Archives of architecture-Interview #3 : Getty Research Institute of Los Angeles
Archival resource and serving the researchers internationally, The Getty Research Institute (GRI) in Los Angeles is one of the most active institutions in the field of architectural memory. Guided by its chief curator, Maristella Casciato, and its architecture collection specialist Aimee Lind, we enter the world of the GRI: a center for art and architecture that is as interested in uncovering traces of the past as it is in researching contemporary discourse.
espazium.ch: What is the origin of the Getty Research Institute architecture archives?
Aimee Lind: The Getty Research Institute (GRI) is one of four programs, along with the Museum, the Conservation Institute, and the Foundation, that make up the J. Paul Getty Trust. Following J. Paul Getty’s death in 1976, the Trust was formed as a result of his generous bequest and directive to create “a museum, gallery of art, and library for the diffusion of artistic and general knowledge”. The GRI was founded in 1983, with holdings quickly built up through the acquisition of the personal libraries of notable individuals in the field of art and architecture including Nikolaus Pevsner and Giovanni Muzio. Acquisitions from individuals, auctions, and dealers have continued at a rapid pace, including many important collection donations over the years. Key figures contributing to the growth of the Getty’s architectural archives include the GRI’s inaugural director Kurt Forster (1984-1992), former head of the Archives of the History of Art Nicholas Olsberg (1984-1991), former head of the Department of Architecture & Contemporary Art Wim de Wit (1993-2013), and Senior Curator of Architectural Collections Maristella Casciato (2015-present). Notable early archival acquisitions included Bauhaus student work, Aldo Rossi’s papers and sketchbooks, and the records of the CIAM Belgian Section. Following the acquisition of the Julius Shulman Photography Archive by Wim de Wit in 2004, many mid-century Southern California architects (or their heirs) chose to place their archives with the Getty, allowing for enhanced research opportunities for scholars.
What are your criteria for acquiring new fonds and how have they evolved over time?
Maristella Casciato: New acquisitions have evolved in the past decades in scope and objectives. While the GRI actively participated in the creation of those few centers of excellence focused in collecting architecture since the early 1980s, operations have consistently been conducted with the intention of keeping the unity and complexity of significant and unique corpuses of drawings and related documents. Primary sources collected include drawings at all stages of the design process (from sketches to renderings, to construction documentation including building specifications), models, project files, office records, correspondence, publicity materials, photographs and slides.
Criteria have evolved along the following strategic lines:
- Complementing and expanding the scope of the Special Collections, taking into account new research projects and programs. Within the acquisition process the GRI evaluates the rarity and integrity of the new fonds, the conditions of the documents, their provenance, the processing requirements for allowing accessibility (conservation, cataloguing, creation of metadata, digitization), and the research value;
- Providing wider context for the Collections, pairing the acquisition with stronger bibliographical support and new media access;
- Connecting new acquisitions to creators and to holdings of other relevant institutions in the field;
- Creating new fields of investigation in increasing the link to a digital humanities approach;
- Exploring and documenting encounters with non-Western cultures.
What is the role or influence of architectural archives in the contemporary architecture culture?
Maristella Casciato: Within the rapid evolution of the architectural practice and modifications of the scholarly approach to contemporary architectural discourse, the GRI is active as a think-tank and offers a forum for exchanges.
The GRI supports local and international research projects offering numerous grants to all levels of the pre-and post-academic and professional career. It welcomes researchers who are preparing theses, dissertations, and independent projects for international manifestations such as Biennials and similar events.
The GRI opens research spaces to class visits from local and international university students in architecture, design, and architectural history. It also offers support to architects/engineers, contractors, and homeowners to consult drawings, photographs, and design records which are useful tools in renovation projects. Documentation held at the GRI is increasingly consulted by groups and agencies involved in preservation programs and advocacy projects.
The GRI operates in the diffusion of the architectural knowledge produced inside the institute and beyond with the publication of books on architectural theory, including architectural monographs, and on design. It supports the publication of The Getty Research Journal, a scholarly magazine published annually. It complements the exhibitions’ projects with the publication of catalogues and related articles.
Among your archives, we found works of John Lautner, Aldo Rossi, Bernard Rudofsky, Nikolaus Pevsner, Pierre Koenig and Francesco Borromini among others. How do you promote/exhibit such great material?
Aimee Lind: All of our holdings are featured in our Library Catalog, with links to our digitized collections, and highlights of our architectural collections can be found in our Architecture & Design Research Guide.
We have an active exhibitions program within the Getty Research Institute. Our curators have organized many exhibitions featuring our architectural archives such as: Lessons from Bernard Rudofsky, Julius Shulman: Modernity and Metropolis, Overdrive: LA Constructs the Future 1940-1990, The Metropolis in Latin America, 1830-1930, MONUMENTality, and Bauhaus Beginnings. Several of these exhibitions have traveled to international institutions. We’ve also produced online exhibitions for The Legacy of Ancient Palmyra and Bauhaus: Building the New Artist. In addition, we frequently loan materials to other institutions for their own exhibitions-- The Hammer Museum’s Between Earth and Heaven: The Architecture of John Lautner, the Anni Albers Retrospective at the Tate Modern in London, and Architecture Itself & Other Postmodern Myths at the Canadian Centre for Architecture, for example.
Many of these exhibitions have accompanying publications. Our Publications Department also produces books that focus expressly on our archives such as the recently published Pierre Koenig: A View from the Archive and Reyner Banham and the Paradoxes of High Tech. In 1999, we co-published a facsimile edition of Aldo Rossi’s ‘Quaderni Azzurri’ that included the 32 of 47 notebooks that are held in the Getty’s Aldo Rossi Papers.
You are a leading institution within the field of “electronic & digital culture”. What are the opportunities and limitations of digitalization in architecture and/or architecture archiving?
Aimee Lind: Digitization projects have the potential to grant researchers remote, immediate access to materials, serving not only their preliminary research needs, but also allowing for greater ease of selection should a project mature into publication or exhibition, yet there are significant obstacles:
- Collection materials vary widely in terms of size, medium, and condition offering no one-size-fits-all digitization solution
- Diverse user groups have different needs, making selection a challenge
- Legal issues such as rights and privacy are complex
- Adequate metadata requires dedicated staff with knowledge of architectural terminology
- Digitizing only portions of archival collections removes important contextual information from the research process
Despite these limitations, we have digitized 48,000 images from the Julius Shulman Photography Archive, a full suite of William Butterfield drawings, and are in the process of digitizing all slides, over 20,000 drawings, and all models from the Frank Gehry Papers. We are also engaged in a project to digitize and geolocate the images from Ed Ruscha’s Streets of Los Angeles.
There are many architecture archives all over the world like the CCA in Montreal, the Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam or the GTA ETH Archives here in Switzerland. Do you have any relation with national or international architecture archives?
Aimee Lind: In addition to loaning materials for exhibition to many of the institutions mentioned above, our archivists, curators, and librarians maintain a close working relationship with colleagues worldwide through personal relationships and professional organizations.
We routinely work with colleagues internationally in an effort to promote not only our local collections but the fields of art and architectural research, in general. The GRI collaborated with the Avery Library at Columbia University and Artstor on the Built Works Registry (BWR), an IMLS grant-funded collaborative project designed to create and develop a freely available registry of architectural works and the built environment. In another collaborative project, the GRI and the Kunstbibliothek – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin unified virtually the correspondence of Erich and Louise Mendelsohn. Now a single digital window on the extensive Mendelsohn papers held in Los Angeles and Berlin provides seamless access to the correspondence, previously accessible only by traveling to both locations.
Architect and architecture historian, Maristella Casciato is Senior Curator, Head Architectural Collections at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles. From 2012 to 2015, she held the position of Associate Director Research at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal.
Aimee Lind is the Reference Specialist for Architectural Collections and the Manager of Interlibrary Loan at the Getty Research Institute. She is also the co-founder and director of CalArchNet, a collective designed to foster dialogue and collaboration between archivists, curators, and librarians from California institutions that house architectural archives.
Highlights of the collection includes:
- The archives of Southern California architects Welton Becket, Frank Gehry, Franklin D. Israel, Ray Kappe, Pierre Koenig, William Krisel, John Lautner, and John & Donald Parkinson
- The influential photographic archive of Julius Shulman
- Archives documenting the intellectual and creative work of architects connected with the Bauhaus school and the architecture collective Der Ring, such as Walter Gropius, Erich Mendelsohn, Hannes Meyer, Mies van der Rohe, Karl Schneider, and Bruno Taut
- Documentation of Le Corbusier’s architectural and urban planning projects through his own manuscripts, sketches, and correspondence, the archives of the Congres International d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM), and the artful photographic archive of Lucien Hervé
- Contemporaneous and retrospective analysis of the modern movement through the papers of important architecture critics and historians Reyner Banham, Roger Ginsburger, Ada Louise Huxtable, Hans Hildebrandt, Thomas Hines, Herbert Muschamp, and Nikolaus Pevsner, as well as through the documentation of discourse on architecture and design at the annual International Design Conference in Aspen (IDCA)
- Photo reproductions of the drawings of AC Martin Partners and Frank Lloyd Wright correspondence, scrapbooks, and architectural drawings
- Documentation of interior architecture, furniture, and theatre design of Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann, Vlastislav Hofman, and the Frank Brothers, among others
- Collections documenting the creation of The Getty Center by Richard Meier & Partners and Robert Irwin
- Complete or near complete runs of influential modern architecture journals (Ver Sacrum, Frühlicht, Wendingen, Bauhaus: Zeitschrift fur Bau und Gestaltung, Die Form, Arts & Architecture) as well as archival papers documenting the editorial process of L’Equerre (Records of the L’Equerre group), L’Architecture Vivante (Jean Badovici papers), and L’Esprit Nouveau (Le Corbusier manuscripts, sketches, correspondence and photographs)
- In addition to these collecting strengths, holdings include the work of some of the most influential architects and firms of the modern era such as Peter Behrens, Daniel Burnham, Marcel Breuer, Coop Himmelblau, Charles & Ray Eames, Peter Eisenman, Yona Friedman, R. Buckminster Fuller, Eileen Gray, Irving Gill, Zaha Hadid, Josef Hoffmann, Hans Hollein, Arasa Isozaki, Philip Johnson, Daniel Libeskind, Adolf Loos, J.J.P. Oud, Aldo Rossi, Bernard Rudofsky, Otto Wagner, and Lebbeus Woods.
Dossier: «Archives of architecture»
On the role of archives and their absence - Editorial by Yony Santos & Cedric van der Poel, November 2020