Celebrating International Design Day with Architecture, Arts and Design Archivist Harold Housley

This is the newest post in our There’s an Archivist for That! series. In this post, Harold Housley, Archivist for Architecture, Arts and Design at Arizona State University Library, describes the uniqueness and challenges of Design and Architecture Collections and offers his interpretation of the International Design Day theme, Suspended in Transition. This interview was conducted by Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) member Claudia Willett.

Claudia Willett: Let’s start with a brief introduction of yourself to the readers.

Harold Housley: I’ve worked for Arizona State University (ASU) Library since 2007, currently as Archivist for Architecture, Arts and Design. My previous experience includes working as an archivist for the National Park Service. I am a member of the Academy of Certified Archivists and SAA. I earned a Master of Arts in History from Arizona State University and a Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Arkansas-Little Rock.

CW:  Can you talk about your role as Archivist for Architecture, Arts and Design?

HH: I am responsible for overall management of Design and the Arts Special Collections, which is primarily an architectural archives and manuscript repository. The collection developed in the 1970s and 1980s out of interest by School of Architecture faculty members in collecting primary and secondary sources on two prominent architects important in Arizona history, Paolo Soleri and Frank Lloyd Wright. The opening of a new building for the College of Architecture and Environmental Design in 1989 created the space to develop and expand the collection to include architectural drawings and files from prominent architects such as Victor Olgyay, a pioneer in climate-responsive architecture, and Blaine Drake, a former Frank Lloyd Wright apprentice and key figure in post-World War II modernism in Arizona.

Desert Cabana (1939), rendering from the Blaine Drake Collection, Design and the Arts Special Collections, Arizona State University Library

The collection has evolved over the years to include textual records, architectural drawings, presentation boards, and project files that document desert-sensitive design and the development and evolution of mid-century and modern architecture in the Southwest. The greater Phoenix area has a rich history of significant mid-century modern architecture and the presence of the architectural school at ASU has helped the library to acquire the drawings and papers of architects such as Alfred Newman Beadle and Will Bruder.

CW: Can you describe your organization and the collections?

HH: ASU Library has a wealth of archives and special collections resources grouped under Distinctive Collections and Archives, the Labriola National American Indian Data Center, and the Senator John McCain Papers Project. Design and the Arts Special Collections falls under Distinctive Collections and Archives, which also includes Rare Books and Manuscripts, the Child Drama Collection, Greater Arizona Collection, Chicano/a Research Collection, Black Collections and University Archives. The Labriola National American Indian Data Center has both primary source materials (photographs, oral histories, manuscript collections) and a large collection of books, journals, and Native Nation newspapers. The Senator McCain Papers Project processes and manages the papers of longtime Arizona senator and former presidential candidate John McCain.

CW: International Design Day is April 27 and the theme is ‘Suspended in Transition’. How does this theme apply to your work or experience with design collections?

HH: I find this theme very relevant to my work as an archivist and probably many other archivists would agree that traditional ways of acquiring and managing collections are in transition and need to evolve to meet the challenges of the present and future. I think other aspects of the theme are also relevant to archivists, such as that the pandemic has fostered the proliferation of new methods of collaboration and communication and created an opportunity to explore alternative ways of doing our work.

CW: Can you talk about some challenges unique to your collections?

HH: The large number of oversize items usually found in architectural collections definitely creates storage challenges. The variety of records found in architectural/design collections means you need to have both traditional archival shelving to accommodate paper records and photographs but also lots of flat filing cabinets for drawings.

Reference also presents some interesting challenges beyond dealing with large-format materials. For example, the access point for many researchers looking at a specific building is the address, which is often not listed in a finding aid. So I have found it useful to have separate drawings inventories that provide those item-level details that help in reference but may not be included in a collection finding aid.

CW: What is something you wish more people knew about Architecture and Design collections?

HH: There are some real “hidden treasures” in architecture and design collections. Examples include designs for buildings that, for one reason or other, were never built. It is fascinating to imagine what a completed building may have looked like. I also really enjoy looking at houses that architects design for themselves. Residential design projects usually involve the architect and client working closely together to bring a design into reality. But when the architect does not need to cater to the wishes of the client, I think there is more freedom to explore a particular theme or experiment in a style without having to answer to an outside client.

House designed by Alfred Newman Beadle for himself and his family, Beadle House 6 (1954), Phoenix; from the Alfred Newman Beadle Collection, Design and the Arts Special Collections, Arizona State University Library

Architecture and design collections, because of their strong visual appeal, have the ability to connect with everyone. Most architectural collections found in archives are a blend of personal papers and business or professional records, so you have documents, such as correspondence,  that are typically found in other types of manuscript collections. But you also have lots of very eye-catching materials that are works of art, such as full-color architectural renderings. So even if someone has no prior knowledge of or experience using archives, they can appreciate the value of what they are looking at. 

Ball State University Drawings + Document Archive: The Movie

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Today we bring you an interview with Carol Street, Archivist for Architectural Records at Ball State University, and the outreach innovator behind
Drawings + Documents Archive: The [LEGO] Movie


Question: What was your inspiration for this video?

Carol Street: As always, inspiration came from a number of places. My 9 year old granddaughter, Anna, is probably my greatest inspiration when it comes to many things, but especially LEGO. Thanks to her, I’ve amassed a not insignificant collection of LEGO bricks and figures, and even created a LEGO model of the Drawings + Documents Archive. But the actual lightbulb moment came when I saw the wonderful stop-motion LEGO movie by the Library of Social Sciences at the University of Copenhagen. The video was the brainchild of the library director Christian Lauersen, who wanted a brief video to introduce students to the resources available at his library. He wrote a fantastic blog post on the making of the video and his reasons behind it, all of which I agreed with. There was that moment after the video ended where I thought—hey! we can do that, too!

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Screenshot of the Ball State University Drawings + Documents Archive video on YouTube.

 

Q: For the archivists out there who may be intimidated by the time, resources, and level of creativity required to produce an outreach video like this, could you give some insights into the production process for this video?

CS: There is a significant amount of time involved in making even a short video like this. As the only staff member in the archive, I would never have time to do this myself. Luckily, this year I have a very creative graduate assistant, Raluca Filimon, who embraced the project even though she had never made an animated movie before. Although it may seem daunting at first, the movie is really just a culmination of a lot of small projects. We began the process by breaking it down into those smaller projects—such as write a script, create scenes, borrow equipment, learn how to film LEGO figures, select music, record the narration—that ultimately resulted in the finished film. Because it was a fairly long process, we made sure to celebrate the major milestones along the way. Those moments of celebration built momentum for the next phase of the project.

I’ve been very fortunate to have some great graduate assistants from the College of Architecture and Planning.  They’re not only incredibly creative, but also good at project management and research. Raluca did a fantastic job bringing my ideas for the film to life. I had specific goals that needed to be reached, but allowed plenty of space for Raluca and other students to inject their own creativity. All of the graduate assistants who work in the archive added to the film in different ways. There were a lot of “what if….” moments where we would ask things like “what if the astronaut showed up at the end with the disco ball?” Sometimes those ideas were shot down, but others—like the fantastic disco finale—made the final cut. In the end, the process was very much a team effort that brought the students together.

 

Q: What other forms of outreach do you utilize for the Drawings + Documents Archive, now or in the past? How does the video diverge from and/or compliment those efforts?

CS: We utilize all of the typical forms of outreach, such as exhibits, instructional sessions, a newsletter, and a blog. Our audience is well-versed in design and very creative, so we try to also approach outreach in creative and interesting ways. Last fall my graduate assistants came up with a fantastic promotional campaign that is still filling up the cases outside the archives. The campaign is called “Be inspired” and shows photographs of students and faculty holding up something in the archive that inspires them. The person in the photo writes on the poster what inspires them. Right now our new architectural history professor is holding up a drawing by Piranesi and she wrote that she’s inspired by “historical context”. It’s a fresh, patron-driven way to showcase the amazing collections we have in the archive.

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The Drawings + Documents Archive video features the Indiana Architecture X 3D collection.

We’ve also branched out into 3-D printed modeling of buildings and building details that are represented in the collection. The project is called Indiana Architecture X 3D and it has probably been our most effective form of outreach in terms of student reach. The models appeal to younger students who have yet to learn how to model and equally attract older students who are suitably impressed by the level of detail we can create. They all enjoy checking the 3-D printed model with the actual drawing to see if we were accurate in our modeling skills. Even faculty, who can be just as challenging as students to reach, specifically ask us to show them to visitors, potential students, and their classes. The project also allows us to now give something back to our donors who generously support the work of the archive. At the holidays we sent donors small, 3-D printed ornaments based on the collection, which were a big hit and garnered a lot of interest, good will, and even further financial support.

 

Q: What impact/results are you hoping to see from this video?

CS: I’m hoping that our students enjoy the film and remember the archive when it’s time to conduct research. We often throw far too much information at students during our instructional sessions because we feel it’s our one chance to tell them all about the archive and we want to tell them everything. Students couldn’t absorb all that information at once even if they wanted to. The more instructional sessions I give, the more I realize the time is best served by essentially building bridges for students to cross when they actually need us. I strive to make the archives a friendly, non-intimidating place where they can feel comfortable asking for help when their assignments or interests lead them here. And what’s friendlier and less intimidating than LEGO?

I’d also like everyone to equate archives with fun, not dust.

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