Tag Archives: conservation

Wait – a Library Isn’t Just a Library?

Many students perceive a library solely as place to read, study, or perform research for their school-assigned projects. As an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I shared this sentiment; I rarely encountered projects in my specific courses that required me to do extensive research, and so the stacks that surrounded me while I studied and wrote papers went largely unnoticed.

Now, as a first-year UT graduate student and Graduate Research Assistant at the Architecture & Planning Library, I feel like I am getting a second opportunity to explore the riches that lie within the walls of a library. In some ways, I almost feel like many of the undergraduates using the library for the first time: in awe and slightly overwhelmed at the sheer amount of information that’s accessible. How had I never come across or searched on my own for a goldmine like this before?

My first stop in my exploratory journey to better familiarize myself with the Architecture & Planning Library was only a few feet to the right of the circulation desk: the New Books table. This table is full of recently published, newly purchased books, which are updated on most Tuesdays. Martha, the Architecture and Planning Librarian (if you haven’t met her before, absolutely seek her out – she’s an amazing resource!), instructed me to pick out whatever looked interesting. As I sifted through books ranging from The Collected Letters of A. W. N. Pugin to Europe’s Changing Geography, I settled upon a clean, white, modern-looking hardcover, whose spine was simply adorned with the word “Architecture” in pale blue text.

I had ended up selecting volume one of four in a series entitled Meuser Architekten / Building and Projects 1995-2010, written by the principals of Mueser Architekten, a comprehensive design firm based in Berlin, Germany, with work done across the world.  Volume one focuses on Architecture, as expected; the other three encompass Interior Design, Diplomatic Missions, and Exhibitions/Signage.

Mueser Architekten: Architecture offers valuable insights into the philosophy and influences behind the firm’s modern design practice in Europe and Asia, focusing on three topics: urban construction, prefabrication, and conservation. In addition to summaries, photographs, and drawings of both their built and conceptual work, the Mueser principals preface each topic with beautifully arranged and thoughtful essays commenting on how they perceive their world, all while bringing in personal anecdotes and discourse from other experts in the field. Their written work touches on hot topics such as new construction materials, sustainability, the goals of modern architecture practice, conservation rationales and their morality, and more – and keep in mind, this is just volume one of four!

Architecture is a fascinating profession in the sense that it’s a career of continuous learning. Being versed in architectural history is imperative to its practice, yet history is also being written as we speak by today’s practitioners. Year after year, the field of architecture and design is always full of new interpretations, goals, conditions, perceptions of beauty and form; it’s never a static field, and that is certainly part of its draw.

It’s incredible how insight into professional practice and theory can influence your own design thinking and standards. Bold claims on new or controversial topics can help you develop your own personal design ethos, which has the potential to define you throughout your entire career. Mueser Architekten’s volume set offers up such claims, and whether or not you agree with all of them (I certainly didn’t!), they stimulate thinking through articulate and conversational writing. For example:

Truly modern construction methods must address the deficits of previous generations of builders and continue to spin the thread of history rather than scheming to come up with sensational architectural gimmicks. There is more at stake than who gets to appear on the covers of glossy magazines. (V.1, p. 42)

Clear claims such as these are found woven into each essay, and all of them made me consider both specific trends as well as the bigger picture of modern architecture as it’s practiced today. And to think, my total mind journey started just by picking up a book on a table that I’d never seen before – who would have thought?

As a newcomer to this library and university, my advice to all users of the Architecture & Planning Library is to explore beyond its preconceived boundaries. Bored with your assigned reading or struggling to make headway on your paper? Head to the New Books table or even the stacks. Pick out something that catches your eye. It just may end up being a source of inspiration.

Interested in reading the title discussed above?
Meuser Architekten GmbH. Meuser Architekten: Buildings and Projects 1995-2010. Berlin: DOM Publishers, 2011.
Here is the Library of Congress Call Number: NA 200 M48 2011 (click on the link to check its availability status)

For a list of recent Architecture & Planning Library arrivals over the past few weeks, please visit our Recent Arrivals feed.

Notes from the conservation bench: stabilizing a Gilbert blueprint

As the conservation technician for the Architecture & Planning Library, a normal day for me usually involves repairing monographs and serials from the library’s general collection.  Every once in a while, however, I get to work on special projects for the archive or for an exhibit.  One day in April, Nancy Sparrow, the Curatorial Assistant for the Alexander Architectural Archive, asked me to work on a 1910 blueprint from the architecture office of Cass Gilbert.  Gilbert was located in New York at the time of the drawing’s creation.  The blueprint, coming in at a hefty six by three feet, shows a side elevation of an exterior iron lamp for the UT Library Building.

Nancy needed to send the drawing to the Perry-Castañeda Library (PCL) to be digitized.  The drawing  was buckling in the middle, had some major tears, and was covered in three different types of tape.  It had to be stabilized enough to be carried to PCL and to undergo the scanning process.  I was excited by the opportunity to brush up on my large format repair skills, so I busily collected the essentials:  a microspatula, tweezers, freshly made wheat starch paste, an assortment of brushes, small weights, lots of blotter and Reemay, and of course, a fairly heavy and strong Japanese tissue. 

Half of the drawing, before I removed the dark brown tape

Before I began, I assessed the damages to the drawing in order to determine the level of repairs needed.  I noted where the major tears were located.  I especially focused my attention on the edges where the drawing is handled the most, and any particularly deep tears that compromised the image itself.   

Nancy was already gently humidifying the middle section of the drawing where it was most severly creased.  While we waited for that treatment to finish, I decided to tackle the tape.  With my microspatula, I tentatively lifted a piece of the dark brown tape whose glue had dried out years ago and was pulling away from the paper.  To my delight, this type of tape came off quite easily without damaging the drawing.  While I was able to remove all of the offending dark brown tape, I decided to leave the other, more adhesive tape on for now.  The humidification went beautifully, and a great deal of the wrinkling was now gone.

I then began working my way across the drawing, right to left, tearing strips of Japanese tissue (as I learned at the preservation department at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign’s University Library, the furrier the edges of the tissue, the better!) to the exact size of the tears, brushing paste onto them, and finally applying them with tweezers.  The area is then covered, in order, with Reemay, blotter, and a weight.

Placing Reemay over a tissue mend

I worked my way across the drawing.  After the mends had dried completely, I trimmed any tissue that went past the drawing’s edge.  In all, it took me approximately 5.5 hours to repair the drawing.  The drawing has since been sent to PCL and returned to the archive.  Scanned in four sections, the entire digital image is more than 16MB!

Treatment of architectural watercolor rendering of Havana courtroom interior by James Riely Gordon, ca. 1911

For many years now the Alexander Architectural Archive and iSchool lecturer and paper conservator Karen Pavelka have collaborated on preserving works on paper from the archive collections.  Conservation students at the Kilgarlin Center for for the Preservation of the Cultural Record gain experience treating archival works as part of the Paper Laboratory taught by Pavelka. Second year Conservation student D. Jordan Berson describes his process of treating an early 20th century watercolor by Texas architect James Riely Gordon.

To see other images of this installation, visit the slide show on the Architecture & Planning Library flickr page.

Gordon watercolour before treatment
Gordon watercolour before treatment

The goal of this treatment was to stabilize the fragile drawing in order to lift access restrictions and enable safe handling by researchers. It was also desired to reduce detracting visible damage. The object had tears and surface distortion, creases and a damaged acidic mat that was adhered directly to the artwork. It was evident that large areas of additional artwork were obscured by the existing mat. In addition, there were several areas along creases where the paint had been burnished or rubbed completely away, exposing the paper substrate.

The first part of the treatment was to mechanically remove the mat and adhesive residue as much as possible. Where residue remained adhered to the object, it was scraped away as possible by introducing very light amounts of moisture to soften it, then scraped away with a microspatula or wiped away with cotton swabs. This process took many hours. Then the piece was dry cleaned on both sides using soot sponges, and white eraser shavings. Tears were mended and splayed corners were consolidated using wheat starch paste. Thick Japanese tissue mending strips were glued down on the reverse side of creases to reduce planar distortion. Detracting media loss was remedied through inpainting. First a gelatin sizing was painted into the areas of loss, followed by inpainting with color-matched watercolors. Finally, a new acid-free mat was hand-cut using a Dexter mat-cutter. Instead of adhering it to the object as the old one was, a new “T-hinge” design was used that replicated the design of the original mat while enabling viewers to see the long-hidden artwork underneath.

Gordon watercolour after treatment
Gordon watercolour after treatment

To see other images of the treatment, visit the slide show on the Architecture & Planning Library flickr page.