EVOLVING ARCHITECTURAL COLLECTIONS Review

by Eleanor Gawne, AA Head Librarian
08 October 2014 Montreal, Canada & New York, USA   Over 100 delegates from organisations worldwide attended the ICAM conference in Montreal and New York two weeks ago. I was one of them as the AA is a member. This was the 17th biannual conference of ICAM, the International Confederation of Architectural Museums. By coincidence, it was also ICAM’s 35th anniversary of its founding and the 25th anniversary of the CCA (the Canadian Centre for Architecture), one of the venues for the conference.   The CCA’s current exhibition, the Archaeology of the Digital, was pertinent to the first day session on archiving born-digital materials. Greg Lynn, curator of the show, gave the opening lecture, showing how Frank Gehry, Peter Eisenman, Chuck Hoberman and Shoei Yoh began to use computers, all in totally different ways. He also stressed that the digital cannot be isolated - architects’ archives still include physical as well as digital material.   [caption id="attachment_3467" align="alignnone" width="360"]The Glass House, New Canaan, Connecticut Image credit: David Brady The Glass House, New Canaan, Connecticut
Image credit: David Brady[/caption] Other talks that stood out included Ann Whiteside of Harvard on the FACADE project about born-digital records; one of their findings was that curators must work closely with architects, system developers, legal counsel and CAD experts as individually none has all the necessary expertise.   Barry Bergdoll’s deliberately provocative talk, Thinking Historically in the Period of Presentism, addressed the recent bias in curating contemporary material over historical topics; he questioned how this might affect the exhibition strategies of ICAM members.
[caption id="attachment_3468" align="alignnone" width="360"]Habitat housing, Montreal Image credit: David Brady Habitat housing, Montreal
Image credit: David Brady[/caption] Carole Ann Fabian’s talk on the MoMA-Avery Co-acquisition and Joint Stewardship of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives highlighted the sense of openness and shared goals that the project generated. She thought that managing stewardship across bodies was a positive thing as it encouraged institutions to do the same on other projects; it allowed the opportunity to examine current practice and catalyse future collections.   In the session on New Lessons, Hyungmin Pai discussed the ambitious plans to build a contemporary architectural collection in the Asia Culture Complex, Gwangju, South Korea. He pointed out that as they can’t compete with European collections of 19th and 20th Asian objects, they chose to concentrate on the postwar period instead. A sense of urgency was paramount for his project; as he admitted, ‘the fast track process is not new to Korea’.   Most papers touched on aspects of collections management relevant to the AA Collections Working Group ie. what to collect, and how best to store material and make it more readily available. During the conference there was also a pecha kucha session on publications, during which I presented the forthcoming book Cedric Price Works 1952-2003: A Forward-minded Retrospective, written and edited by Samantha Hardingham and published by AA Publications with CCA – my thanks to Tom Weaver and Kirsten Morphet for their help with this.
There were several visits to interesting collections and buildings. Highlights included seeing inside the Moshe Safdie apartment at Habitat in Montreal; the neo-Renaissance Library modelled after the Vatican apartments at the University Club in New York by McKim, Mead and White from 1899; and Philip Johnson’s Glass House of 1949 in New Canaan, Connecticut. Besides the material from the Cedric Price archive and other treasures on display at the CCA, I enjoyed visiting the MoMA Library where we saw colourful tie-designs by Picasso in the MoMA’s Archives. They also showed a VIP Visitors Book which included the signatures of Gropius, Breuer, Le Corbusier and Einstein. At the Avery Library at Columbia University we saw annotated manuscripts in Frank Lloyd Wright’s hand for some of his books and drawings for the Imperial Hotel, Tokyo.   [caption id="attachment_3469" align="alignnone" width="360"]Tie designs by Pablo Picasso in MoMA’s Archives  Image credit: David Brady Tie designs by Pablo Picasso in MoMA’s Archives
Image credit: David Brady[/caption] The conference was action-packed, stimulating and inspiring. It was good to meet new colleagues, catch up with old acquaintances and have the opportunity to exchange ideas and plans for future projects. I would like to thank the AA, ARA, ICAM and ICOM UK Committee for their generous support that allowed me to attend the conference.   For more information: ICAM AA Library & Collections