Standard > Architectural
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,
- 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
- 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
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
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 cross reference.
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
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 files.
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
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 sole proprietors.
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 managed warehouses.
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
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 too cumbersome.
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 systems.
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
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 client involvement.
- 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 followed.
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 receivable.
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
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 you?
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
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 records.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 early warning.
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
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 people.
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 in paper.
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
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
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 duplicates.
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
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 31).
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:
Publications on Conservation
Ehrenberg, Ralph. Archives & Manuscripts: Maps and
Architectural Drawings. Chicago:Society of American Archivists,
Lathrop, Alan. The Provenance and Preservation of
Architectural Records. The American Archivist 43 (1980):
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: An Introduction.
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,
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.