Assets > Architectural Records
Schrock, Nancy Carlson and Mary Campbell Cooper. Records in
Architectural Offices: Suggestions for the Organization, Storage
and Conservation of Architectural Office Archives. Cambridge,
Massachusetts: Massachusetts Committee for the Preservation of
Architectural Records, Third Revised Edition, June 1992.
Chapter 1: Current Practice
Types of Records
Architectural firms collect a large amount of printed and visual
materials, much of it vital for an ongoing operation. We can
distinguish among the following types of records:
- Project or business development
- Written and computer records-correspondence, notes of meetings,
contract administration and legal documents, change orders,
cost estimates and budgets, schedules, specifications
- Drawings-schematics, design development, presentation drawings,
bid documents, working drawings, shop drawings, and record
(often called as built) drawings, including CAD
- Presentation boards
- Videotapes, or other construction documentation
Office files (Records pertaining to the overall operations
of the firm)
- Administrative records- employee records, overhead, tax
and other financial records, insurance
- Job lists, often generated from a project information database
- General correspondence- not related to specific projects,
brochures and other publicity for the firm
- News clippings/ off prints
The office files are usually found within the accounting,
personnel, and other administrative offices. Job lists are
crucial for keeping track of a firms output; they
serve as the comprehensive record of the projects and, when
organized by job number, then sorted by job name or client,
can be a master index throughout the system.
The project files are the most voluminous and the most important
as they are the permanent written records of a firms
production. While the project is under construction, the
records are usually kept by the project manager and/or job
captain, often with originals in the administrative file.
Once completed, the materials are gathered together and
stored in a variety of ways, from organized office archives
to nooks and crannies in the office, under the
jurisdiction of librarians, secretaries, principles, or
nobody in particular.
Visual records serve a range of purposes from a comprehensive
record of complete work to a haphazard collection. Slides,
photos, or presentation boards are used for promotion and
interviews; or they can be records of different phases of
construction. Although slides and photographs are sometimes
interfiled with project information, they are more frequently
kept in the public relations or marketing sections. Some
firms who emphasize the visual element in their practice,
organize and index their slides, keeping an up-to-date slide
Smaller firms do not, of course, have separate departments.
One or two individuals are apt to perform all of the functions
Organization of Project Information
The most common way to organize project information is to
assign a job number for each project or commission, and to
use it on all documents and drawings as recommended by The
AIA Handbook. The most common numbering systems are straight
numerical sequence or a combination of the year the project
began plus a numerical sequence for the individual years
work, for example: 92001.00, 92002.00, 92002.02. Other firms
use their own systems or subdivisions developed for various
accounting or managerial purposes. The success of the system
depends upon the consistency with which it is applied.
Despite the repeated use of job numbers for account and other
record keeping, project information often is not consistently
filed by job number. Job name is a popular method, with the
tubes of drawings and boxes of records arranged alphabetically.
Other systems include arrangement of records by building type,
name of client, date of completion, and site location. Problems
arise when different filing systems are used within the same
firm for different types of records, such as arranging written
documents by job number and drawings by job name, without
When a firm is young, architects find organization by job
name adequate. As the firm grows and project records accumulate,
it becomes more difficult to remember job names or even to
sustain a consistent system of naming. Often a job has more
than one name, an official title, and another in everyday
usage. An alphabetical sequence is also a problem to maintain
in a reasonable order since it requires a great deal of shifting
to interfile the immense bulk of newer records.
As a compromise, some firms keep all active records by job
name, and file inactive records by job number upon completion.
This can become confusing.
Access to older records is facilitated by supplementary cross-reference
systems. Keeping computer indexes or lists according to useful
categories allows immediate location of older records by the
staff. Computer indexing and construction of a project information
database allows access to information by chronology, site,
job type, location in the office, and client name. However,
a few firms still rely instead on staff memory.
Retention of Records
While it may seem ideal to save all records, especially when
a firm is young and small, maintenance of old records requires
staff and space, and storage space is expensive. Despite the
need to store only essential documents, some firms have no
written policy for what they choose to save. A summary of
typical practice according to record type follows:
- A large majority keep written documents, specifications
and reports. While most want to save all drawings, some
are usually discarded.
- Project development: discarded selectively by one-third
of the firms and retained by the others.
- Schematics, design development, and presentation drawings:
the most common types of project drawings to be discarded
completely or selectively either at the end of the project
(upon payment of the bills) or after a regular interval
such as 10-15 years after completion. Some firms offer presentation
drawing to the client.
- Working drawings: retained whenever possible, usually
the original reproducibles and one copy or stick set
- Shop drawings: frequently offered to clients or discarded
after a fixed interval ranging from six to fifteen years
- Bid drawings: retention varies
- Permit drawings: retention varies
- Record (or as built) drawings: originals or
copies may be given to client
- Signoff or client approved drawings: retained, permanent
or 10-15 years
- Value engineering
- Slides or photographs are usually kept. Presentation boards
and models are often photographed, rather than stored. A
few are filed for marketing purposes.
- Models are too bulky for firms to consider keeping on
a regular basis. Most often, presentation models are given
to the client, but firms do photograph models first and
keep as a firm record.
- Keep Everything! Some firms discard files
after seven, ten or twenty years. Coordinate with your records
manager, attorney and accountant.
The master project files are usually created during the
job, and at its completion duplicates and extraneous material
are discarded by the project manager and job captain.
Several firms have principals who take responsibility
for reviewing the final project files. Old records often
become the province of an administrative assistant or
as one firm said, everyone. Where there is
no clearly assigned responsibility and all staff have
access, materials can be lost through neglect. There is
more use when an indexing system provides access to the
It is quite naturally difficult to find the opportunity
to sort through records after the completion of a project,
since current work is both more compelling financially
and more interesting. Yet when not done soon after completion
of a project, records are lost, needless material consumes
valuable space, and staff no longer recall what is most
important. During a large project, sorting can be done
at designated intervals (schematic design, design development
phases, for example). Discarding records then typically
occurs when space becomes tight or during moves. Discarding
is then often hasty and haphazard, and conducted with
the goal of discarding the maximum rather than preserving
the essential. Sometimes the choices, while logical to
the architects, or office person at the time, are horrifying
for the historian, as when two firms tossed records of
buildings no longer extant, eliminating valuable historical
Architectural records present tremendous storage problems
and expense because of their bulk and their size. Although
flat storage is ideal for drawings, flat files are expensive
and take up floor space. Mylar, by some calculations, can
be stored more economically flat. Older records are usually
boxed and drawings folded in with written documents or rolled
into tubes. Because tubes are increasingly expensive, drawings
may be just bagged, which offers less support and protection.
Frequently records find their way into attics, basements and
barns where they are subject to hear, cold and moisture. Some
larger firms rent space in off-site storage facilities where
floor space is cheaper but access is limited. There are professionally
managed records centers that architects are using increasingly.
Firms of Different Sizes
During their surveying in Greater Boston, Mass COPAR staff
noted trends in records management practice based on the size
of the firms. These general characteristics still apply today.
For purposes of analysis, the firms can be divided into four
categories: large firms of 16 or more architects, medium-sized
firms of 6-15 architects, small firms of 2-5 architects, and
Large firms (the majority having a staff of 25-35 architects,
planners, or engineers) consistently organize their records
by job number with indexes to gain access to the greater quantity
of information. They are more likely to employ librarians
or administrative staff specifically designated to manage
current and older records. Many retain all records. A few
microfilm drawings, specifications, and/or project documents
in some form. Others store older material in off-site professionally
Medium-sized firms are also organized and systematic in their
practice. The majority file materials by job number and use
some sort of indexing. Like larger firms, they seem more apt
to discard some older materials or store them in off-site
Small firms use job numbers and job name equally to organize
their records. They keep most of their old records, though
somewhat informally, sometimes dividing records among principles,
storing them at home where one architect noted they are usually
lost by flood or whimsy. They feel that off-site storage
is too expensive to justify, and the retrieval of documents
Sole proprietors are more likely to keep all their records,
though less formally than larger firms. Project materials
are arranged alphabetically be job name in half of the firms;
the other half uses job numbers. Reflecting the architects
greater familiarity with their own work, there are only a
few instances of any cross-reference files, as memory seems
to be adequate. Older records are typically stored at home
in attics, basements, garages, and barns.
Examples of Record Systems in Use
One larger firm has a comprehensive records management system
administered by the librarian, who also serves as archivist.
Upon completion of a job, the project files are assembled
in a specified order, and working drawings are arranged according
to the project cover sheet. Other drawings- design development,
schematics, etc. are saved at the discretion of the project
manager. Specifications, job files, and working drawings are
microfilmed. One copy of the specifications remain in the
Specifications Office, the written documents are discarded,
and the drawings are housed off-site in a warehouse after
a log, using a database or list of contents, has
been prepared. The original master microfilm is stored off-site
with climate and security control while copies for use remain
in the library. The microfilm reader is capable of generating
an 18x24 inch image on the viewing screen, which meets most
needs, but the full-size drawings are also available in storage.
The library has 70,000 slides and circulates only duplicates;
the public relations office retains photographs, and the administrative
office keeps administrative records. All archive materials
are filed by job number with additional access by job name,
client, location and other fields in the database.
Although large size necessitates a more elaborate program,
elements of a system can be found in firms of smaller size.
Several with architectural staffs of 20-25, have librarians.
Others have an n administrative staff member designated as
archivist. Other firms have individuals who have other tasks
but have grown into the position of office archivist.
Few firms microfilm materials on a regular basis. Some firms
film only contract administration. Several do use off-site
storage, most for project files and drawings, some for slides
as well, guaranteeing their long-term usefulness as records.
Duplicates are made for staff use.
Project files are usually sorted at the end of a job, but
the master file can also be arranged during the course of
work. Some have a rubber stamp for each job, which is automatically
placed on all incoming and outgoing documents by the project
director, who annotates them with symbols that indicate where
copies have been sent and where the original is filed. At
the bottom of the stamp there is space for additional file
numbers based on various categories and project parameters.
The project documentation is maintained by designated category
during the life of the project and simply assembled in order
and filed away at the end of the job. A file list of categories,
often called a filing plan maintained during the
job, serves as the contents list.
Other firms have also developed their own system for outlining
types of project records within their files or have used the
Uniform Construction Index, or other standard systems.
Project information need not always be sorted at the end
of a job. One firm retains all project information for five
years, then weeds and films it. Since microfilming is expensive,
this policy insures that only the most pertinent material
Sole proprietors need less elaborate systems. Here too, records
are handled most effectively when the architect makes a commitment
to keep track of all jobs done, the records retained, and
their location. Specific methods include log books and location
lists to drawers, boxes, or tubes of materials that are numbered
or labeled and filed in order. Annotated job lists or brochures
are often adequate. As noted earlier, many small offices file
records by job name and do not need any cross-referencing
Chapter 2: Organizing Office Records
The policies and practices described in the previous section
share several principles in common. In all cases, the architects
in charge have made a commitment to allocate the staff time
an over head to make the organization of records an integral
part of office administration. The most essential documents
are defined and placed within a specific order, either during
or at the completion of a job. Records management becomes project
management. There is a logical flow of records from the active
phase during development and construction to the less active
phase in storage. The location of records at each stage is noted.
Access is provided by a system of indexes in a project information
database. In a small office, a list of drawer contents may be
sufficient, while in a larger firm, more extensive files are
prepared. Older records are placed in a designated storage area,
and provisions are made for locating and retrieving them. When
it becomes necessary to discard older records because of space
constraints or obsolescence, criteria for weeding are set just
as they are for forming the initial project file. The job list
remains a master list of the firms work. Policies are
applied consistently and older records continue to play a role
in the organization.
It is important to manage records when they are created, during
the job meeting, at the CAD workstation, at the mail stop, in
the print room, at the PC, and with the receptionist. Information
is delivered, distributed, filed, or discarded. Without a plan,
a firm can drown in masses of material. With a plan, a firm
will be able to define its permanent records and insure that
they are preserved as part of the office archives.
The Value of Records Management
A records program creates a more productive environment by
managing records and information effectively. Discarding what
is not needed saves space and furniture. Providing ready access
to what is needed serves both staff and client needs.
Records management also provides essential legal protection.
During litigation, documents in all formats can be subpoenaed.
In court, the best defense involves:
Documents that demonstrate compliance with existing laws
Written evidence that records have been consistently preserved
or discarded according to a policy that has been applied in
the normal course of business.
Good practice is pragmatic and will win the respect of others,
including judges. Retrieving information easily is efficient
and saves time for top management, the insurer, or your lawyer.
In summary, good records management improves office communication
and productivity. It saves time, money, and pleases clients.
Records management is part of good project management. As
one principal said, An accurate records system is a
management tool. I can look at project records and see very
quickly where the project is check dates for schematics
and design development, the sign-off set as well.
Implementing a Records Program: Keys to Success
- Gain the support and involvement of top management.
- Designate a records coordinator or assign records management
responsibility to a staff member and make it a regular part
of the job description. If the person is not a professional
records manager, provide appropriate training or hire a records
management consultant to provide on-site training.
- Survey the most important information sources, their location
and patterns of use.
- Develop a filing system or use and improve the current system.
Arrange records according to the filing system. Appendix B
and C give examples.
- Establish written policies for all records created by the
firm. These should include copies as well as the original
because duplicates belong to the firm, not to the individual.
- Develop retention schedules that list categories of records
with the lengths of time that each should be retained in consultation
with your accountant and lawyer. Sample retention schedules
appear in Appendix E-H.
- Include all formats (paper, Mylar, microfilm, computer disks
and tapes, etc.) in all policies and schedules.
- Implement the program systematically and follow it during
the normal course of business. Avoid crash programs.
- Maintain the records program. Prepare a manual, educate
staff, and continue to involve the principals.
- Drawings concern architects most of all. They are kept as
a record or summary of work, as an information resource for
future reference, and as a marketing tool. The first step
in organizing drawings is to classify them into standard drawing
categories, using the office terminology. A sample list appears
in Appendix E.
- When cataloging the hard copy drawings, consider the following
- Provide an inventory form for every group of drawings put
into storage. The minimum amount of information should be
project number and name, approximate date, and brief description
of the contents or set. One copy is attached to the tube or
folder, a second is filed in the firm library or office of
the records manager.
- Make individual listings for drawings that you are likely
to retrieve, such as sign-off drawings or site plans, or whatever
is particularly significant to that project. Pay attention
to drawings that indicate changes and to those that reflect
- The final, or construction set has the most detailed cataloging.
If a drawings list already exists, attach it to the inventory
form. List each Mylar separately. Use the latest day of the
drawing. Large projects may have several important sets.
It is also essential to consider CAD records as part of
the project file. In many firms CAD generated records, have
now become as important as other types. Written procedures
are prepared for those who use CAD. Backups at regular intervals,
procedures for changing documents, a uniform way of naming
files, provision for an audit or check of these
electronic files are part of the records/ project management
process. Some CAD records are designated as archival
(or permanent) and a paper (or hard) copy is
made. Computer records, tapes, disks, etc. are not long
lived unless often elaborate and expensive procedures are
Developing a vital records program is also part of the records
management process. Appendix F, Business Organization, lists
several types of records that are of particular value, such
as Articles of Incorporation, partnership agreements and contracts.
The firm must have possession of these in order to practice
and often a duplicate is made for safekeeping in an off-site
location, or other precautions are taken to ensure security.
Another category often designated as a vital record is accounts
Organizing the Archives
Archives refers to permanent records with long term value
to the firm. These will be defined as part of the records
management program. Often, however, a firm has a mass of older
records that need to be organized. These suggestions provide
1. Analyze the way you need to use your records once a project
has been completed. What do you want your records to do for
2. Develop a written policy on the types of records that
constitute the permanent record file of your firm.
3. Assign administrative responsibility for the maintenance
of inactive project files to a staff member and make it a
regular part of his/her job description.
4. Maintain an accurate job list. Over time, this document
will become the master list of the firms work.
5. Choose a system for organizing older project records in
coordination with current records management. This will usually
be by job number, either consecutive, or year plus consecutive
number. A secondary system by phases of a project or types
of records whenever possible.
6. Analyze the ways that your staff look for older records
and develop cross reference systems to provide the necessary
types of access. Use a card file for alphabetical files rather
than typed lists as cards can be interfiled and updated more
7. Consult a qualified records manager, lawyer and accountant
to review the retention policy for older records. Balance
their recommendations with your own sense of priorities and
possible historical value.
8. Develop a written procedure for when and how to develop
the master file for project documentation. This can be done
during the job or at its completion, but the policy with be
easier to maintain if it involves organization concurrent
with the project.
9. Develop a policy for discarding obsolete materials. Think
in terms of the types of records that can be discarded and
define their retention period. Maintain a log of the materials
that are retained.
10. If storage space is expensive, consider microfilms, or
off site storage rather than discarding large number of useful
11. Contact Mass COPAR before discarding records with historical
value. Firms in states outside of Massachusetts can learn
the names of groups collecting and preserving architectural
records in their region by contacting the Curator of Architectural
and Engineering Drawings, Prints and Photographs Division,
Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., or the AIA Archives
in Washington, D.C.
Chapter 3: Preserving Office Records
Once a firm has defined the criteria for its permanent files,
it should consider the quality of the materials and storage
conditions for these records. While it is a needless expenditure
to purchase archival quality board for a presentation needed
only on day, it is equally uneconomical to make working drawings
that will be unusable within a few years. Once a project is
identified as a significant part of a firms history, its
permanent records deserve to be produced on stable materials
and stored in an environment that insures their preservation.
All records used in architectural offices are made of materials
that will inevitably deteriorate over time. The rate of deterioration
depends upon a range of factors: the chemical composition of
the base materials, the stability of the surface image, and
the storage environment. Acidity within the materials is the
major cause of deterioration, which is accelerated by heat,
light, pollution, and other environmental factors. These can
be controlled to minimize loss.
Written documents (correspondence, specifications,
etc.) are produced on paper. Most papers produced between
1850 and the 1970s become yellow, brittle, and eventually
crumble because the acids in wood pulp and alum rosin size
cause paper fibers to degrade. The quality of many modern
papers has improved dramatically as paper mills have changed
to an alkaline process using chemically purified wood fibers,
neutral sizing, and an alkaline buffering agent. Papers that
meet the ANSI standards for permanent durable paper do not
cost more and will last far longer- as long as two hundred
years if stored properly. Such papers are now readily available
and may be called acid-free, alkaline, or archival by suppliers.
The materials used to produce images on paper also have an
impact on the longevity of documents. Original records produced
by typewriter inks and ballpoint pen inks are permanent, whereas
felt-tip pens produce images that can fade rapidly. Markers
labeled permanent have images that are insoluble
in water, but they may fade nonetheless. Conservators have
reported transfer of blue inks from the original document
to materials stored next to them.
Many office records are not originals but are produced by
electrostatic office photocopiers or are generated from digital
records by laser or dot matrix printers. The lifespan of these
images is dependent upon the quality of the paper, the processing
technique, and the condition of the equipment. It is particularly
important to replace toner cartridges when necessary so that
the image is properly fused to the paper surface and service
the machine regularly so that it functions properly.
Fax copies have become an ubiquitous part of office transactions
but those on thermal fax paper should be considered temporary.
The manufacturers of thermal fax paper suggest that facsimile
copies will last only five years- even in optimum conditions
(65 F 50% RH, dark storage). These records should be copied
immediately onto acid-free paper if they are to become part
of permanent files. Plain paper fax machines are preferable.
Architectural Drawings Timeline
[Timeline not included.]
Drawings, especially original working drawings, are
the essential visual documents for the construction of a project.
A range of support material, drawing, media, and reproductive
processes have been used since the early nineteenth century.
Linen cloth, the choice of architects for original working
drawings during the nineteenth century, is a stable material,
but it is so heavy, expensive, and difficult to obtain that
it is no longer used. Linen drawings can present preservation
problems if stored improperly because the starch coating attracts
insects and vermin. Drawings on paper are subject to the same
problems of acidity and embrittlement described for written
documents, and acid-free papers should be selected for permanent
records. Modern vellum, used for drafting is a rag paper treated
with a plastic resin; it appears to be relatively stable,
but we have no evidence yet about its long term permanence.
Cloth and paper have been used less frequently since the
introduction of plastics in the 1950s. Coated polyester drafting
film, better known by the trade name Mylar, is the most popular
base for drawings. Polyester itself is an inert plastic that
has a long anticipated lifespan, although it will deteriorate
if exposed to strong alkalis such as ammonia. As with alkaline
paper, the permanence of the record depends upon the media
or printing process selected to produce the image on its surface.
A range of reprographic techniques have been available to
reproduce drawings since the mid-nineteenth century. Blueprints
were the first mechanically produced copies. Their quality
can be highly variable, depending upon the quality of the
paper and residual chemicals left from processing. Copies
on sturdy cloth have survived hard use, but others are brittle
and all can fade if exposed to direct sunlight. During the
twentieth century, blueprints were replaced by the diazo process,
which employs ammonia, heat and water or vapor to produce
its image. These images are not permanent and present serious
preservation problems. Diazotype sepias and blue lines fade,
discolor, and eventually become the chemicals can transfer
or migrate, staining the adjacent documents.
It is now possible to produce electrostatic copies of oversize
materials using machines such as Shacoh DP-36, the Oce-7300,
and the Ozalid 6030. These machines are expensive for office
use but are available at reprographic firms. Drawings may
be as wide as 36 inches and as long as nineteen feet. Copies
may be made onto Mylar, but the image rests on the surface
and can be abraded. Stacking polyester sheets together can
cause transfer of the images. Photocopies onto acid-free paper
produce more stable copies.
The most stable full-scale copies are produced by fixed
lint silver halide processes which embed the image in
the emulsion layer on either photographic paper or Mylar treated
with a gelatin emulsion/ silver halide surface. The images
must be fixed and all processing chemicals and reaction by-products
washed out. Wash-off prints are not permanent.
The type of process selected by the architect or designer
to create and copy his drawings depends upon a range of factors
in addition to permanence: cost, size, scale, ability to make
prints, to add or delete information on the image surface.
When making originals that will become part of the office
archives, the long-term stability of both the support materials
and the image process should be a major concern.
Presentation boards, schematics, and design
development are the laymans concept of architectural
drawings; but these are often the first items to be discarded
by a firm. These may include Photostats, drawings, or photographic
reproductions on paper or mount board with additional acetate
overlays, dry transfer letters, and a range of inks. Again,
acid-free papers and matboard (museum board) are
available but their cost could hardly be justified if the
work will be discarded. However, if the firm knows in advance
that the items will become part of its permanent archives
or be placed on long-term display, staff should select materials
accordingly and avoid pressure sensitive tapes and adhesives
like rubber cement that can discolor over time.
Computer records represent an increasingly large proportion
of both office and project documentation- and pose a challenge
to long-term preservation. Design decisions can go unrecorded
when made on a computer. Software can change as often as every
eighteen months and hardware is typically replaced every five
years, making it impossible to access and recreate records
when needed in the future unless there is a conscientious
program to upgrade and transfer records. Digital storage is
not archival: floppy disks will deteriorate after 5-10 years,
magnetic tape after 20 years. Therefore permanent records
should be converted to hardcopy on archival paper.
Black and white photographs can be archival if the
silver halide film is processed properly, placed in proper
enclosures, and stored in a cool, dry environment. Major causes
of deterioration are the presence of residual chemicals (hypo
or silver compounds) in the emulsion due to inadequate fixing
or washing and poor storage conditions.
Color photographic materials present more difficult
problems for preservation because color photography is a dye
process, and dyes fade over time. Moreover, the three primary
dyes in the emulsion layers fade at different rates, altering
the contrast and the relationships between colors. The lifespan
of slides vary according to storage conditions and use. For
example, Kodachrome slide have better dye stability and last
longer in dark storage, but Ektachrome slide, especially Fujichrome,
are more durable when projected.
If color slides are an important record of a firms
work, the originals should be kept in cool, dark storage with
a stable relative humidity of 25-35% and used only to produce
copies for use. Prolonged exposure to light in a projector
or on a light table will accelerate the inevitable fading.
Heavily used slides should be mounted between glass or placed
within individual acetate sleeves to protect them from dust
and abrasion. Slides can be filed in cabinets or boxes to
protect them from dust and pollution in the atmosphere. If
groups of 12-24 slides are filed in transparent sleeves, these
should be made of a chemically stable plastic since those
made of chlorinated plastics (PVC) degrade and release hydrochloric
gas as they oxidize, damaging the color images. Non-damaging
holders made of polyester, polypropylene, or acrylic are available.
Microforms (film, fiche, aperture cards, etc.) should
be processed for long-term stability as recommended for other
photographic materials. If the firm uses microforms for long-term
storage of its records, master negatives should be produced
on sliver halide film and place in safe off-site storage with
controlled temperature and humidity. Only copies, which may
be diazo or vesicular film, should have daily use. ANSI standards
exist for processing and storing microfilm.
Repair and mounting materials also affect the physical
condition of records. Adhesives and tapes used to mount or
repair items will leave permanent stains. Rubber cement is
particularly damaging and should not be used on anything of
value. Pressure-sensitive tapes discolor the object and leave
a gummy residue. Paper clips rust and stain or crumple paper.
Rubber bands contain residual sulfur, which also stains. Stainless
steel staples, plastic paper clips, and glue sticks are more
acceptable substitutes. Tears on working drawings or office
records can be repaired with archival tapes such as Archival
Aids and Filmoplast, available from the
suppliers listed on page 27.
Original drawings should be mounted and framed with
acid-free materials, never drymounted or laminated, and kept
out of direct light. If damaged, they should be repaired with
archival tape. If they are works of art, they should be taken
to a professional paper conservator and never repaired with
home remedies. The American Institute for Conservation can
provide references to conservators in your geographic area.
Sometimes it is more important to preserve information content
rather than the physical records themselves. The format can
then be altered to save valuable storage space. If the originals
are discarded, the original need not be on more costly permanent
and durable materials. Microfilms is particularly suitable
for specifications, correspondence, and other small format
material which can easily be copied onto 16mm and 35mm film.
Drawings present more difficulties because of their larger
size and the problems of maintaining a reduction ratio that
will make copies legible and to scale. Aperture cards are
the format most frequently used. By setting requirement for
legibility of originals at the time of production, the quality
of the final microform can be controlled.
Drawings may be photocopied onto acid-free paper. Older,
more fragile works will need to be placed in Mylar carriers
to protect them during the process. Half-size paper copies
can be substituted for full-size sets, but this expense would
be justified only if the copies were consulted frequently.
Another preservation option is to reproduce the drawings photographically
onto Mylar using a fixed line silver halide process.
Scanning is now an alternative for copying older material
into a digitized format that can be manipulated. However,
the resulting images face the same preservation problems as
other computer records.
Environment and Storage
While the inherent chemical composition of film and paper
based materials determines the initial stability, storage
environment has a major impact on their long-term permanence.
The environmental factors that accelerate physical and chemical
reactions of degradation include relative humidity, temperature,
light, atmospheric pollution, and biological agents. Most
architectural firms serve centers of population in urban,
industrialized areas, which usually have the environmental
conditions most likely to hasten the rapid demise of their
Current research indicates that the best environment for
records is cool (65-70 F) with a relative humidity of 35-45%
for paper, 25-35% for film. Air conditioning is recommended,
preferably an HVAC system that includes air filtration. Relative
humidity over 60% can result in a mold growth. Rapid fluctuations
in heat and humidity are particularly damaging because they
cause dimensions strains within objects. Basements, attics,
and barns- the places that architects seem to select for old
records- should therefore be avoided. Insects and rodents
are also more likely to inhabit these places.
The term disaster brings to mid earthquakes,
floods, and other natural catastrophes. Unfortunately, the
causes of disasters can be far more prosaic. One local architect
lost many of his drawings when his upstairs neighbors
sink overflowed and inundated his records. Another said, All
records were unorganized and stacked in bundles in the office
basement. The water boiler broke and flooded the basement,
soaking the records. In Mass COPARs 1981 survey,
four firms reported losses from water damage, six from fire.
Often the two are combined as firemen are not likely to avoid
architectural records when they douse a fire.
To minimize the chance of disaster, collections should not
be housed in damp basements where flooding can occur. Likewise,
the top floor or attic should be avoided because of potential
leaks from the roof. Ducts and vents for heating and air conditioning
should be kept outside the storage areas whenever possible.
If flooding is possible either from utility pipes or geographic
location, materials should always be shelved six inches above
floor level. Water sensors linked to phone lines can provide
Light is particularly damaging because it accelerates the
chemical processes of degradation. Fading is the physical
evidence of structural deterioration. Most architectural records
are placed in dark storage in boxed or tubes, but sometimes
the most valuable and oldest drawings are displayed on the
wall. They should be kept away from direct sunlight and fluorescent
light, preferably behind a Plexiglas filter that removes the
damaging ultraviolet rays, and displayed for a limited time.
Matting and framing should be done to conservation standards.
Storage equipment should be metal. Wood is not desirable
because it absorbs and retains moisture, which can cause swelling,
warping, and mildew. Wooden shelves also take up more space
and are more expensive. Untreated wood or wood treated with
polyurethane manufactured from urea formaldehyde releases
acids that can damage the items stored on them. The best materials
for shelving are metal with powder coating, anodized aluminum,
or baked enamel. Shelving should be strong enough to carry
the potential load, be made of durable, noncombustible material,
permit free circulation of air, and not have features or properties
such as sharp angles or projections damaging to records or
Like the archival records themselves, storage containers
must be made of good quality materials. Vinyl (PVC or polyvinylchloride)
should never be used as an enclosure for any valuable records.
Acid-free wrapping paper, tubes, file folders, polyester enclosures,
and records boxes are available (See Sources of Archival Materials
on p. 27). Such enclosures create micro-environments
that buffer the records from pollution, and changes in the
temperature and relative humidity. Ideally, the most important
drawings should be stored in metal flat files. Drawings are
best filed according to size in folders of acid-free paper
or card stock along with items from the same project. Folders
are available commercially, and a number of standard sizes
can be selected, matched to the size of flat files. Sets of
records can also be supported on acid-free board and wrapped
Most often, however, it is not possible to keep any but the
active drawings in flat files. Older records are typically
rolled in tubes. Paper can be damaged by prolonged storage
in rolls if it deteriorates, becomes brittle, and becomes
difficult to unroll without damage. Wider tubes are preferable
because the paper is no tolled so tightly. A better alternative
is to roll the drawings around the outside of the tubes so
they can be unrolled with out damaging the drawings. Mylar
and linen seem to with stand rolling better than paper. When
storing unsupported rolled drawings in bags, use polyethylene
and provide adequate support. Store all rolled material horizontally,
never vertically. Do not stack rolls on top of each other.
Whenever items are placed into storage, they should be carefully
identified and inventoried. The investment in archival processing
and storage is worthless if the records cannot be found when
they are needed.
Summary of Recommendations
1. Coordinate your selection of materials with your policies
for a permanent records file. Be certain that records designated
for permanent retention are on durable materials and use stable
processes, unless they are going to be microfilmed and discarded.
Make paper copies of computer records that are part of your
archival files. Photographically produced images on polyester
are best for permanent reproducible working drawings. Alkaline
paper should be used for permanent documents.
2. Separate permanent archival records on high quality materials
from poor quality material that can damage them. It is particularly
important to isolate diazo copies because they will release
gases that can damage adjacent items.
3. Place records in boxes, tubs, and other enclosures that
offer protection from dust, pollutants, light, and fluctuations
in humidity. These enclosures should be made of stable materials
that will not cause deterioration. Label all containers and
index their contents so that they need not be disturbed needlessly.
4. The methods for storing drawings, in order of preference,
are: flat files, flat storage boxes, tubes, and bags. If you
must bag materials, use polyethylene bags sealed with wire
and paper twists, or wrap in good quality paper. Provide adequate
support for horizontal storage.
5. Store records in a dark, stable, and cool environment
with a consistent temperature of 65-75 F and a relative humidity
of 35-45%. Avoid basements and attics.
6. Install an adequate fire and security system.
7. For maximum permanence, photographic prints and negatives
should be archivally processed. Use a reputable photographic
studio. Store negatives off-site.
8. Consider using microfilm if storage space is a problem
and the information contained within the records is too valuable
to be destroyed. Use silver halide film for the master negatives,
and process the film for maximum stability, and store off-site.
Reference copies may be on vesicular or diazo film.
9. When taking color slides, use fresh film and store both
film and slides properly. If your slides are part of the permanent
records of the firm, treat them as masters and project only
10. CAD records should be backed up regularly. Make full-size
hard copy plots on paper or polyester as the archival record.
11. Be prepared for disasters. Assign responsibilities, learn
about salvage procedures, and identify sources of assistance.
In the Northeast, the Northeast Document Conservation Center
(508/470-1010) provides advice in salvaging materials damaged
by fire, water, or other disasters. Other parts of the country
have similar regional conservation centers.
12. If you have valuable older records (produced by your
firm or obtained during the course of work on older buildings)
that are in need of repair, seek the advice of a qualified
paper conservator or regional conservation center. The American
Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works
(AIC) provides a referral service and can be contacted at
13. If you must discard material and suspect that it has
historical importance, please contact Mass COPAR if it pertains
to Massachusetts. If you come across older materials that
you feel should be saved or if you need further information
about preserving architectural records, contact Mass COPAR,
the Art Research Department of Boston Public Library, or the
Archives of the Society for the Preservation of New England
Antiquities. Firms outside of Massachusetts can learn the
names of institutions and groups preserving architectural
records in their region by contacting the Curator of Architectural
and Engineering Drawings, Prints and Photographs Division,
Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (202) 707-8695 or the
AIA Archives, also in Washington.
Chapter 4: Resources
Sources of Archival Material
The following companies provide archival supplies, enclosures,
and storage materials for the types of paper and photographic
records found in architectural offices. More comprehensive and
detailed listings appear in Hold Everything! A Storage and Housing
Information Sourcebook for Libraries and Archives (see page
7 Caesar Place, P.O. Box 428, Moonachie, NJ 07074
201-804-8986 or 800-631-0193
Conservation Resources International
8000-H Forbes Place, Springfield, VA 22151
703-321-7730 or 800-634-6932
Box 4901, Syracuse, NY 13221-4901
800-634-6307 (customer service)
9401 Northeast Drive, Fredericksburg, VA 22408
439 Monroe Avenue, P.O. Box 940, Rochester, MY 14603-0940
213 West 35 Street, New York, NY 10001-1996
P.O. Box 101, South Canal Street, Holyoke, MA 01040
800-336-4847 (in Massachusetts)
800-628-1912 (outside Massachusetts)ASSOCIATIONS TO CONTACT
American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic
1400 16th Street, NW Suite 340, Washington, DC 20036
American Institute of Architects (AIA)
1735 New York Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20006
Association of Architectural Librarians (AAL)
1735 New York Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20006
Association of Commercial Records Centers
Box 20518, Raleigh, NC 27619
Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM)
1100 Wayne Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20910
Association of Records Managers and Administrators (ARMA)
Box 8540, Prairie Village, KS 66208-0540
(800) 422-2762 or (913) 341-3808
Construction Specifications Institute (CSI)
601 Madison Street, Alexandria, VA 22314-1791
Society of American Archivists (SAA)
600 S. Federal Street Suite 504, Chicago, IL 60605
Society of Architectural Administrators (SAA)
11225 SE 6th Street Suite 200, Bldg. C, Bellevue, WA 98004
Publications on Records Management
American Institute of Architects Foundation. State Government
Compendium: State Statutes of Limitations. Washington, DC:
AIA, updated frequently.
Appraisal of Architectural Records. Proceedings of a Symposium
held April 26, 1985.
Cambridge: MassCOPAR, 1986.
Architectural Records Management. Washington, DC: AIA Foundation,
Aschner, Katherine. Taking Control of Your Office Records.
Boston: G.K. Hall, 1983.
Ballast, David. Creative Records Management. Newton, MA:
Guide to Record Retention Requirements in the Code of Federal
Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, latest edition.
Lathrop, Alan. Copyright of Architectural Records:
A Legal Perspective
American Archivist 49 (1986): 409-23.
Managing Cartographic and Architectural Records. National
Archives and Records
Administration Instructional Guide Series. Washington DC:
Records Management for Design Firms. Washington DC: American
Engineers Council, 1985. (out of print)
Research Issues in Electronics Records. Report of the Working
Meeting. St. Paul:
Published for the National Historical Publications and Records
the Minnesota Historical Society, 1991.
Skupsky, Donald. Recordkeeping Requirements. Denver: Information
Skupsky, Donald. Records Retention Procedures. Denver: Information
Publications on Conservation
Ehrenberg, Ralph. Archives & Manuscripts: Maps and Architectural
Drawings. Chicago:Society of American Archivists, 1982.
Lathrop, Alan. The Provenance and Preservation of Architectural
Records. The American Archivist 43 (1980): 25-32.
Nelb, Tawny Ryan. Will Your Drawings Be There When
You Need Them? Plan & Print N64:12 (December 1991).
Nelb, Tawny Ryan. Protecting Your Investment: Will
Your Drawings Be There When You Need Them? P.O.B. (point
of Beginning) 17.6 (August, 1992).
Rubin, Rebecca. The Conservation of Architectural Drawings:
Chicago Architects Design. New York: Rizzoli, 1984.
Schrock, Nancy Carlson. The Peabody & Stearns Architectural
Collection; Assessing Conservation Needs. Symposium
88. Ottawa: Canadian Conservation Institute,
Electronic Recordkeeping. Washington DC: U.S. Government
Printing Office, 1989.
Geller, Sidney. Care and Handling of Computer Magnetic Storage
Media. NBS Special Publication 500-101, Washington, DC: National
Bureau of Standards, 1983.
Fortson, Judith. Disaster Planning and Recovery: A How-To-Do-It
Manual for Librarians and Archivists. New York: Neal-Schuman
Clapp, Anne F. Curatorial Care of Works of Art of Paper.
3d. ed. New York: Nick Lyons Books, 1987.
Ritzenthaler, Mary Lynn. Archives & Manuscripts: Conservation.
Chicago: Society of American Archives, 1983 (2d edition to
published in winter 1992-93).
Smith, Merrily A. Matting and Hinging of Works of Art on
Paper. Washington DC: Library of Congress Preservation Office,
Reformatting (Microphotography, Reprography):
Gwinn, Nancy. Preservation Microfilming; A Guide for Librarians
and Archivists. Chicago: American Library Association, 1987.
Nelb, Tawny Ryan. Reformatting Oversized Records: What
Small Institutions Can Do. Society of American Archivists
Preservation Section Annual, vol. 1, 1991.
Slides and Photographs: Conservation of Photographs. Kodak
Publication No. F-40. Rochester: Eastman Kodak Company, 1985.
Ritzenthaler, Mary Lynn, et al. Archives and Manuscripts:
Administration of Photographic Collections. Chicago: Society
of American Archivists, 1984.
Sudt, Christine L. Conservation Practices for Slide and Photograph
Collections. Visual Resources Association Special Bulletin
No. 3, 1989.
Storage and Environment:
Environmental Controls Resource Packet, available for $10
from: New York State Library, 10-c-47, Cultural Education
Center, Albany, NY 12230 (518/ 474-6971). The packet includes
Conservation Environment Guidelines for Libraries and Archives
and Hold Everything! A Storage and Housing Information Sourcebook
for Librarians and Archives.