In this week’s batch of new recruits to the collection is this gem of a book, The Art of Bar Design, featuring a forward by Natali Canas del Pozo and stunning photographs of each of the highlighted bars. The book identifies four types of bars and the distinct styles within each category: cocktail bars, restaurant bars, nightclubs, and breweries and wine bars.
In the forward, Canas del Pozo writes about how “bars have historically been (even more so than churches) the main interior spaces for people to gather and meet,” and bars must be physically inviting and be comfortable to people who are there for a variety of reasons (pg. 004). The bars discussed in the book are located all over the world, from Hong Kong to Munich to Seattle. There is a brief analysis written about each bar, but mostly Canas del Pozo lets the pictures have the final word.
Starting with cocktail bars, comfort and a sense of intimacy seem to be crucial to a good bar design. It’s comfortable, where people can sit for hours during an evening out, but the finishes are also key. The location is also key in designing some of those finishes, as in the case of the Blue Wave Cocktail Bar in Barcelona, which sits on the edge of the water in Barcelona’s port, and the backsplash behind the bar appropriately mimics seashells. Similarly, restaurant bars are designed to have a welcoming warmth to them that blends in with the rest of the restaurant. Everything here goes along with the meal experience, rather than the bar being the center of everything as in cocktail bars and nightclubs. Some of the most opulent bars are at nightclubs. where the bar is frequently a statement piece that occupies much of a room. One example in particular stands out: Ophelia in Hong Kong, where the decor features peacock feathers. The nightclub as a whole is a spectacle and the photographs are stunning. Finally, breweries and wine bars are places where the alcohol itself is highlighted. The atmosphere is frequently laid back and epitomizes the culture of the brewery or winery. Patrons are there purely to enjoy and sample the drinks, rather than socialize in the same way as at a nightclub. And the bars at breweries and wine bars reflect that through their focus on the process of brewing and making wine (e.g. through display of wine barrels and the ability to see the brewery from the tap room).
This is a really interesting look at spaces that people often do not consider when out at restaurants and bars. Depending on the purpose of the space, the location and size of the bar varies. The bar is the heart of a nightclub and a cocktail bar, where people often go to socialize, whether with friends or to meet new people, and the bar must be reflective of that. While at a restaurant or a brewery, the bar itself is an important part of the eating and drinking experience, but one that is not at the heart of the experience. All the same, the design of the bar says a lot about the business, its culture, its audience, its taste, and what people do while there. So next time you go out, whether to a club or a bar or a restaurant, notice how the bar is designed. How well does it fit with the rest of the business? Where is it located within the space, is it at the center of all with comfortable stools, or is it an aside where there is only space to stand? What are the finishes like? What kind of statement does it make about the space and the people who work and frequent there? You’ll probably never look at a bar quite the same way again.
Hello, People of the Blogosphere! We’ve been very busy working on a number of projects this summer, one of which has been the Southern Architect and Building News digitization project.
Part of what’s so neat about this project is that we get to collaborate with other wonderful folks around the UT Libraries. The downside of this is that it means we have to coordinate and make decisions together about the workflow, standards, and overall goals. This does make it take a bit longer than if all the work were happening in-house here at the Library.
So far, we have sent several batches of about 10 volumes over to our friends in Digitization Services to be scanned and ingested into the Data Asset Management System (DAMS). They have input some metadata for us, but part of what we have to decide here at the Library is what our metadata schema will look like. There is a lot of information we could include in our metadata, so we have to make some choices about what will be most meaningful to our end users and how much information it is realistic to enter for each item.
The last batch of Southern Architect has been sent to PCL to be digitized, which is pretty exciting! Once this is finished we will pick them up and they will join the rest of Southern Architect to await metadata entry! Currently all the already digitized copies of Southern Architect are back at the Library, so once the paged content issues with the DAMS are fixed, we should be ready to go all-in on metadata!
We’re slowly working our way through some of the issues with the DAMS. This project is for the long haul, so it is going to take some time to get Southern Architect and Building News digitized and available online. But, we also known what a special publication it is and how fascinating it is and its value to architectural history! We can’t wait to keep working to make sure every one can see for themselves what makes Southern Architect so special and important!
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 O’Connell Hutson Collection. This collection contains the records of Volz O’Connell Hutson (VOH) Architects, a firm 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.
The VOH 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. VOH Architects 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.
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, the VOH 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!
One of our exciting New Books this week is Constructing the Patriarchal City: Gender and the Built Environments of London, Dublin, Toronto, and Chicago, 1870s into the 1940s by Maureen A. Flanagan. Bringing together societal gender norms and architecture, Flanagan explores how gender dynamics influenced the primarily male-built environments in four cities, London, Dublin, Toronto, and Chicago. The book examines the contrast between the more feminine private sphere and the male public, and how men made intentional efforts to design public spaces to limit women’s ability to maneuver outside the home.
Split into two parts, Flanagan uses Part I to cover the history of city planning and gender boundaries and norms. Importantly, for much of history, women were considered the property of their fathers or husbands, and thus could not own property in their own right. Yet, slowly, a “new urban single woman [emerged]: working in a factory by day, spending her money by night, unescorted and dancing with unfamiliar men” (pg. 47). But there were also men who were becoming more mobile, and less attached to traditional views of masculinity, the “hardworking male who supported his family and obeyed the law” (pg. 47). Tracking such shifts in society as well as the resulting changes in the architecture in London, Dublin, Toronto, or Chicago. Housing was one of the major areas where gender dynamics were at play. In one interesting example, a woman named Octavia Hill from London devoted her time to improving housing conditions in the city, focusing “on how a building was used by its residents and how people lived in the city, rather than how a building was designed, [which] clashed with the ideas of men building the model tenements” (pg. 33). So, Flanagan shows how women contributed to architecture, even if many of those ideas were never implemented by the men who actually designed cities.
In Part II, Flanagan does in-depth case studies of the main gender-driven divides in London, Dublin, Toronto, and Chicago. For example, in London, public toilets were a point of conflict, because “vestries had furnished public toilets for men, but most of them refused to do so for women,” or women had to pay fees for entering the facilities (pg. 124). There was fierce opposition to women’s public toilets because it “would symbolize women’s right to be wherever, and whenever, they wanted in the city…[and] expressions against that…were gendered notions of women’s appropriate behavior,” and appropriate behavior did not include freedom in public spaces (pg. 125). Even something as fundamental to human function as restrooms were used to control women’s movements around London. Similar stories are included in the other case studies, showing how such intentional decisions by men were influenced by and reinforced gender stereotypes to ensure that women remained primarily in the private sphere. Flanagan concludes that “the built environments of London, Dublin, Toronto, and Chicago have been historically and continuously reconstructed to exclude or obstruct women from equal movement into and through the city’s public spaces and to contain them as much as possible in the private place of the home” (pg. 262). She also encourages architects, urban planners, politicians, and others involved in urban planning processes to acknowledge these patriarchal spaces and work to better include women’s voices in the efforts to reshape and adapt cities to contemporary needs.
For as long as the profession has existed, architecture has been one of the “good ole’ boy” clubs. What is unique about Flanagan’s Constructing the Patriarchal City is that she shows how this ever-persistent patriarchy has been written into the built world, too. Not only have women in the field of architecture often been granted limited opportunities for input (if any at all), but by shutting them out of the designing of cities, urban spaces are designed almost exclusively by and for males rather than as inclusive spaces. In recent years, architecture and related professions have made an effort to increase their diversity, a worthy ambition, especially in light of Flanagan’s analysis of just how pervasive the patriarchy is in architecture. When women, and other groups that have been shut out of the city planning process, are given the opportunity to influence architecture and planning, patriarchal cities become more navigable and inclusive to all.
Here at the Architecture and Planning Library, we have long been obsessed with fascinated by our impressive collection of Southern Architect and Building News journals. Printed from approximately the late 1880s to the early 1930s, Southern Architect was published to highlight the architecture and architectural news of the Southern United States, with similar content to American Architect. Our Special Collections contains the largest known collection of Southern Architect ranging in date from 1892 to 1931.
The journal itself contains articles and advertisements relating to all things architecture in the South. The articles include pieces on homes and buildings around the South, complete with drawings and/or photographs. Taken together, Southern Architect documents trends in architecture, society, technology, and advertising that make it an important part of architectural history.
It has been a longtime goal of our Librarian, Dr. Katie Pierce Meyer, to digitize Southern Architect. We’re so pleased that we have finally received funding to do so! We are currently working with the Head of Digitization Services for UT Libraries, Anna Lamphear, and her team to digitize and make available on the UT work-in-progress Data Asset Management System. Digitization Services is producing high quality, searchable scans of the journal and then uploading them to the DAMS.
The digitization is going much faster than we anticipated, so we are now in the process of adding further metadata on the digitized issues. Part of that process is developing a workflow and a standard for our metadata. Our Digital Initiatives GRA, Zach, Dr. Katie, and I are currently working on identifying the most important metadata attributes and creating a standard for us to follow as we all work on entering metadata.
This project is still in its early stages, so that’s all I can say for now about it. But, we’re really excited about finally getting Southern Architect digitized and making it accessible, and we hope you’re excited too! Stay tuned for more news on this awesome project!
Why Are Most Buildings Rectangular? New to our humble little abode this week is Philip Steadman’s Why Are Most Buildings Rectangular? And Other Essays on Geometry and Architecture. Bringing together “a dozen of Philip Steadman’s essays and papers on the geometry of architectural and urban form, written over the last 12 years…[with] two larger themes: a morphological approach to the history of architecture, and studies of possibility in built form” (pg. i). Steadman explores a number of different topics in the book, including different types of buildings (e.g. penitentiary, department store buildings, multi-story garages), the role of energy and urbanism in the built form, mapping the built world, and architectural theory. For our purposes, the most interesting question posed in the book, one which is discussed in many architecture classes at UT’s School of Architecture, is “why are most buildings rectangular?” It is a simple enough question with a complicated answer.
At the beginning of this titular essay, Steadman explains that what he means by asking “why are most buildings rectangular” is “why is the geometry of the majority of buildings predominantly rectangular?” (pg. 3-4). He also asks why buildings are vertical, reasoning that a good deal of this “has much to do with the force of gravity…[since] floors are flat so that we, and pieces of furniture, can stand easily on them” (pg. 4). Steadman lists three main hypotheses that he received from his mathematician and architect colleagues as to why buildings tend to be rectangular: the first suggests that architectural instruments “make it easier to draw rectangles than other shapes,” and the same is true of more ancient tools, though Steadman notes that buildings were rectangular even before these tools were invented, so the explanation is inadequate; the second theory is that the answer lies in “western mathematical conceptions of three-dimensional space – with the geometry of Euclid, and with the superimposition onto mental space of the orthogonal coordinate systems of Descartes,” but again, Steadman questions “what about all those rectangular buildings produced in non-western cultures…who had absolutely no knowledge of western geometrical theory?”; and the final theory argues that “the cause is to be found yet deeper still in our psychology, and has to do with the way in which we conceptualize space in relation to the layout, mental image and functioning of our own bodies” and our creation of two axes of vision, the same way our eyes, legs, arms, and ears have “bilateral symmetry” (pg. 5). Steadman calls this last hypothesis “very hypothetical,” but acknowledges that, if true, it would explain the human preference for rectangular buildings throughout time and space, unlike the other two (pg. 6).
Steadman next explores examples of non-rectangular architecture, including Mongolian yurts, Mandan earth lodges, and Neolithic Japanese shelters. Additionally, many religious structures are not wholly rectangular, but feature some kind of circular plan in the midst of it, or it comes to the shape of a cross. Similarly, ships are not rectangular. Steadman notes that the idea of buildings as being rectangular is shifting, frequently referring to Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, describing it as more “free-form.” But, Steadman concludes, in “certain classically planned buildings with many rectangular rooms…there can be spaces deep in the interior, such as central halls, whose plans are circular, polygonal or elliptical” (pg. 9). So even though spaces blend different geometric shapes, it often comes out to the same thing: a rectangle. Steadman also examines the impact of “packing,” where shapes are stacked together, like squares among rectangles or octagons. By considering the geometry of these patterns, Steadman argues that the flexibility of the rectangle as a shape in fitting with other shapes is likely part of why it is a fundamental part of architecture.
Why Are Most Buildings Rectangular? concludes with Steadman pondering why homes transitioned from primarily circular one-room spaces to rectangles. He notes the easy construction of circular homes and their self-supporting nature as assets. But, Steadman argues, ” with increasing wealth there would be a change, at some point in time, from single-room to multi-room houses,” making the circular home less practical (pg. 17). Though rectangular structures make the tight packing of spaces efficient and easy (perfect for more urban settings), Steadman predicts that more architects will drift away from rectangularity. To them, “the rectangular discipline imposed by the necessary constraints of the close packing of rooms…to be an irksome prison, and they try to escape from it” (pg. 17). Instead, many architects lend their talents to designing spaces that can be treated more creatively, more “sculpturally,” allowing them to play more with geometry than they could otherwise (pg. 17).
Steadman’s answer to “why are most buildings rectangular” is both philosophical and mathematical. He questions how much of it has to do with human So, is rectangularity such a bad thing? Is it good? Or is it just tradition? Perhaps modern architecture is moving away from rectangularity towards a more geometrically open style. And yet blending and playing with geometric shapes is nothing new: ancient churches feature ovals and octagons as well as rectangles, and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello features octagons and triangles within its rectangular frame. But architects are challenging rectangularity in structures in new ways and adapting to new technologies and societal needs. As the built world continues to expand and change, we can expect to see architects having more fun with geometry than ever before.
We have a slight problem, though it is the best kind of problem for a library to have: this week’s batch of new books are simply too good to pick from, so we’ll cheat and highlight several! We have been getting some fantastic books lately about the intersection and symbiotic relationship between culture and architecture, but we’ve also noticed a lot of more philosophical and historical texts coming into our collection. So here’s a few of the new books that are coming into the Library this week that emphasize these themes, and a few that don’t.
“Building from Tradition examines the recent resurgence of interest in the handmade building and the use of local and renewable materials in contemporary construction. In the past, raw materials were shaped to provide shelter and to accommodate the cultural, social, and economic needs of individuals and communities. This is still true today as architects, engineers, and builders turn once again to local resources and methods, not simply for constructing buildings, but also as a strategy for supporting social engagement, sustainable development, and cultural continuity. Building from Tradition features global case studies that allow readers to understand how building practices—developed and refined by previous generations—continue to be adapted to suit a broad range of cultural and environmental contexts. The book provides: a survey of historical and technical information about geologic and plant-based materials such as: stone, earth, reed and grass, wood, and bamboo; 24 detailed case studies examining the disadvantages and benefits to using traditional materials and methods and how they are currently being integrated with contemporary construction practices.”
“New Islamist Architecture and Urbanism claims that, in today’s world, a research agenda concerning the relation between Islam and space has to consider the role of Islamism rather than Islam in shaping – and in return being shaped by – the built environment. The book tackles this task through an analysis of the ongoing transformation of Turkey under the rule of the pro-Islamic Justice and Development Party. In this regard, it is a topical book: a rare description of a political regime’s reshaping of urban and architectural forms whilst the process is alive. Defining Turkey’s transformation in the past two decades as a process of “new Islamist” nation-(re)building, the book investigates the role of the built environment in the making of an Islamist milieu. Drawing on political economy and cultural studies, it explores the prevailing primacy of nation and nationalism for new Islamism and the spatial negotiations between nation and Islam. It discusses the role of architecture in the deployment of history in the rewriting of nationhood and that of space in the expansion of Islamist social networks and cultural practices. Looking at examples of housing compounds, mosques, public spaces, and the new presidential resident, New Islamist Architecture and Urbanism scrutinizes the spatial making of new Islamism in Turkey through comparisons with the relevant cases across the globe: urban renewal projects in Beirut and Amman, nativization of Soviet modernism in Baku and Astana, the presidential palaces of Ashgabat and Putrajaya, and the neo-Ottoman mosques built in diverse locations such as Tokyo and Washington D.C.”
“Producing Non-Simultaneity discusses how the processes of modernization, driven by globalization and market forces, change the political, economic, and technological conditions under which architecture is realized. The book looks beyond the rhetoric of revolutionary innovation, often put forward by architects and engineers. It shows how technological change during the last 200 years was only possible because traditional skills and older materials persisted. The volume argues that building sites have long been showcases of non-simultaneities. Shedding light on construction of the past and exploring what may impact construction in the future, this book would be a valuable addition for students, research and academics in architecture, architectural history, and theory.”
“As a response to the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale challenging theme, Portugal presented a site-specific pavilion occupying an urban front in physical and social regeneration at the island of Giudecca. The pavilion exhibited four notable works by Alvaro Siza on Social Housing – Campo de Marte (Venice); Schilderswijk (The Hague); Schlesisches Tor (Berlin); and Bairro da Bouca (Porto) – revealing his participatory experience with the local inhabitants, and his peculiar understanding of the European city and citizenship. Those projects have created true ‘places of neighborhood,’ an important subject of the current European political agenda, towards a more tolerant and multicultural society. This book reveals the curatorial experience that supported the display of those works in the Venice Biennale, including unusual images of Alvaro Siza’s recent visits to those four neighborhoods; but also the major social and urban changes which took place in there: processes triggered by immigration, ghettoization, gentrification, and touristification of cities.”
“Architects are used to designing visually. To help them expand their basic design tools, this book explores the interactions between sound, space, hearing, and architecture. To this end, the author uses contemporary and historic buildings and projects, but also fictional, philosophical, and theoretical approaches – the idea is not only to define sound as a source, but also as an instrument of architectural space. By further introducing a meta-theory of critical listening, the author encourages designers to acoustically test their projects and contribute to their designs with auditory input from the very first stages of the design process.”
“An understand of architects’ character traits can offer important insights into how they design buildings. These traits include leadership skills necessary to coordinate a team, honest and ethical behavior, being well educated and possessing a life-long love of learning, flexibility, resourcefulness, and visionary and strategic thinking. Characteristics such as these describe a successful person. Architects also possess these traits, but they have additional skills specifically valuable for the profession. These will include the ability to question the use of digital media, new materials, processes, and methods to convey meaning in architectural form. Although not exhaustive, a discussion of such subjects as defining, imaging, persuading, and fabricating will reveal representational meaning useful for the development of an understanding of architects’ character. Through the analogies and metaphors found in Greek myth, the book describes the elusive, hard-to-define characteristics of architects to engage the dilemmas of a changing architectural landscape. Building the Architect’s Character: Explorations in Traits examines traditional and archetypal characteristics of the successful architect to ask if they remain relevant today.”
“This book is about trajectories of urban conflict and peace in the politically polarized cities of Jerusalem and Belfast since 1994 – how sometimes there has been hopeful change while at other times debilitating stasis and regression. Based on extensive research, fieldwork, and interviews, Scott Bollens shows how seeking peace in these cities is shaped by the interaction of city-based actors and national elites, and that it is not just a political process, but a social and spatial one that takes place problematically over an extended period. He intertwines academic precision with ethnography and personal narrative to illuminate the complex political and emotional kaleidoscopes of these polarized cities. With hostility and competition among groups defined by ethnic, religious, and nationalistic identity on the increase across the world, this timely investigation contributes to our understanding of today’s fractured cities and nations.”
The star of this week’s Friday Finds is The City is the People by Henry S. Churchill. Published in 1945, the short book explores the history of city planning, as well as its future. The author emphasizes the need to adapt to changing needs of the people, as well as how cities were planned in the past, noting that “if we are to re-plan our cities we must know what it is that changes and why” (pg. 1). The book was published in the aftermath of World War II, when Europe was beginning to rebuild its cities.
Churchill begins with a discussion of ancient city planning, especially the influence of trade and the role of planning in “maintaining social, political, and economic order among large groups of people living in close proximity” (pg. 3). He points out that “once the streets and other public places are determined…nothing short of catastrophe or revolution will change the pattern radically,” especially since cities, both ancient and contemporary tend to be highly organized (pg. 4). Churchill goes from ancient cities on to medieval towns, exploring trends, paying particular attention to the “change of scale in the plan of the city and of the architecture” during the medieval era, using Gothic architecture (with smaller features and overall size) and Renaissance architecture (larger and grander in scale) to exemplify the vast architectural changes occurring during this time (pg. 13). In the following chapters, Churchill focuses on American Revolution-era New England and later American architecture in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York, especially. Within these chapters, Churchill examines the city planning and how the cities have adapted to population growth and industrialization. He concludes with a discussion of the challenges faced by London and other European cities facing the task of re-planning. As Churchill puts it, the “two great planning problems [faced by these cities are:]…how to restore livability and financial soundness to their cores; how to develop the peripheral land so as to maintain a sound balance with the centers and prevent over-expansion and undue neighborhood obsolescence” (pg. 158). In this final chapter, Churchill synthesizes the history of city planning and the specific examples he cited in order to develop recommendations for the redevelopment and re-planning of European cities like London.
Considering the damage done to Europe by persistent bombing, and especially to London and the United Kingdom during the Blitz in 1940 and 1941, it makes sense that 1945 (at the conclusion of the war) would be an appropriate moment to consider city planning, as Europe rebuilt itself. In that context, it is logical for Churchill to consider the history of urban planning and its future, so as to adapt European cities to contemporary needs after the devastation of World War II. The bombing attacks by the Germans during the war proved ruinous for major cities like London, with massive piles of rubble replacing what were once cobblestone streets and stone buildings. However, London had a history of rebuilding after disaster. In 1666, a fire spread across London, burning nearly everything in its path, as most of the structures in the city were made of wood at the time. The Great Fire of London became the impetus for rebuilding the city of stone, instead of wood. With this history in mind, it makes sense that Londoners, in particular, would be able and willing to re-plan the city for improvement rather than a mere replica of what stood before the Blitz.
Churchill concludes in The City is the People that “zoning, master plans, surveys – these are instruments, not ends…the end is a livable city, suited to modern technologies of living” (pg. 186). This is a current throughout the book: Churchill goes beyond the simple plan and design of the city and considers the purposes it serves to those who live there. Those purposes and the available technology are constantly changing, which is why Churchill sees the aftermath as an opportunity for cities in Europe. The destruction caused by events such as the Blitz in London was devastating, but it also meant that London had to adapt to the contemporary needs of its citizens. Churchill also argues that re-planning efforts created the possibility of fixing some of the social ills that had developed, such as overcrowding, poverty, and improved maintenance and cleanliness. According to him, “a city plan is the expression of the collective purpose of the people who live in it, or it is nothing” (pg. 186). The city of London understood the process of reconstruction better than most because of the 1666 Great Fire. They also knew to look at the destruction during World War II as an opportunity to further improve their city and adapt it to the needs of its citizens in 1945. Churchill understood that a city is not simply a sea of buildings, but that its true character is in the people who live within those buildings. Cities should be a reflection of that character, and Churchill recognized the need to update the city of London to represent its ancient past, the present needs of its citizens (in 1945), and its future as a metropolis.
Hello y’all! Katie (2.2) here. I admit that Battle Hall Highlights has not been quite as active on the blog front from the Library compared to other years – apologies for that, but it was for a very good reason! The University of Texas at Austin Libraries have been working on implementing Omeka as a platform for publishing digital collections and exhibits from UT institutions. Our own Katie Pierce Meyer (the Librarian here at the Architecture and Planning Library) was instrumental in bringing Omeka to UT, and APL is proud to now have three exhibits available via Omeka. As GRA for the Library, I spent the majority of my semester migrating content from our website, which was housed and designed via Drupal 6, to UT’s Omeka. The three exhibits on Omeka now are “Our Landmark Library: Battle Hall at 100,” “Their Maya Story: George and Gerrie Andrews,” and “Eugene George: Architect, Scholar, Educator, Photographer.” Each exhibit posed unique challenges in migrating the content, and have provided invaluable experience in creating exhibits via Omeka.
So, what is Omeka? It is a free, open-source platform for publishing digital collections and exhibits. Developed and updated by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, Omeka has several iterations (Omeka S, Omeka.net, and Omeka Classic), but originally started out as a platform designed for small institutions with limited resources.
Omeka is meant to be easy to use and simple to upkeep, especially for those with limited technological know-how (e.g., me). So, with some persistent encouragement from Katie Pierce Meyer, UT eventually decided to install Omeka as a platform for the UT Libraries to upload digital collections and exhibits. So only our three exhibits, and one about South Asian Popular and Pulp Fiction Books, are available via Omeka. There are various reasons Omeka has not gained traction: it is necessary to first have a digital collection about which to build an exhibit which takes a great deal of time, it has been time consuming to try to coordinate with the UT Data Asset Management System (DAM) to develop a metadata standard, and, simply, Omeka is not perfect.
Where other exhibit builders (such as Scalar) are more image-focused, Omeka is quite metadata-heavy. This is evident in the limited theme options (basically, themes are the design layout, or style, of the exhibit) currently available on UT’s Omeka, which tend to be text-based with smaller images. Hopefully, as more institutions digitize items and see the existing exhibits on Omeka, the site will grow in popularity as a platform for UT’s Libraries to share more of their unique collections.
In late December of 2017 to early January of 2018, all Omeka content was migrated from Omeka.org to Omeka.net. What the Libraries and the IT team decided to do was host content via Omeka servers rather than host it themselves. This created the opportunity for each institution to have their own independent Omeka site that they control. When we worked in Omeka.org (the homepage of which is pictured below), everything was in the same bucket, so to speak. At that point, two of our exhibits were completed, and the Architecture Library and the South Asian Pop Culture Collection were the primary users of Omeka. Now, the South Asian Popular and Pulp Fiction Books has its own site, and we have our own website now (which you can see here: http://utlibrariesarchitecture.omeka.net/) that we can customize to fit our needs as an institution. The site is still a work in progress, as we are working on adding more content, but we now have three exhibits (all discussed thoroughly below) publicly available for everyone to enjoy and explore!
Battle Hall at 100: Our Landmark Library
Pros: Learned how to import items one at a time
Cons: Took three to four months to complete, took a while to standardize metadata (had to go back and change early entries), and there was a lot of trial and error (in both uploading items and in building the exhibit and making it look well-done)
Theme: Thanks, Roy (the fullsize image display is rather small, as are the thumbnails, menus are confusing because Omeka menu is on left and exhibit menu is on right of the text, and the metadata page is text-heavy with a thumbnail image at the very bottom, nice galleries of images, though)
The first of the three exhibits I migrated was Our Landmark Library: Battle Hall at 100. This one was migrated “by hand,” if you will, meaning I moved each item individually, entering in the metadata and adding the image files myself. The main takeaway? This method of importing items is slow. Containing approximately 140 items, there was a lot of trial and error (mainly human error) in migrating Our Landmark Library. Namely, it took time to find the best standard for the metadata, because I wanted to be sure to include all the information included in the old exhibit on Drupal. Eventually, I found a standard, wrote it down, and followed it for the remainder of the items, before going back and changing the ones I had already uploaded. So uploading the items was the first phase of this project. The second phase was reconstructing the exhibit in Omeka. I
wanted to maintain the original order of the exhibit, which was simple enough. The hardest part of building the exhibit was putting together the galleries, which were pretty big in this exhibit. Formatting the exhibit to have a nice flow to it (no big gaps or spaces between what are called “blocks” on Omeka, a means of separating and formatting parts of a page), keeping the images in the correct order, and writing captions for each image was not challenging so much as time-consuming. Even though this exhibit took a long time to complete because of the method of uploading each image myself, I am glad I had the experience. I became intimately familiar with how Omeka works, and the rhythm you can get into when uploading every item and formatting an exhibit. I definitely have a great appreciation for how long building a digital collection can take. I did not have to digitize any of the items or create original content for the exhibit, but it still took a long time to move everything. If it took three, almost four, months for me to migrate an exhibit of only 140 items, I can only imagine how long it would take for large collections.
Their Maya Story: George and Gerrie Andrews
Pros: Quick with CSV import, less trial and error, building the exhibit only took two days; Easy metadata standardization when done in Excel ahead of time
Cons: Figuring out the CSV import (must be done very quickly or it has to be started all over again); Mapping elements (sometimes difficult to match column headings with element names for DublinCore metadata)
Theme: Neatscape (nice display of the images, and large, easy-to-read text, the menu at the bottom is the only downside, only available in Omeka.org); Big Picture (current display in Omeka.net, large image display, allows easy navigation between items in galleries and between pages in the exhibit)
After (finally) finishing the Battle Hall at 100 exhibit, I moved on to the George and Gerrie Andrews exhibit, Their Maya Story. This exhibit Katie Pierce Meyer and I imported into Omeka via a CSV (Comma Separated Value) file that had been generously created for us. When importing a CSV file, you choose “elements” of metadata that align with the columns in the file (e.g. the “Title” column matches to the “Title” element in Dublin Core, or the “Geographical Location” column might match to the “Spatial Location” element); it is important to note that not all column headings have a corresponding element to match to, so it helps think about this somewhat beforehand. After a mishap during which Katie and I took too long matching columns to elements, we successfully uploaded all 116 items to Omeka in less than two minutes, complete with metadata and attached image files. I then began to build the exhibit in Omeka. I again wanted to be faithful to the original exhibit. I wanted to try a different theme this time, so I chose the theme called “Neatscape,” which does not permit any customization or changes to the display the way some other themes do. The only
problem I have with Neatscape as a theme is that the menu for the exhibit is at the very bottom of the page, so you have to scroll through the whole page in order to reach the menu. One of the perks of Omeka is that it allows users to change themes without changing the content or layout of the
existing content of the exhibit. We decided to go with Neatscape so that we have an example of what it looks like as an exhibit, though we may change it in the future if we find a theme that works well for our content. A major asset of Neatscape is that the metadata pages for individual items does include a small thumbnail immediately to the right at the top of the page, meaning that (unlike in the Thanks, Roy theme in the Battle Hall at 100 exhibit) users do not have to scroll all the way down the page to see only a small thumbnail image that, when clicked on, then leads to a larger image. Building the exhibit was much the same as before, only this took merely two days, between using the CSV import and having had the experience of building an exhibit. It is amazing how much time the CSV import cut out, so I definitely learned that it is necessary to have all the metadata standardized in a CSV file in order to make the process much easier and more enjoyable.
After the migration from Omeka.org to Omeka.net, the Neatscape theme was no longer an option, so I chose to use the Big Picture theme, which emphasizes images. The thumbnails for the galleries are large, and the images displayed when a user clicks on an item is larger than any of the other themes. We still have not figured out how to add zoom functionality to our exhibits. That is a task that the Library’s new Digital Initiatives GRA, Zach, is going to be working on in the coming months. So the Andrews exhibit required a little bit of tweaking after the migration from Omeka.org to Omeka.net, but we wound up with a better outcome because of it. The Big Picture theme is currently my favorite among the three I have tried so far because of the large image display, which is preferable for some of the items we might include in future digitization efforts.
Pros: More theme options because of the move to Omeka.net, quick because of CSV import, nice to have the exhibit ready to go whenever the CSV file was done so that all that remained was to add images and galleries; took only one day to complete the exhibit
Cons: Harder to build an exhibit without the images ready to go in, quite a bit of wait time due to the migration of all Omeka content from UT’s servers to Omeka.net
Theme: The Daily (there is a nice menu that scrolls down alongside the content to navigate between pages, large text, large image display)
This exhibit about Eugene George was done in a slightly different order from the others: instead of importing the items and then building the exhibit, I built the exhibit first since our CSV file was not ready to import. So I copied over all the text from the exhibit, and created blocks of text and galleries to mimic the original order of the exhibit. We had to wait on the CSV import until after the migration from Omeka.org to Omeka.net, which took longer than expected, but in early February, we received the go-ahead to import items into the new site. Katie, Zach, and I sat together and worked on standardizing the metadata in the CSV file before importing it into Omeka, which mostly consists of renaming columns and copying
over the desired metadata content. After several failed attempts at importing the CSV file, we realized that because our website is now a legacy site (http://legacy.lib.utexas.edu/apl) that the links included to connect the JPEG images with their respective metadata would not work. So, we changed those links to include “legacy” before the link, and
the CSV import worked perfectly! With those items now in Omeka.net, I was able to add them into the pre-built exhibit. I then went back and made sure that the galleries and text looked nice, made the necessary edits, and the exhibit was ready to go! For this one, I chose The Daily as the theme. Overall, the theme looks nice, with large text, large image display within the exhibit. The menu that scrolls along beside the content allows for quick and easy navigation among the pages of the exhibit. The pages where item metadata is displayed are less text-heavy than in the Thanks, Roy theme used for the Battle Hall exhibit (and feature the image at the top of the page instead of a thumbnail at the bottom), but the image displayed is not as large as that in the Andrews exhibit.
By the time I built the Eugene George exhibit, I had a far greater understanding of how Omeka works and how long it might take. With the CSV import and the exhibit pre-built, this exhibit took only one day to complete. This means that just one day of intensive work is needed to build an exhibit when the CSV import is used to add the items, versus nearly four months doing an item-by-item import for the Battle Hall exhibit. It is easier to build the exhibit as you go, as I did with the Andrews exhibit, rather than having it already built. I found it far easier to make changes as I went along building the Andrews exhibit than to have to go back afterwards as I did with Eugene George.
In spite of my limited technological expertise and lack of knowledge about Omeka, I found the platform very easy to use. Exhibits and importing items (whether individually or via CSV file) takes time and patience. For collections less than 50 items, importing items one-by-one is fine, but for larger collections, the CSV import saves a great deal of time. It is intensive to create a CSV file with all the pertinent metadata, but it is preferable to having to individually import 200 items and type in metadata for each. With a CSV file, the standardization is done before the items ever make it into Omeka.
In terms of Omeka.org versus Omeka.net and the Administrator side of things, not much has changed. However, it is nice to have our own site to manage and customize. Since the change to Omeka.net, we have been able to play with the website and are working toward making it exactly what we want. It is still a work in progress, but it looks pretty sharp! The ability to manage our own content, look, and navigation is something we never could have achieved through Omeka.org. Once the Libraries adds links to the UT Libraries website to reach all of the Omeka sites (the South Asian Popular and Pulp Fiction Books site, the Benson’s site), it will allow users to easily access the incredible digital collections that are forming on Omeka. Additionally, Omeka.net provides more options in terms of themes than Omeka.org. Though some do not translate between the two, the increased options have allowed us to try different themes for each exhibit to see what is the best display and format for Architectural exhibits. Hopefully Zach or someone with more technical coding expertise can find a way to add zoom functionality to our images, something that will increase the usability of our items.
Overall, working with Omeka was an enriching experience for me. Coming from a library/archives background, getting to do a project like this was incredibly rewarding. With a free platform like Omeka, anything is possible. Even a relative luddite like myself can use it to build digital collections. For the most part, I am handing off the reigns of digital projects to Zach, but I’m proud of the work I have done on these three collections. They are not perfect, but I learned so much about building digital collections from the experience of migrating this content. And currently the Architecture and Planning Library is paving the way for other UT institutions in using Omeka as an exhibit platform, about which we are extremely excited. Please explore our Omeka site and enjoy the exhibits as much as I enjoyed building them! Signing off for now, your Friendly Neighborhood Omeka Semi-Guru.
Hiya! I’m Zacharia (Zach if you’re feeling friendly) and I’m the new Digital Initiatives GRA here and APL. I’m going to be in charge of making sure you wonderful people will still be able to find our online exhibits once the sites have gone offline.
So I thought I’d give you a little how-to guide about how you can access our old exhibits while they’re in migration. So without further ado let me introduce you to our new best friend: The Wayback Machine!
The Wayback Machine is a delightful little site hosted by the Internet Archive that is dedicated to archiving the entire internet forever (give or take a few hundred thousand versions). Today I am going to walk you through how to access the old APL legacy site and all the associated content.
Step 1: Accessing the Site
The Wayback Machine works by automatically scraping webpages, creating exact replicas of the site on a given day which can be accessed from the main interface. These are stored versions of a site at the time of scraping, and will not reflect any changes made to the site following the date of scraping. Think of it as visiting a historical site.
The url for our old site is https://legacy.lib.utexas.edu/apl. So we’re going to copy that and paste into The Wayback Machine, which should look something like this: (Please note that the images are best viewed in full screen so don’t fret if you can’t quite make out specific text, just click on the image.)
Now I have already scraped the legacy site as of January 31 and February 6. The next screen you see should contain the url you just entered and a series of calendars with the dates January 31 and February 6 highlighted. These represent specific “images” or captures of the site as it looked on those days. There shouldn’t be any difference between the two so pick your favorite date!
Step 2: Navigation
Now those of you familiar with the old site should recognize a lot of what you see, with the exception of the Wayback Machine interface, which will look like this:
This is the Wayback Machine navigation bar. From here you can navigate between different captures of the site at will and see a timeline of their development. Now the navigation of the old site works the same as it once did, however when you select a link you may see this image:
The Wayback Machine archives each webpage individually, and must redirect and access different versions when you go to a new web page. What that means is that when you click on a link you are redirected to the Wayback Machine’s most recent or closest temporal capture of the webpage that is being linked.
Step 3: Accessing the old Online Exhibits
My work at APL primarily revolves around making sure you fine folk can still access all of our old online content, so let’s see if we can’t access one of our old exhibits: The Architectural Legacy of Herbert Greene. As we are still on the main web page we will need to move over to the Works and Projects page. Before moving on I would like to point out that the entire legacy UT Libraries site is not fully accessible on the Wayback Machine, just these exhibits which I have manually captured. So keep that in mind as we go forward.
In any case, the Works and Project page should look like this:
If your screen does not look like this please select the “Works + Projects” button. All of our exhibits are housed under Exhibits and Curated Resources, but all the other pages found here are fully accessible so feel free to look around.
Once you’re looking at the Exhibits page, select the hyperlinked text Online Exhibits and Curated Resources to find the list of old online exhibits. Fun fact, you can also access this delightful blog from here and see all the archived posts!
The Architectural Legacy of Herbert Miller Greene is the first item on the list. If you click on it should take you to:
There is a chance that the images or other script may not load. This is a result of a problem with the given date of capture. If you are having this issue, access a different capture from the navigation bar (such as January 31) to see the full site.
Ta-da! It’s like the site was never taken down! You can freely explore the exhibit to your heart’s content.
All of old exhibits will be available in new formats on the new libraries site, but in the meanwhile (or if you’re feeling nostalgic) you can use The Wayback Machine to find all of your favorite content just the way you liked it.
I’m looking forward to sharing our progress on the new site as time goes on, and I’ll be back real soon with more awesome stuff to show you!
Blog from the University of Texas Architecture and Planning Library