frank Lloyd Wright! This was taped on the back cover of The Grady Gammage Auditorium, call number NA 737 W7 A4 1964, within special collections.

Want to see some of these stamps and inscriptions for yourself? Here are a few that are circulating in the general collection:

Writings on Wright, Call Number NA 737 W7 W76, Copy 2
Frank Lloyd Wright: An Annotated Bibliography, Call Number NA 737 W7 S84, Copy 2
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Masters of World Architecture Series, Call Number NA 1088 M65 D7, Copy 4

The next time you check out a library book, keep an eye out for any markings on the front cover or amidst the pages; you might find a trace of its previous ownership. There’s hidden gems all over this library – it’s like a treasure hunt!

In addition to an extensive library with books in the general collection, special collections, and storage, The Alexander Architectural Archive possesses an incredible archival collection dedicated to the work of Karl Kamrath and the MacKie and Kamrath firm, including over 940 drawings, 530 black and white photographic prints, and even drafting tools. I’m a total sucker for hand drafted architectural renderings, and Kamrath produced some of the most beautiful that I’ve seen! If you have serious interest in viewing this collection, make an appointment with Nancy Sparrow to take a peak.

You Are Here: Austin Represent

On October 15th, UT Libraries will be hosting You Are Here: Austin Represent, an exhibition that offers the unique opportunity to learn about Austin cartography collections at the University of Texas. This is your chance to get up close and personal with select maps from from the PCL Map CollectionWalter Geology Library, and our very own Alexander Architectural Archive.

Come swing by the PCL Map Room from 11:30am-1:30pm to explore these incredible collections and witness our city’s development over time. Did we mention that FREE pizza is provided while supplies last?!

We hope to see you there!

Frank Moreland’s 1991 Trip to Paolo Soleri’s Home in Scottsdale, AZ

As I work through the Frank L. Moreland collection, I am frequently surprised and impressed by his original architectural ideas and style that brought him recognition as one of the leaders in the field of earth-covered dwellings and communities.  While arranging a collection, learning of an architect’s influences offers a new depth to understanding their methods. These glimpses of influence provide the context necessary to connect their work with their predecessors and contemporaries.

Today, as I began arranging Moreland’s travel photographs, I opened several envelopes with titles referring to another famous architect, Paolo Soleri.  This discovery was somewhat timely, as 2013 saw the passing of Soleri at the age of 93.  After receiving his Ph.D. in architecture, Soleri traveled from Italy to Arizona in 1947 to apprentice with Frank Lloyd Wright at FLLW’s Taliesin West.  Soleri eventually purchased land in Arizona to work on his vision of the future, where architecture and ecology were inseparable. He termed this philosophy “arcology.”

Moreland Touring Soleri’s Home in 1991

Frank Moreland traveled to Soleri’s home and FLLW’s Taliesin West in 1991.  By this time, Moreland was already an accomplished architect.  He had started his own successful firm, Moreland Associates, built earth-covered residences around the Fort Worth area, and completed official reports for agencies such as the US Department of Energy, FEMA, and the National Science Foundation.

The amount of direct influence of Soleri’s work on Moreland’s designs remains to be discovered.  So far, I have only come across a handful of photographs.  However, certain methods used by Soleri in the 1960s and after were integral to Moreland’s designs.  Most notably was the use of poured concrete structures.  Moreland became very interested in the use of poured concrete structures while pursuing his undergraduate and graduate degrees.  It is possible that he researched Soleri’s work during his time in school.

Regardless of the amount of direct influence, the fact that Moreland visited the home of the counterculture icon reveals that at some time, a connection was made.  These connections are essential to tracing the history of ideas throughout any field.  Soleri’s influence was certainly not the only one on Moreland, but it may have been an important one.  He was also an avid researcher of earth-integrated dwellings throughout history and around the world.  As an archives student, it is exciting to know that an effort is being made to preserve these connections.  As Soleri and Frank Lloyd Wright influenced younger generations of architects with their work, Moreland has done the same.  When Moreland’s materials are opened for research, they will be available once again to continue to influence a new generation of environmentally conscious architects.

Student Organizations in the Archive

Napkins on display. Source: eNEWS 11-20-2012

Thanks to Gregory Street, one of our Library Student Supervisors, the Archive has begun collecting records of the UT chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architecture Students (NOMAS).

As he was busy packing up for his six-month residency at the firm Overland Partners, Gregory, the outgoing President of NOMAS, took time to make a special donation to the Alexander Architectural Archive. NOMAS was incredibly active this year, building their membership, conducting a service project for Mendez Middle School, and holding a “napkin sketch” competition.  Such sketches often represent the seeds of designs that are later manifested in great buildings. This competition was NOMAS’ way of bringing together all programs and communities in the School while raising awareness of their organization.  The result is a unique representation of student, faculty and staff work.

During one of our morning breaks, I asked Gregory what NOMAS planned to do with the sketches.  We also discussed the importance of student organizations, and how it is difficult for members to ensure continuity and sustained knowledge for their leadership.  That’s where the archive comes in!  Especially during this era of centennial celebrations, we have seen a rise in scholars asking for information about the early days of programs and student life.  Student organization records reflect what students deem most valuable at a particular time in their education and their professions.  They reflect the work of future leaders.  Gregory recognizes the value of his organization’s work, and his effort in donating the NOMAS napkin sketch competition documentation is very fitting, serving as the seed of the NOMAS chapter archive and future collaborations with the University of Texas Libraries.  We look forward to supporting our student organizations and see a great future for NOMAS!

Wrapping up the Blake Alexander Project

Blake Alexander (fourth from left) and other faculty members from the School of Architecture, along with students, at a small restaurant in Round Top (or nearby), Texas. ca. the early 1980’s

I’m in the last few days of my project processing the Blake Alexander Collection, and while I’m happy that it’s nearly in a stage to open it up for researchers, I’m sad to leave.  I graduated a few weeks ago and am now moving on from my Graduate Research Assistant position.

The collection will be ready for researchers soon, and I hope that you are as excited as I am about its usefulness.  There are so many materials in the collection which could be used for so many different types of research.  However, the ones that I find the most useful are:

  • Curriculum Development at the University
  • Historic Preservation in Texas
  • The Architectural History Profession in the US
  • University campus and buildings history
  • Images of Texas architecture

I had the opportunity to present my work at the Society of Southwest Archivists Annual Meeting in Austin last week, and I’ve included the poster which I presented below.

Processing of a Foundation Collection: Blake Alexander’s Materials at the Alexander Architectural Archive
Jarred Wilson and Donna Coates at the Society of Southwest Archivists Annual Meeting in Austin

I chose the image above for this blog post because I feel like it does a good job of capturing the spirit of the School of Architecture at the time.  Blake Alexander gave so much of his time, energy, and efforts to promoting the historic preservation and architectural history programs in the School of Architecture and beyond, and I think that this photo speaks to the camaraderie which he fostered.  However, we don’t have all of the people in the photograph identified.  Do you know who some of them are?  If so, please comment on this post and let us know.  And, check back soon for a completed finding aid for this collection.

Wagner’s Ice House, across the road from the Winedale Historical Center. Summer 1986.(Click on the image to enlarge it)
  1. Jim Kistler
  2. Kathy Edwards
  3. Bob Harding
  4. Ann Yaklovich
  5. Ralph Newlan
  6. Maggie Gibbons
  7. John Mayfield
  8. David Franks
  9. Rick Lewis
  10. Anthony DeGrazia
  11. David Thompson

The God of B Hall

As we near the end of the academic year, many of us are starting to wax nostalgic about the time we have spent at The University of Texas at Austin.  Even though I’ve only been here for a relatively short two-year graduate program, I, too, have created memories in some of the University’s iconic buildings.  For over 100 years, Battle Hall has held a special place in students’ lives, and because of my time spent here I will always fondly remember the physical space I occupied as a student and Archive employee.

Early in the history of the School of Architecture (then Department of Architecture in the College of Engineering), students and faculty alike cherished another important building, B. Hall.  Brackenridge Hall, as it was fully known, stood on the east side of the main building, where steps now descend between Will C. Hogg Building and Garrison Hall over the Computation Center towards Inner Campus Drive.  Built in 1890, the building served as a dorm and was later converted to office space for various campus departments.  It was the gift of benefactor and University Regent George Washington Brackenridge.

B Hall, courtesy of UT Libraries

The building was built as a dorm for men, and students were to agree “not to play cards, or use liquor of any kind or indulge in any practice calculated to disturb the young men in their studies” (Lane, 284).  The building was also said to have spacious rooms with plenty of natural light and modern heating, lighting, and plumbing.  Also included was a restaurant where students and other University faculty and staff could eat dishes such as “Slice of cold ham” for 3 cents or “Slice of corned beef” for 11/2 cents (Lane, 285).

Goldwin Goldsmith came to the University in 1928 and in 1929 penned a poem titled “The God of B Hall.”  The poem alludes to the changes the building had experienced over the years.  While Goldsmith came to the University after B. Hall’s heyday had ended, the poem suggests that he was aware of the changes it had seen and the place of importance it held for the University.  The poem was recently discovered in a folder titled “History of the Architecture Department” in the Blake Alexander collection at the Alexander Architectural Archive.  While the folder contains a type written history of the Department of Architecture from 1932, which was known to Archive staff, the poem was a surprise and a pleasure to find tucked away in the back.




The God of B Hall


There are traditions in old B Hall.

Of the good old days of the dormitory.

Room and corridor, window and wall —

Each could undoubtedly tell its story.


There are traditions in old B hall.

They cling to the walls and hide in the corners.

And men come back in the early fall

Wand’ring about with the mien of mourners.


B Hall once was a place for sleeping;

A place for rest and for recreation.

Shall the old grads find it a place for weeping;

A place for sorrow and lamentation?


There are new tenants in old B Hall;

Tenants who know not the old traditions.

Yet, students they are and one and all

Thrilled with the fire of their great ambitions.


God of the Architects, great got Ptah!

Grant us the fire of inspiration

To work for the god of things as they are.

With the architect’s soul for true creation.


Truth is the basis for all design.

Truth should the architect’s soul enthrall.

Great god Ptah! thou saint benign!

Be thou the god of old B Hall.

For more information read the following:

For more information about the storied history of B. Hall and the reverence with which University alumni treated it, see Nugent E. Brown’s B Hall, Texas: Stories of and about the Famous Dormitory, Brackenridge Hall, Texas University (San Antonio, Tex., Naylor, 1938).

Information about B. Hall’s construction and its early residents and dining room menus were taken from John Jay Lane, History of the University of Texas.  Based on Facts and Records (Austin, H. Hutchings, 1891).