This summer saw the launch of the extensive project Closer to Architecture, which focuses primarily on the conservation, restoration and digitising of design drawings. Preparations are well under way for the archival items that are due for conservation and restoration before the beginning of 2020. During investigations into the physical condition of the archival documents, we often discover remarkable items. Read more about our archivists’ and curators’ favourite discoveries.
Registrar Arjanti Sosrohadikoesoemo: ‘For the project Closer to Architecture, we have digitised both the fronts and backs of photographs. Few of us would imagine that the back of a photograph might also provide insights into an architect’s ideas. Where we, as an uninformed viewers, see merely a photograph of a building or an interior, the architect sees that his design has been vandalised. Around 1993, the architect Arno Nicolaï visited a recreational building he had designed for the Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij (NAM). That he was shocked by what he saw can be read on the reverse of these photographs, giving us a further insight into the architect’s intentions.’
Translation of the text on the back of the photographs:
'Expansion of the large hall under the balcony. Totally botched. Vandalism.'
'[Alteration] to the large hall destroys the whole. New glass façade with wrong spatial divisions. Vandalism.'
'Vandalism through alterations to the toilet block!'
Archivist Alfred Marks: ‘On Monday November 2019, the Roman Catholic church in Hoogmade, near Leiden, was largely destroyed by fire. Television reports made clear the extent of the damage and the local population’s emotional response to the destruction. Because, even though we all go to church less frequently, for many people churches remains important landmarks in their villages or towns, buildings that has always been there and which we cannot imagine not being there.
Religious heritage has been lost in Hoogmade. Whether the church can be rebuilt and restored remains a question. It is perhaps poor consolation that the design drawings still exist. The archive of the architect Jan van der Laan contains a file relating to the construction of the church. If the resources can be found to rebuild the church, the drawings will hopefully be useful. However, there is a slight problem. The drawings have been rolled up very tightly, making it difficult to study them. They have also been rolled together with blueprints, something we want to avoid in the future. Van der Laan’s archive is not yet scheduled for conservation, but it will certainly be addressed at a later date.’
Archivist Alfred Marks: 'It was customary for architects, and that perhaps remains the case despite digital practices, to store their drawings rolled up. One reason for this was that the tracing paper on which they worked was delivered on a roll and was therefore already ‘preformed’. Keeping drawings rolled also took up less space than keeping them flat: storing drawings flat requires large plan chests. It is therefore not surprising that in Het Nieuwe Instituut’s collection, rolled-up drawings – stored in a tube or a box – are the rule rather than the exception.
In principle there is nothing wrong with rolling drawings. The drawing is not damaged and it is still possible to consult it. But there can be problems. The way in which the drawings in the archive of the architects Stuivinga and Tuynenburg Muys are rolled up makes it very difficult to consult them. They are rolled so tightly that you need several hands to unroll them and if you succeed in this, tension is created on the edges that can cause cracks.Why did they do this in this office? The drawings are no larger than A2, so they were easy enough to store flat! So this is what we are going to do.'
Archivist Alfred Marks: ".. But as is often the case, the question remains: by whom? The collection contains many examples of beautiful presentation drawings that may well transcend their status as archival documents to be considered works of art. Aerial views, watercolours, studies, impressions and detailed design drawings contribute to the collection’s visual wealth. In many cases, the architect himself had a unique talent for drawing and made the drawings himself. These drawings are usually signed. But in other cases, draughtsmen were employed for this task or the work was outsourced. In the case of this fine example from the archives of Van den Broek & Bakema, the draughtsman is unknown: the sheet is not signed. It is notable that when the drawing was stored, it was not treated with any special care: the sheet was stored between other design drawings and was even folded in half!
Luckily we still have the photos
‘A few years ago, an estimate was made of the number of photographs in the collection: approximately 300,000. The vast majority are standard formats and are, fortunately, reasonably well packed in sleeves and boxes. But unfortunately there are also very dubious exceptions, such as the very large photographic prints of the model of the Dutch pavilion at Expo ’70 in Osaka, designed by Carel Weeber and Jaap Bakema. For convenience, they were stored rolled up at the Weeber office. The tension caused by rolling the prints probably caused the large cracks during later consultation, so that one is now torn completely in half. The conservation and digitisation of the entire photography collection is one of the most important goals within the Closer to Architecture programme. For these photographs, conservation is not a luxury but a necessity. Only then can they be digitised to preserve them for the future.’
Glass Wall Construction
Archivist Alfred Marks: ‘In post-war archives we regularly encounter drawings on tracing paper with coloured foils attached to areas of the reverse. This gives these areas of the drawing an extra accent. On the dyline, this produces a gradation of grey tones, depending on the colour and density of the foil used. While researching the use of such foils for the Closer to Architecture project, I discovered a fantastic example: a design for a glass wall construction by Jan van Goethem for Utrecht University from 1983. The artist has drawn twenty rectangles in a thin pencil line. By applying a pencil wash over the lines, the panels seem to light up. He then indicated the palette very precisely with coloured foils. And it is immediately clear why he has used this technique: the colour of the foil is exactly the colour of the design to be carried out! This is an application that we have otherwise rarely encountered in the archive.’
The Rolled-up model
The archive of architect Ernest Groosman (1917-1999) is among the most important archives from the post-war period from around 1960 to 1980. Archivist Alfred Marks: ‘Many architects have rolled up their drawings due to lack of space. While examining the boxes of rolled-up items, I came cross a rolled-up model. It is described as a ‘study for a neighbourhood design with stamps, collage card on paper’. ‘Collage’ or ‘model’, it makes little difference what we call this object. In any case, it is clear that it deserves a better storage method than being rolled up. The rolling of the paper has resulted in tension on the sheet so that the affixed pieces of card are in danger of coming loose. The best option is to flatten this object. But that is easier said than done: we placed weights on it for several weeks but as soon as they were removed it just rolled up again. It clearly requires professional help.’