Archives of architecture: Interview #2 Cité de l'architecture et du Patrimoine
Article in English
Second interview of the series "archives of architecture", we visit the Cité de l'architecture et du Patrimoine de Paris. With more than 400 archival collections, this institution has contributed since its creation to raise awareness of the depth and continuity of the architectural history of the 20th century and is now in search of new forms of mediatization of the culture of the built environment.
espazium.ch: What is the origin of the Archives centre of La Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine?
The Archives center of La Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine was designed at the end of the 1970s, at the same time as the Institut français d’architecture (IFA). The IFA, a para-administrative association under the management of the Ministry of Equipment, was inaugurated in 1980. It hosted a department called Archives and History, which was created to collect and showcase archives of architects, or, as we said at the time, to “set them in motion”. The founder of this department, Maurice Culot, had launched the collection of these archives in Brussels (AAM) a decade earlier; he was head of the Paris Archives Center until around 2000, and is still actively related to the Brussels Archives Center.
You have more than 400 archives of 20th century pioneers of French architecture such as Auguste Perret, Henri Sauvage, Bernard Zehrfuss or Jean Dubuisson. What are your criteria for acquiring new funds and how have they evolved over time?
It is difficult to talk of criteria as they hardly ever have been clearly written and articulated. Obviously, the idea is to collect entire funds, which led us to focus on offices that have actually built a lot, that is on built architecture rather than on exploratory aspects of it. Two earlier deposits have had an impact on the collection (that of the CNAM, rich in pioneers of reinforced concrete, and that of the Architecture Academy, rich in documents on architects with an official career). Considering we now have a fair critical mass on architecture in France until around 1980, we are now seeking to collect archives on the architecture of the last forty years or so.
What is the role or influence of architectural archives in the contemporary built environment?
I wish I had an answer to this question… The few professors of architectural history in French schools of architecture say that the role of history has (re)become marginal in education. Obviously, since 1980, the IFA has made a significant move to raise awareness among the public about the richness and continuity of 20th century architectural history; the Cité, including the GAMC (Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Architecture of the MMF) and its various programs, pursue this aim. However, we find that too few architects come to consult our archives.
The Archive Centre has developed its own tools and methods for classifying and describing an archive material grouped under the digital app ArchiWebture. How did this project develop and what is its specificity compared to other archival methods?
ArchiWebture is the online version of the internal ArchiVecture inventory entry application. It is the result of an earlier database which was previously developed with the IFA Archive Center and the Archives de la construction moderne in Lausanne, under the name of Hypathie (1993). Created internally – with Access – by a librarian of the Parisian centre, ArchiVecture (1997) was modelled on Hypathie, but it improved the process by defining the architectural object (most of the time a building) as the core element of the inventory, to which the files describing the folders (material such as correspondence or drawing folders) are related. This allows to combine a discontinuous numbering of the folders (facilitating the inventory) with the continuous display of folders related to each item. Through its various size ranges and structures (thesaurus, controlled vocabularies), this tool has no equivalent in France for architects’ archives.
What are the opportunities and limitations of digitalization in architecture archiving?
There are probably more proactive or effective ways to take this issue than ours. At the Centre d’archives d’architecture du xxe siècle, we put many digitized documents online, without a master plan. It can be a coverage for all projects, through a selection of a few graphic or photographic documents related to each project. If a publisher or researcher has requested the digitalization of many documents for the same project, we may put a larger selection of files online. We can link them to three different levels of online inventories, so as to list priorities according to their importance, but we always try to make it clear that this is only a limited illustration for which we cannot indicate its level of relevance. The documents must be consulted on site. Glass plates and audiovisual documents are always digitized.
The only exception is the Perret Papers, which were largely digitized some ten years ago for conservation reasons.
Since 2010, you have been developing virtual exhibitions of part of your collections. How would you define the topics and what are the upcoming exhibitions?
The topics of these virtual exhibitions (or documentary files) have been building up over the years without any prior plan, based on exhibitions that physically took place. Some of them, however, were designed as such, mostly to put certain documents in perspective, such as the audiovisual works of Marcel Lods Papers : they were digitized to allow a better access, but insofar as their interest was unequal, it was necessary to imagine a device to better look at them and understand them.
There are many architecture archives all over the world such as the CCA in Montreal, the Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam, the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles or the GTA Archives here in Switzerland. Do you have any relation or collaboration between these major architecture archives?
There is a network established in 1979, ICAM (International Confederation of Architectural Museums), which every two years brings together the heads of many of these centers, sometimes around sessions devoted to archives. This allows us to get to know each other, and often to exchange ideas on the sidelines of the conferences and meetings. As far as I know, there are few examples of concrete collaborations, such as the one with the ACM that implemented the software Hypathie.
The Cité de l’architecture & du patrimoine is more than just an archive. What is/are its missions/s or vision/s today?
Founded in 2004-2007, the Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine is made up of three entities: the IFA – which was, in addition to the Archives and History department, a resource centre for contemporary architecture –, the Musée des Monuments français (MMF), and the École de Chaillot, which trains heritage architects in France. Holding all these offices at the same time, the Cité has a whole set of missions: promoting architecture to the general public (across all its forms and periods), but also fostering debates among professionals. As a national institution, it has an official role and is a relay for the ministries concerned (essentially the Ministry of Culture), but it has also a vocation as a resource centre that could have, it seems to us, a higher traffic.
Regarding the archives, the Cité has had, for the past two years, the exclusive mission of collecting architectural archives at the national level.
David Peyceré is head curator for archives. His interest in the history of architecture emerged during his national service in the administration of historic monuments in the Île-de-France region. After various positions at the Departmental Archives and then at the National Archives (1988-1995), he is head of the Centre d’archives d’architecture du xxe siècle since 1995.
List of the main archival collections held at the Centre d’archives d’architecture du XXe siècle. (See Downloads bellow)
(For the complete list and more details on the collections mentioned here, see the list of online collections on Archiwebture).
Dossier: «Archives of architecture»
On the role of archives and their absence - Editorial by Yony Santos & Cedric van der Poel, November 2020