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Columbia University’s Avery Library and GSAPP Release Artstor Architectural Plans and Sections Collection

January 29, 2016

Columbia University’s Avery Library and GSAPP Release Artstor Architectural Plans and Sections Collection

Margaret Smithglass, Registrar and Digital Content Librarian
Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University

Barbara Opar and Barret Havens, column editors

Avery Coonley Playhouse, Frank Lloyd Wright, 1907

An ongoing challenge in the architectural community has been the limited availability of plans and sections of significant works of architecture, one that has been particularly pronounced during the architectural education process. The Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library and the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP), both at Columbia University, have collaborated with Artstor to launch an architectural image set offering an exciting new option. The Avery/GSAPP Architectural Plans and Sections Collection is a two-year project that will ultimately make 20,000 images of architectural plans, sections and related materials available to Artstor subscribers at more than 1,700 institutions worldwide.  The first installment of approximately 10,000 images is now accessible in the Artstor Digital Library.

Based on the History of Architecture curriculum at GSAPP, the primary focus of the collection is 20th century modernism. The majority of images in the collection represent built works, comprising 1,000 projects in 44 countries. Curated by architectural scholars Mary McLeod and Kenneth Frampton, the collection was conceived as a resource that would provide the essential documentation for seminal works of modern architecture, built or unbuilt, in an online format intended to support architectural instruction around the world.

From Professor Mary McLeod: "As a faculty member of the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, I am pleased that I have been able to help contribute to Artstor's collection drawings and renderings of important twentieth-century architectural works, which were scanned by the Visual Resources center from books in Avery Library's outstanding collection.  As those of us who teach architectural history know all too well, while there are numerous photographic images of buildings available on the web, there is a dearth of hardline drawings and renderings done by architects."

The complex process of creating this wealth of visual material was executed by the Visual Resources Collection (VRC) at GSAPP, a longstanding student-run resource for faculty and students originally developed as a slide library. Beginning in the summer of 2014, three exceptional VRC student curators worked with Avery staff to establish the project’s technical framework, specifications, metadata schema, and workflows. For each project in the core collection, Avery’s extensive holdings were evaluated to identify and flag drawings and associated images that would best convey a complete understanding of architectural intent.

Avery’s general collection is non-circulating, so special arrangements were made to securely stage and transport bibliographic materials to the VRC for scanning and metadata work on a regular schedule throughout the academic year. A team of dedicated graduate student workers created image and data files, after which curatorial and metadata review served to finalize the phase one delivery.  Once VRC work was completed, database files were transferred to Avery for review and enhancement, and then to Artstor for internal image, data and legal evaluation before the collection went live last fall. “It is truly an invaluable opportunity to have a collection selected with the expertise of two GSAPP scholars from the resources of the Avery Library, one of the largest architecture libraries in the world,” said Artstor President James Shulman. “Columbia University’s contribution of plans, sections, and photographs of models to the Artstor Digital Library will be a vital resource for teaching and studying modern architecture at institutions worldwide.”

In celebrating this incredible new resource, Carole Ann Fabian, Director of the Avery Library, shared, “Avery is thrilled to have worked with GSAPP and Artstor to develop this core collection of plans and sections for teaching the history of modern architecture. Our GSAPP faculty advisors, Professors Mary McLeod and Kenneth Frampton, have shaped the record of this history through their scholarship and decades of teaching here at Columbia. Their curatorial guidance, Avery’s incomparable collections and Artstor’s extraordinary Digital Library platform have made this project possible. Our collaboration fulfills a critical need for a shared, authoritative collection of key works that document the masterworks of modern architecture, and is now available to the Artstor community.”

Work continues on phase two, and the complete collection is expected to be available for the beginning of the 2016-17 academic year. View the collection in the Artstor Digital Library.

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