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 files

  • 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

Visual record

  • Models
  • Photographs
  • Slides
  • Presentation boards
  • Renderings
  • 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
  • Resumes

The office files are usually found within the accounting, personnel, and other administrative offices. Job lists are crucial for keeping track of a firm’s 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 firm’s 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 library.

Smaller firms do not, of course, have separate departments. One or two individuals are apt to perform all of the functions described above.

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 year’s 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 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 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:

Project files:

  • 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

Visual collections:

  • 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.

Office files:

  • “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 historical evidence.


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 off-site warehouses.

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 are filmed.

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

General Principles

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 firm’s 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 and regulations

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.

Organizing Drawings

  • 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 guidelines:
  • 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.

Vital Records

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 provide guidance.

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 firm’s 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 easily.

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 firm’s 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 layman’s 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 firm’s 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.

Information Preservation

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 records.

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 neighbor’s 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 COPAR’s 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 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 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 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 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 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 at 202-232-6636.

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

Gaylord Brothers
Box 4901, Syracuse, NY 13221-4901
800-448-6160 (orders)
800-634-6307 (customer service)

Hollinger Corporation
9401 Northeast Drive, Fredericksburg, VA 22408

Light Impressions
439 Monroe Avenue, P.O. Box 940, Rochester, MY 14603-0940

213 West 35 Street, New York, NY 10001-1996

University Products
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 Works (AIC)
1400 16th Street, NW Suite 340, Washington, DC 20036
(202) 232-6636

American Institute of Architects (AIA)
1735 New York Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20006
(202) 626-7493

Association of Architectural Librarians (AAL)
1735 New York Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20006
(202) 626-7493

Association of Commercial Records Centers
Box 20518, Raleigh, NC 27619
(919) 821-0757

Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM)
1100 Wayne Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20910
(307) 587-8202

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
(703) 684-0300

Society of American Archivists (SAA)
600 S. Federal Street Suite 504, Chicago, IL 60605
(312) 922-0140

Society of Architectural Administrators (SAA)
11225 SE 6th Street Suite 200, Bldg. C, Bellevue, WA 98004
(206) 453-7107

Publications on Records Management

American Institute of Architects Foundation. State Government Affairs.
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, 1985.

Aschner, Katherine. Taking Control of Your Office Records. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1983.

Ballast, David. Creative Records Management. Newton, MA: PSMJ, 1987.

Guide to Record Retention Requirements in the Code of Federal Regulations.
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: NARA, 1989.

Records Management for Design Firms. Washington DC: American Consulting
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 Commission, by
the Minnesota Historical Society, 1991.

Skupsky, Donald. Recordkeeping Requirements. Denver: Information Requirements
Clearinghouse, 1988.

Skupsky, Donald. Records Retention Procedures. Denver: Information Requirements
Clearinghouse, 1990.

Publications on Conservation

Architectural Records:

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: 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,

Computer Records:

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.

Disaster Preparedness:

Fortson, Judith. Disaster Planning and Recovery: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians and Archivists. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, 1992.

Paper Conservation:

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, 1981.

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.


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