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Finding and Using
Architectural Archives
Anna McNally
University of Westminster Archives
archive@westminster.ac.uk
What are archives?
What kind of architectural information
might I find in archives?
Where should I look for archives?
Tips on searching archive catalogues
How to prepare for a visit to an archive
Topics covered in this session:
What are archives?
Material created through every
day activities and selected for
permanent preservation.
What are archives?
Material created through every
day activities and selected for
permanent preservation.
Not just paper – can also be
objects & digital files.
What are archives?
Material created through every
day activities and selected for
permanent preservation.
Can be tricky to use - often
organised in a way that made
sense at the time, but not now.
What are archives?
Material created through every
day activities and selected for
permanent preservation.
Only around 5% of records
created end up in an archive.
Since archives are created through every
day activities, you need to think through
the activities involved in commissioning,
designing and constructing a building.
These will then help you to identify where
your building will be mentioned in the
archives.
Activities that create architectural archives: (i)
Inception - when the organisation
decided to create a new building.
Inception - when the organisation
decided to create a new building.
Records to look for: minute books,
correspondence.
Remember that the decision may have been taken
years – or decades – before the building was started.
Activities that create architectural archives: (i)
Proposal – the first glimpse at the
new building
Activities that create architectural archives: (ii)
Proposal – the first glimpse at the
new building
Records to look for: drawings and plans. Also look
at Board minutes for any reaction to the proposal.
Activities that create architectural archives: (ii)
Activities that create architectural archives: (ii)
Proposal – the first glimpse at the
new building
Remember! The finished building may be very
different from the initial proposal!
Approval - planning permission,
freeholder approval, and internal
sign-off
Activities that create architectural archives: (iii)
Approval - planning permission,
freeholder approval, and internal
sign-off
Records to look for: records of any council approval
will be held in the local public records office. They
will include details of any objections or restrictions
to the application.
Activities that create architectural archives: (iii)
Interpretation - decisions made
during the building process
Activities that create architectural archives: (iv)
Interpretation - decisions made
during the building process
Records to look for: detailed plans, correspondence
between the architect and builder, photographs
taken during the building work, financial records.
Activities that create architectural archives: (iv)
Celebration – the moment the
building opens
Activities that create architectural archives: (v)
Celebration – the moment the
building opens
Records to look for: programmes for the
opening ceremony, newspaper reports,
photographs
Activities that create architectural archives: (v)
Review – after the building opens
Activities that create architectural archives: (vi)
Review – after the building opens
Records to look for: articles in architectural
journals, correspondence relating to
snagging issues, reports of immediate
problems with the building.
Activities that create architectural archives: (vi)
Alterations over time
Activities that create architectural archives: (vii)
Alterations over time
Records to look for: staff newsletters,
annotated building plans, photographs
Major alterations will go through the same
process as starting a building from scratch
but minor alterations can be difficult to track
down in the documentation, even though
cumulatively they may have a major impact
Activities that create architectural archives: (vii)
Experience – things that happen to a
building that impact the structure or
design
Activities that create architectural archives: (viii)
Experience – things that happen to a
building that impact the structure or
design
Examples include fire, war damage and natural
disasters.
Records to look for: newspaper reports, minutes
of meetings, plans, photographs
Activities that create architectural archives: (viii)
Sale or lease
Activities that create architectural archives: (ix)
Sale or lease
Sale and lease documents can reveal a lot of
detail about the building, particularly any
alterations since it was first built, and exact
sizes.
Records to look for: Deeds, agreement for
tenancy, licence to assign
Activities that create architectural archives: (ix)
Where should I look for archives?
Can be kept by the creating or receiving
partner – or both.
The bigger the organisation, the more likely
they will have kept documentation (usually).
Not everything will have survived!
Where should I look for archives?
Some places to consider when looking for archives:
The National Archives for Crown Estate, large projects (e.g.
housing estates) and national events (e.g. Festival of Britain).
Local record offices e.g. London Metropolitan Archives, City
of Westminster Archives
Business, charity, estate and church archives
University archives e.g. University of Brighton Design
Archives , University of Westminster/Max Lock Archive.
Specialist repositories e.g. RIBA, V&A
Some architectural practices
Where should I look for archives?
But, things can turn up in unexpected places…. This photo in
the University’s collection shows the construction of what is
now Topshop at Oxford Circus.
If you’re struggling to find
photos, it’s always worth
looking at collections relating
to nearby buildings or
organisations in case yours has
been recorded by chance or in
the background.
A brief explanation of archive cataloguing
Hierarchical structure – reflects the organisation
that produced them
Not organised by subject – objective structure
Not every item will be catalogued
A brief explanation of archive cataloguing
Records of the
University’s buildings are
spread out across the
different series – under
administrative records,
committee minutes,
photographs and often
mentioned in student
magazines!
A brief explanation of archive cataloguing
Don’t rely on the search function
Think in terms of activities, functions,
committees…
Remember the building – or even the road
– might have changed name over time.
Planning a visit to an archive
Archives can seem quite intimidating but
the rules are all there to ensure the long-
term preservation of the documents .
You will usually be asked to put your bag in
a locker, use pencil only and not eat or
drink.
Planning a visit to an archive
Check in advance if you need to make an
appointment and if you need to bring
photo ID or proof of address
Ask permission before taking photographs
– there may be good copyright or
preservations reasons why you are not
allowed.
How we can help you
The University of Westminster Archive team are
happy to help all staff and students with any queries
regarding archives- including both our own
collections and those held elsewhere.
We can help you to track down the archives you
need, provide advice on using archive catalogues,
and assist you in approaching organisations whose
archives are not easily accessible.
How we can help you
To ask our advice or use our collections visit us at
Level B3, 4-12 Little Titchfield St
Drop in times: Monday-Friday 10-12.30, 1.30-5
(staff & students only – external researchers need appointments)
Or email us at: archive@westminster.ac.uk
We also have online resources accessible from
http://www.westminster.ac.uk/archives

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Introduction to Archives for Architecture students

  • 1. Finding and Using Architectural Archives Anna McNally University of Westminster Archives archive@westminster.ac.uk
  • 2. What are archives? What kind of architectural information might I find in archives? Where should I look for archives? Tips on searching archive catalogues How to prepare for a visit to an archive Topics covered in this session:
  • 3. What are archives? Material created through every day activities and selected for permanent preservation.
  • 4. What are archives? Material created through every day activities and selected for permanent preservation. Not just paper – can also be objects & digital files.
  • 5. What are archives? Material created through every day activities and selected for permanent preservation. Can be tricky to use - often organised in a way that made sense at the time, but not now.
  • 6. What are archives? Material created through every day activities and selected for permanent preservation. Only around 5% of records created end up in an archive.
  • 7. Since archives are created through every day activities, you need to think through the activities involved in commissioning, designing and constructing a building. These will then help you to identify where your building will be mentioned in the archives.
  • 8. Activities that create architectural archives: (i) Inception - when the organisation decided to create a new building.
  • 9. Inception - when the organisation decided to create a new building. Records to look for: minute books, correspondence. Remember that the decision may have been taken years – or decades – before the building was started. Activities that create architectural archives: (i)
  • 10. Proposal – the first glimpse at the new building Activities that create architectural archives: (ii)
  • 11. Proposal – the first glimpse at the new building Records to look for: drawings and plans. Also look at Board minutes for any reaction to the proposal. Activities that create architectural archives: (ii)
  • 12. Activities that create architectural archives: (ii) Proposal – the first glimpse at the new building Remember! The finished building may be very different from the initial proposal!
  • 13. Approval - planning permission, freeholder approval, and internal sign-off Activities that create architectural archives: (iii)
  • 14. Approval - planning permission, freeholder approval, and internal sign-off Records to look for: records of any council approval will be held in the local public records office. They will include details of any objections or restrictions to the application. Activities that create architectural archives: (iii)
  • 15. Interpretation - decisions made during the building process Activities that create architectural archives: (iv)
  • 16. Interpretation - decisions made during the building process Records to look for: detailed plans, correspondence between the architect and builder, photographs taken during the building work, financial records. Activities that create architectural archives: (iv)
  • 17. Celebration – the moment the building opens Activities that create architectural archives: (v)
  • 18. Celebration – the moment the building opens Records to look for: programmes for the opening ceremony, newspaper reports, photographs Activities that create architectural archives: (v)
  • 19. Review – after the building opens Activities that create architectural archives: (vi)
  • 20. Review – after the building opens Records to look for: articles in architectural journals, correspondence relating to snagging issues, reports of immediate problems with the building. Activities that create architectural archives: (vi)
  • 21. Alterations over time Activities that create architectural archives: (vii)
  • 22. Alterations over time Records to look for: staff newsletters, annotated building plans, photographs Major alterations will go through the same process as starting a building from scratch but minor alterations can be difficult to track down in the documentation, even though cumulatively they may have a major impact Activities that create architectural archives: (vii)
  • 23. Experience – things that happen to a building that impact the structure or design Activities that create architectural archives: (viii)
  • 24. Experience – things that happen to a building that impact the structure or design Examples include fire, war damage and natural disasters. Records to look for: newspaper reports, minutes of meetings, plans, photographs Activities that create architectural archives: (viii)
  • 25. Sale or lease Activities that create architectural archives: (ix)
  • 26. Sale or lease Sale and lease documents can reveal a lot of detail about the building, particularly any alterations since it was first built, and exact sizes. Records to look for: Deeds, agreement for tenancy, licence to assign Activities that create architectural archives: (ix)
  • 27. Where should I look for archives? Can be kept by the creating or receiving partner – or both. The bigger the organisation, the more likely they will have kept documentation (usually). Not everything will have survived!
  • 28. Where should I look for archives? Some places to consider when looking for archives: The National Archives for Crown Estate, large projects (e.g. housing estates) and national events (e.g. Festival of Britain). Local record offices e.g. London Metropolitan Archives, City of Westminster Archives Business, charity, estate and church archives University archives e.g. University of Brighton Design Archives , University of Westminster/Max Lock Archive. Specialist repositories e.g. RIBA, V&A Some architectural practices
  • 29. Where should I look for archives? But, things can turn up in unexpected places…. This photo in the University’s collection shows the construction of what is now Topshop at Oxford Circus. If you’re struggling to find photos, it’s always worth looking at collections relating to nearby buildings or organisations in case yours has been recorded by chance or in the background.
  • 30. A brief explanation of archive cataloguing Hierarchical structure – reflects the organisation that produced them Not organised by subject – objective structure Not every item will be catalogued
  • 31. A brief explanation of archive cataloguing Records of the University’s buildings are spread out across the different series – under administrative records, committee minutes, photographs and often mentioned in student magazines!
  • 32. A brief explanation of archive cataloguing Don’t rely on the search function Think in terms of activities, functions, committees… Remember the building – or even the road – might have changed name over time.
  • 33. Planning a visit to an archive Archives can seem quite intimidating but the rules are all there to ensure the long- term preservation of the documents . You will usually be asked to put your bag in a locker, use pencil only and not eat or drink.
  • 34. Planning a visit to an archive Check in advance if you need to make an appointment and if you need to bring photo ID or proof of address Ask permission before taking photographs – there may be good copyright or preservations reasons why you are not allowed.
  • 35. How we can help you The University of Westminster Archive team are happy to help all staff and students with any queries regarding archives- including both our own collections and those held elsewhere. We can help you to track down the archives you need, provide advice on using archive catalogues, and assist you in approaching organisations whose archives are not easily accessible.
  • 36. How we can help you To ask our advice or use our collections visit us at Level B3, 4-12 Little Titchfield St Drop in times: Monday-Friday 10-12.30, 1.30-5 (staff & students only – external researchers need appointments) Or email us at: archive@westminster.ac.uk We also have online resources accessible from http://www.westminster.ac.uk/archives

Editor's Notes

  1. These records may not be in the archives of the architect or the building owner, especially if the building has changed hands. Easiest to go to the council archives for these type of records.
  2. These records may not be in the archives of the architect or the building owner, especially if the building has changed hands. Easiest to go to the council archives for these type of records.
  3. Major alterations will go through the same process as a building from scratch but minor alterations are often difficult to track down in the documentation, even though cumulatively they may have a major impact
  4. Major alterations will go through the same process as a building from scratch but minor alterations are often difficult to track down in the documentation, even though cumulatively they may have a major impact
  5. Things that happen to a building can obviously have quite a mjor architectural impatc – including fire or war damage
  6. Things that happen to a building can obviously have quite a mjor architectural impatc – including fire or war damage
  7. The building may later be sold to another owner – this can reveal a lot of detail about the building, particulrly any alterations since it was first built, and exact sizes.
  8. The building may later be sold to another owner – this can reveal a lot of detail about the building, particulrly any alterations since it was first built, and exact sizes.
  9. Links and more detail on the handout
  10. If you are looking for archives online, and you find something that you are interested in, you will need to make a note of the reference number in order to ask to see it. Archive references numbers look a little different to library references numbers. This is because we arrange archives in a different way to libraries. As each item is unique, it can only have one reference number. However it might be used for different people for different research needs. So we categorise archives to reflect the organisation that produced them, rather than anticipating any one research need. Most archives also have a backlog of catalloguing and so may not have listed every individual item that they hold, they may have listed them in groupings called series.
  11. Image is a hyperlink to look at the RPI catalogue on calmview. Open deeds and leases to show how these including building records but also RPI/7/3 includes plans etc
  12. So for those reason,s I suggest you don’t rely on the search function. If you search for the name or address of a particular building on an archive catalogue you are likely not to find anything but that is because any mention of it will be buried within large files.
  13. Archives are also a bit different from libraries in terms of rules. These can seem restrictive but it is to ensure the long term preservation of the archives. Remember that the role of the archivist is to help you find information, not to actually know the information. Do ask the archivist if there are any additional records it is worth your while looking at, but don’t expect them to have everything ready and waiting for you.
  14. Archives are also a bit different from libraries in terms of rules. These can seem restrictive but it is to ensure the long term preservation of the archives. Remember that the role of the archivist is to help you find information, not to actually know the information. Do ask the archivist if there are any additional records it is worth your while looking at, but don’t expect them to have everything ready and waiting for you.