Tag Archives: historic preservation

We’re going (Way)Back in Time!

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.)

The Wayback Machine

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:Capture

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:

Capture2The 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:

Capture4There 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.

Perhaps the most important function of The Wayback Machine  is the ability to emulate and preserve JavaScript and Flash programs, so applications and other non-still image media are accessible in their original forms.  This is especially important for an exhibit like The Architectural Legacy of Herbert Miller Greene, which is based heavily around an applet called Zoomify, which allows users to zoom in and examine blueprints and photos at a high resolution.  Select Firm Brochures from the navigation bar on the site to take a look.

Capture11Ta-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!

Tales from the Texas Architecture Archive

Now one of the largest repositories of its kind in the United States and housed at UT-Austin’s venerable Battle Hall, the Alexander Architectural Archives began as an associate professor’s private passion, an ad hoc gathering of student reports written for the “Survey of Texas Architecture” course taught by archives namesake Blake Alexander (1924-2011). For the class, which Alexander, a Texas native and Longhorn alum, began teaching in the 1960s, students were sent into the field and also into reading rooms of city and county libraries and archives across the Lone Star State to research land titles, conduct oral interviews, and photograph and make measured drawings of Texas buildings. Students wrote about and drew a wide swathe of edifices, some of which no longer stand, lost to indifference or to the vested interests of urban developers; some of which are currently under threat, like Austin’s Palm School, named for 19th-century Swedish immigrant Swante Palm, a diplomat and bibliophile whose donated book collection essentially started the University of Texas’ library system and whose house stood just off Congress Avenue, right where the thermal-glass tower Texas Monthly calls home now looms; and some of which, through the rugged persistence of high-minded preservationists like Alexander and his indefatigable colleague Wayne Bell, have been saved from the wrecking ball and repurposed, like the old Lone Star Brewery complex in San Antonio that today is the San Antonio Museum of Art. Buildings grand and mundane, commissioned and vernacular, everything from aristocratic 19th-century hotels to lowly log jails, were documented by students in these class reports, which were kept personally over the years by Alexander until the collection outgrew both his office and a storage room known as “Alexander’s closet” and were transferred to the care of what is now The University of Texas Libraries.

Since then, the Alexander Architectural Archives has grown into a major collection of over 280,000 drawings, 1,150 linear feet of papers, and some 300,000 photographic items related to architectural projects not just in Texas but throughout the United States and abroad as well. Though now just a fraction of the archives’ total holdings, Alexander’s seed assemblage of student reports—formally the Texas Architecture Archive (TAA)—still retains a special position with both archives staff and researchers. Its materials get heavy and loving use, so to provide even better access to this signature collection, archives staff spent much of last summer and fall reviewing and updating descriptive metadata for each and every one of the nearly 1,400 student reports. When needed, these reports, filling more than 25 record storage boxes, were also individually rehoused into acid-free folders, though it should be noted that most of these reports, many of which were written over half a century ago, well before personal computers and inkjet printers became fixtures in campus dorm rooms, are in fine fettle given the high-quality, durable cotton paper (sometimes watermarked with a vintage University of Texas bookstore logo) on which students typed their final drafts. With enhanced metadata (project dates, architect names, location information) researchers will have new access points and avenues into the collection, whether they’re looking for scholarship about a well-known Texas architect (Abner Cook, Nicholas J. Clayton, James Riely Gordon, to name a few) or have more general queries about historic structures within a specific city or county.

Richer metadata has also allowed us at the archives to begin exploring different ways to visualize the collection’s wide-ranging materials, the vast majority of which are related to the built environment of Texas. For instance, we’ve been able to use Palladio, a free browser-based digital humanities toolset developed at Stanford, to map the subject locations of each student report.

Map created with Palladio showing locations of Texas-related reports in the TAA collection.
Map created with Palladio showing locations of Texas-related reports, grouped by county, within the TAA collection. Dots represent county seats and are sized by number of reports.

Not surprisingly, most students wrote about buildings and structures in Travis County or in cities and towns a (relatively) short drive away along the I-35 corridor north to Dallas-Fort Worth or south to San Antonio, a route that roughly follows the scalloped curve of the Balcones Fault. Conversely, the map reveals how strikingly few structures west of the Hill Country were researched. The Llano Estacado of the Lubbock area or, further south of that, the Trans-Pecos region near Fort Stockton, are more onerous distances from Austin, and impecunious pupils no doubt preferred to examine historic structures closer to the Forty Acres. One of the buildings written most frequently about, the Greek Revival Neill-Cochran House, built in 1855, is just a few short blocks from Guadalupe Street, the university’s main commercial drag. The mapped reports also simply mirror well-established historical trends of 19th– and 20th-century settlement in Texas, the limits of which were always around the 98th meridian, east of which there was enough (if not plenty of) rainfall and west of which there was land so dry that it was difficult to cultivate, making both town-building and its byproduct architecture risky propositions.

Over the next few months we’ll be writing posts meant to illuminate how the Texas Architecture Archive student reports make visible this intersection between the architecture and history (natural, social, political, industrial) of the Lone Star State. Above all, the hope is that this occasional series, which we’ll call Tales from the Texas Architecture Archive (or Tales from the TAA), will convey the elemental pleasure of time spent in our archives. Whether the subject is food, transportation, entertainment, military affairs, or demographic shifts, architecture is everywhere a foil to life. It’s always there, shaping or reflecting the world at large, a locus or backdrop to the lives we lead.

One of the more delectable documents in the TAA collection is a 59-page report on the history of Austin’s Enfield Grocery. Designed by Hugo Kuehne, founding dean of UT’s School of Architecture, it was built in 1916 with barge-board trimmings by locally-renowned Swiss woodcarver Peter Mansbendel. It offered “staple and fancy groceries” until after Prohibition, when it became The Tavern, a neighborhood beer joint. (A sports bar operates there today under the same name, serving sinfully good queso burgers on kolache buns to sudsy Longhorns fans who gather to watch televised games.) For her report, written in 1987, the student interviewed one C. J. Schmid, an old-timer who recalled the motley regulars who’d drink there in the 1930s, including Mansbendel, Paul Cret, the architect who developed the UT campus master plan, and Italian-born sculptor Pompeo Coppini, who worked with Cret on UT’s Littlefield Memorial Fountain and whose bronze figures of Jefferson Davis and Woodrow Wilson were removed last August from their prominent limestone perches on UT’s South Mall. (They eventually will be on display at their new home, the Briscoe Center for American History.) In the interview, Schmid lamented that The Tavern’s current “kindergarten” clientele was objectionably green and boorish and that fellows of his advanced age therefore avoided it, as they did Scholz Garten, where the snot-nosed college kids “kind of looked ill-kept, you know, all whiskered up” and had “stringy hair, you know, kind of greasy.” As for the waitresses, Schmid opined, “soap was not their main possession.” We can see from the TAA collection’s student reports, then, that while buildings come and buildings go, some things, like griping about younger generations and the newest out-of-towners (a seemingly inexhaustible parlor game in Austin) never change.

Battle Hall Conservation Study


Sample_Izabella and Sarah
GRA’s Izabella Dennis (left) and Sarah Hunter (right)

The Battle Hall Architecture and Planning Library at the University of Texas at Austin was designed by architect Cass Gilbert in 1911, setting the stylistic tone for future academic architecture and shaping the distinguished Texas university campus. In preparation for a preservation and improvement campaign of the University of Texas’ first architectural masterpiece and its later extension, West Mall Building, a Facilities Condition Report was produced by an outside consultant in 2011 to identify measures to restore the building. Several building elements required further investigation to determine original finishes, best methods for cleaning and treating historic materials, and recommendations for restoration. The UT Office for Campus Planning and Facilities Management provided support and funding for the remaining studies to be carried out through the UT Architectural Conservation Lab under the supervision of Senior Lecturer and Conservation Scientist Frances Gale.

Masonry Testing in the UTSOA Architectural Conservation Lab
Masonry Testing in the UTSOA Architectural Conservation Lab
Marble Cleaning
Marble Cleaning Tests on the Battle Hall Staircase

Graduate Research Assistants Izabella Z. Dennis and Sarah B. Hunter from the UT School of Architecture Historic Preservation program had the opportunity to participate in this materials conservation study. The work included laboratory analysis of finish samples from ornamental metals, exterior wood building components, the interior wood reading room ceiling and interior plaster finishes. Cleaning tests were performed on interior marble, and protective treatments were evaluated for the exterior limestone veneer. The study involved archival research of the original construction documents and subsequent renovations of Battle Hall, on-site condition assessments and sample collection, and both laboratory and on-site testing. Based on the findings, recommendations were made to help restore original finishes to metal, wood and plaster elements of Battle Hall during its proposed renovation.

Finish Sample Statigraphy
Finish Sample Statigraphy

After documenting original finishes, including linseed oil paints and lead pigments, practical recommendations were developed using contemporary materials. This project involved close collaboration with Facilities Services in accessing hard-to-reach building components, conducting interior marble cleaning tests and exploring practical preservation solutions.

The Texas State Cemetery and James G. Reeves Collection

"Texas State Cemetary." JVR & Association. c.1995 James G. Reeves records, Alexander Architectural Archive, University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin
“Texas State Cemetery,” JVR & Association, c.1995. James G. Reeves records, Alexander Architectural Archive, University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

The Alexander Architectural Archive is pleased to share this gem for National Landscape Architecture Month. The Texas State Cemetery Preliminary Master Plan is part of the James G. Reeves Collection.  In the Master Plan, Reeves writes:

This plan strives to create a feeling of reverence, respect, dignity, and honor for those buried here and the people of Texas….The intent of this redevelopment is to create a cemetery worthy of our proud history and culture in Texas. This plan hopes to instill a “soul,” a reverence, to the ground that holds the remains of notable Texans that helped first define a republic and then a state. This plan aspires to affirm that this ground is sacred to Texans,..to Texans of all races, creeds, and ages. (Texas State Cemetery Master Plan, JVR & Associates and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, January 1995, pg. 2)

There are several files associated with the Texas State Cemetery in the James G. Reeves Collection. The collected materials include contracts, correspondence, meeting notes, collected research materials, and the Master Plan prepared by JVR & Associates and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The Master Plan includes not only recommendations for landscape and architectural features but also a copy of the Project Nomination Form for the State Wide Transportation Enhancement Program.

The two aspects of the collection that I found particularly interesting were the correspondence and the collected research for this project. From these materials, one can begin to form a picture regarding Reeves’s involvement and also his process. For example, there is a road map that had been refolded to highlight the location of the cemetery, and Reeves marked the spot with an arrow. Reeves’s handwritten notes that eventually became more formalized documents are also included. In some of the notes, it is apparent that Reeves was unsure about the greenhouse and proposed pond. In the Master Plan, however, it was included though with a potentially limited future (Texas State Cemetery Master Plan, JVR & Associates and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, January 1995, pg. 14).

As a recent transplant to Austin, I was not aware that we had a State Cemetery until today. I am curious to see how the Master Plan as proposed by James G. Reeves was developed on the site. And if anyone should make it there before me, I encourage you to use the materials established by American Society of Landscape Architects to share the Texas State Cemetery with others!

Happy Birthday, Blake Alexander

Blake Alexander in his UT office
Blake Alexander in his UT office

Blake Alexander, namesake of the Alexander Architectural Archive, was born on February 4, 1924 in Paris, Texas. He was a longtime architectural educator at the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture as well as a dedicated force in the education, documentation and preservation of Texas heritage.

Professor Alexander first started the collection that today is known as the Alexander Architectural Archive in 1958 when he adapted an assignment for his architectural history course at UT to follow the Historic American Building Survey (HABS) format. This required students to measure and document historic Texas structures. The documentation collection quickly outgrew his office and began to collect in a small storage room, dubbed “Alexander’s Closet”.

Blake Alexander with Ty Cox at Winedale's Lewis Place (Stagecoach Inn)
Blake Alexander with Ty Cox at Winedale’s Lewis Place (Stagecoach Inn)

During the 1960’s, a student brought Professor Alexander large paper sacks full of water-damaged drawings that had survived the 1900 Galveston hurricane. The drawings were from prominent local architect Nicholas Clayton, and sparked the idea to welcome the donation of original drawings by Texas architects that deserved to be preserved. In 1979, The University of Texas Libraries began to collect these drawings in “The Architectural Drawings Collection”.

The “Architectural Drawings Collection” was renamed the “Alexander Architectural Archive” in 1998 after the Texas Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians launched a campaign to honor the archives founder and recognize Professor Alexander’s pioneering contribution to the preservation of our architectural history. Today, the archive contains over 200,000 drawings and over 61 linear feet of papers, photographic materials, models and ephemera representing projects from Texas and beyond. The archive and Professor Alexander’s efforts have been an invaluable resource for restoring some of Texas’ most important and beloved buildings.

Happy Birthday, Blake Alexander!

Feature Friday: 25 Buildings of Chicago

This week’s Feature Friday takes us to a city quite a bit north from here – Chicago! This comes at an opportune time, as the AIA National Convention took place in the beautiful Windy City a few weeks ago, and many of the UTSOA faculty attended.

For me, Chicago will always hold a dear place in my heart. Growing up in Milwaukee, a mere 1 1/2 hour drive from Chicago, afforded me with many opportunities to visit the third largest city in the United States. From school trips to Navy Pier to visting family, Chicago has been an integral part of my upbringing. My favorite memory, even to this day, is of visiting my aunt when I was around ten years old. She was a professional ballet dancer at the time and was always moving from place to place, and one weekend, my family and I stayed in her apartment located directly above the brown line train tracks. And when I say directly above, I mean directly above. The whole apartment would shake when a train would pass, and although most people would find this to be a major annoyance, I loved it. I can still remember running to the window in the middle of the night to see the trains pass. I barely got any sleep that weekend, but it was totally worth experiencing what I percieve to be part of Chicago’s inherent romanic aura, and the trains that snake through its many brownstones are an integral part of that experience.

…but I digress! As to be expected, I was thrilled when Martha presented me with a new library item entitled 25 Buildings of Chicago: Elevation of the Fittest. A two-part series, these brief books showcase 25 Chicago buildings, built from 1879-1971, through immaculalty-drawn plans, elevations, sections, and detail drawings. Interestingly enough, these drawings were produced by students at the Technical University of Munich in Germany (Technische Universität München) as a visual study of the language of architecture. As phrased by the editor:

“(This publication) simply tries to demonstrate the astonishing presence and richness of some big, that is, tall buildings of Chicago… Focusing on the detailed display of these buildings in tall elevation drawings the viewer is given the possibility to follow and listen to this very fine and sometimes even audacious language of architecture arising from the mostly simple orthogonal plots and an equally clear facade elevation.”

From the Wrigley Building to the Monadnock Building, to the Chicago Motor Club to three bonus buildings by Mies van der Rohe, these two tandem books utilize the technical skill of computer-aided architectural drafting and translate the grand historical language of these structures into beautiful elevation representations. These books are truly fascinating to look through even if you’ve never been to Chicago before, as the students’ expert use of lineweight and shadow create some of the most detailed, yet incredibly clear, architectural drawings that I have seen. As a student of both architecture and historic preservation, I am completely impressed by this publication, as it reminds me of the importance of careful craft when creating drawings for communication and historic documentation.

Here are a few sneak peaks. Come check ’em out for yourself!


Call Number: NA 737 C4 A12 2013

This week’s #FeatureFriday was selected by Martha Gonzalez Palacios, the Architecture & Planning Librarian. She is responsible for collection development, reference, instruction and digital projects at the Architecture & Planning Library – and is the ultimate student resource during busy semesters! Thanks, Martha!

Semester Recap: “Inside Modern Texas: the Case for Preserving Interiors”

The Spring 2014 semester was an incredibly exciting one at the Architecture & Planning Library – especially for events! My personal favorite brought together multiple facets of the library and beyond: Emily Ardoin’s curation of the exhibition “Inside Modern Texas: the Case for Preserving Interiors.”

Beginning as a Graduate Research Assistant appointment in the Fall 2013 semester, Emily, a recent May 2014 Master of Science in Historic Preservation graduate, was tasked with the goal of pulling together an exhibition for the Architecture & Planning Library’s Reading Room that would be on display from early April through September 2014. This was no easy task, as she started completely from scratch! For inspiration on finding a topic, she sifted through myriad issues of Interiors magazine, Texas Architect, and more journals from the Architecture and Planning Library. Ultimately, Emily utilized her Interior Design background and Historic Preservation studies to create an exhibition topic that was specific enough to pin down a clear focus, yet broad enough to include a wide array of archival materials from the library and Alexander Architectural Archive.

The end result was “Inside Modern Texas: the Case for Preserving Interiors,” which aligned perfectly with the Society of Architectural Historian’s Annual Conference, held in Austin in April. We were lucky enough to go behind the scenes with Emily in the final weeks of her curation process. The exhibit’s opening reception on April 10th brought together conference visitors, library and archive employees, UT professors, students of myraid majors, and more.

Emily’s exhibition is a visual testiment to the incredible depth of resources available for researchers at the Architecture & Planning Library and the Alexander Architectural Archive, as well as the vital research endeavors that are created from endowments and scholarships. Says head librarian Beth Dodd:

“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.”

Now, as we approach the official first day of summer, we want to remind you that “Inside Modern Texas” is on display in the Reading Room until September! We can’t think of a better way to beat the heat than to go on the beautiful visual journey that Emily has curated for us.

“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.