Bloggers in the Archive

I’m thrilled to say that I will be blogging all summer from the late-lit northern evenings of Montreal, where I will be hosted for two months by the Canadian Centre for Architecture as part of their 2010 Visiting Scholars program.

[Image: From the drawing instruments collection of the CCA, courtesy of the Canadian Centre for Architecture].

For the most part, I will be writing about many of the items in the CCA’s collection—films, models, photographs, manuscripts, architectural tools, and more—and, for good or for bad, publishing the results on the CCA’s own website.

There is a truly mind-boggling amount of material to explore up there, from the archives of Gordon Matta-Clark and Cedric Price to a collection of antique drawing instruments and souvenir models, John Hejduk’s Bovisa sketches, photographic plates from English India, Canadian fire insurance maps, speculative proposals for river lighthouses, massive archives of stage set designs and dramatic scenography, and a beautiful manuscript copy of the Plan of St. Petersburg, among far, far more than I could possibly mention in one post. Konstantin Melnikov. Aldo Rossi. Three airports by Lloyd Wright. Travel sketches by Louis Kahn.

[Image: “Unknown photographer. Konstantin Melnikov (1890-1974) and his wife stand before their house” (1927); courtesy of the Canadian Centre for Architecture].

The overall idea is something that I’ve been calling “Bloggers in the Archive,” a program I’m starting with myself as a guinea pig, and that I would love to bring to other institutions elsewhere in the future.

In other words, there are architectural and design archives all over the world, full of astonishing things, but these same collections are often unexplored in their entirety, even by members of the institutions that have collected them. Even more commonly, many of these global collections are open only to scholars who stop by once every five or six years—if that often—to write niche monographs or academic publications about specific aspects of an archive’s contents.

But what if you could install an architecture blogger—or a film blogger, a food blogger, an archaeology blogger, a fiction blogger—in an overlooked archive somewhere, anywhere in the world, and thus help to reveal those items to the general public?

[Image: From Scenes of the World to Come: European Architecture and the American Challenge, 1893-1960 at the CCA; courtesy of the Canadian Centre for Architecture].

Why not put Archidose up at the National Building Museum, for instance, or Frank Jacobs in the UN’s Dag Hammarskjold Library, Colleen Morgan at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, or even give Clastic Detritus a guest residency at the central archives of the USGS? Maud Newton, temporary blogger-in-residence at the British Library.

Call all of it part of “Bloggers in the Archive,” and suddenly collections all over the world are being appreciated and seen by more than the five professors who have been deemed qualified enough to explore a specific phase in architecture, design, or landscape history. Put Tim Maly up at the Reuleaux Collection of Mechanisms and Machines for two weeks, or Bruce Sterling at the National Science Foundation.

After all, are academic essays the only textual form appropriate for archival exploration, or does the relatively ad hoc, point-and-shoot blog post, motivated less by scholarly expertise than by curiosity and personal enthusiasm, also have something valuable to offer? Somewhere between front-line archival reportage, historical research, and what we might call popular outreach.

[Image: “William Notman & Son, Building encased in ice after a fire, 65-83 Little St. James Street, Montreal” (1888); courtesy of the Canadian Centre for Architecture].

In any case, in addition to surrounding myself with the CCA’s seemingly endless collections—international expositions and fairs! winter festivals! fortified cities in colonial North America! Roman archaeology!—I also hope to find time to explore the landscapes around Québec (including the megascale hydroelectric stations peppered throughout the province’s subarctic forests, such as MANIC-5—leading me to wonder if Hydro-Québec has ever been the subject of a minor architectural retrospective, and, if not, if Pruned could perhaps be hired to curate one…).

[Image: A “telescopic” book from the Great Exhibition in London (1851); courtesy of the Canadian Centre for Architecture].

So stay tuned for regular posts beginning late next week from Montreal—and also watch for updates on the CCA’s website (I’ll have specific info on exactly where my posts for the CCA will appear soon). And, of course, huge thanks to the CCA for making this summer possible!

29 thoughts on “Bloggers in the Archive”

  1. Geoff, you'll love it there. You're a hop, skip'n a jump from two major urban universities, from the downtown core, and from Mount Royal. You'll also be less than a ten minute walk from the Jazz Fest's open air concerts in July, and a slightly longer one down to the Old Port…. to mention but a few things available to you while you're there.

  2. Geoff,
    The "Bloggers in the Archive" is a superb idea. I think we will see plenty of archives willing to open their collections to bloggers and to make them accesible to the public. It is a win-win situation. I wish you a great stay in Quebec and look forward for your posts. Best, Rafael

  3. Geoff ….. first of all, congratulations!!! This sounds like an amazing opportunity. I can't wait to see what you dig up. And second … love your idea of bloggers in the archive! As a person who occasionally posts archival material on his website, you can imagine that I wholeheartedly support this!

  4. Hey Mike – Thanks! I can't wait. There's also MUTEK at the beginning of June, and my brother and his family now live up there, as well. So it should be a great summer.

    Plus, I really want to figure out a way to visit Lake Manicouagan

  5. Very exciting Geoff! I am very curious of what you will encounter. Will a blogger find something different in such an archive – that is obviously the question. Might be!

    The Netherlands Architecture Institute is closing for six months to renovate the building, not a single thing is done by Ole Bouman in the meantime: no exhibitions, no lectures, nothing. Time stands still. With a couple of bloggers however there could be a sort of on the fly eclectic online exhibition. For such occasions a 'Bloggers in the Archive' scheme could work too! Good luck in Canada!

  6. Good on you Geoff and looking forward to your posts!

    I have to say that the CCA building was/is the only building to give me an erection, if buildings can give one such things.

    Living in Montreal, a couple of months after it opened I took the opportunity one autumn morning to go see it, and walking from the metro stop to the musee, I stumbled across it, and well, the combination of the building and its form, its austere sexines, the humid low grey cloud and the green mown grass all combined to give me that most unexpected of feelings in that context. I was quite surprised.


  7. Hi Geoff
    This is a superb experiment! Congrats! And it was a great selection to start with the CCA, which is one of the most active architecture centers in the current times.

    Just imagine if a blogger were able to spend some time "inside" the Archigram archives before they were opened to the public? How many new speculative words could have been born from the experience?

    Enjoy the summer there, we will be looking forward your post. Thanks for sharing.

  8. what a fantastic opportunity, and an idea I would love to see picked up. Looking forward to reading your posts!

  9. oh this is great news! i will be spending july there as part of a research grant, so i'm looking forward to meeting you! and i'm also a blogger, although a very very recent one.

    see you in july!

    ana maria

  10. (Warning note: I am not an architecture blogger, I'm a sex and S&M blogger, so if you're easily offended, you might want to skip my link)

    I agree completely about bringing bloggers into archives. I used to volunteer at the world's only BDSM museum, the Leather Archives & Museum, and they had me sorting their archival materials, and I kept thinking, "Why aren't you guys putting some of this online?!" I got their permission to post some of it to my blog — you can check that out here:

    … but I was always disappointed that I couldn't convince the LA&M to do more with it, like creating a whole part-time position around doing that kind of thing, or something. Of course, like all cultural institutions they've got such a limited budget ….

  11. Geoff,
    I can't wait to read about your experiences. Have a great time and write, write write…

    All the Best,
    Dave Irwin

  12. Hey Geoff congrats on this and enjoy it! It seems your nomadism is opening up many doors for you.

  13. Montreal is an amazing city, particularly in the summer. Be sure to check out the St Joseph Oratory and see if you can get a tour where you can get up in the dome and into the Light beacon at the top. Amazing views.

    There is so much great small scale architecture in that city.

    I love the bloggers in the archive concept. If you are ever looking to expand the idea and need blogging partners I would be very interested in participating. You can check out my blog:

    Keep up the great work. I love reading your posts.

  14. hi Geoff,

    Congrates on your new expedition! we hope to read some interesting posts on here!

    specifically looking forward to find the "english india" archive!
    have a great stay

    warm regards,

  15. Hey everybody – thanks for the comments and suggestions! We got into Montreal last night, and the archival explorations kick off this week (so I will have CCA-related posts by Thursday or Friday, with next week starting more in earnest).

    Ana Marie, looking forward to meeting you in July – and congrats on your time at the CCA, as well.

    Michiel, I had actually just read about your post-archival security mishaps at the NAi (via your Twitter feed), which seemed a funny coincidence. Hope that all worked out! Who knew there was a suspicious way of drinking coffee…

    Enrique, I think you'd be a perfect fit for this sort of program not only at the CCA but at pretty much any other architectural/cultural archive; it'd be nice to talk sometime about this, in fact.

    And hopefully everything will work out as planned! Next week is presumably when more CCA-specific content will start appearing here with some regularity (and on their website), so check back then to see what's up.

  16. Geoff – Looking forward not only to what you find but what you have to say about the various designs, images, etc. Sounds like a great opportunity. And I'd gladly take the NBM appointment! – john

  17. Your passion and enthusiasm is inspiring! Blogging from archives sounds like a great way to make what would otherwise be holed up and locked away accessible and relevant to entirely new audiences. Wow! I think you're really onto something there… can't wait to hear more about this.

  18. Many congratulations; I am naturally very very envious. The CCA is a magnificent institution, and you will have a wonderful time. I will be interested to see how this project will explore the difference of granting a blogger access to an archive as opposed to an academic. Will you be there just to open it up and broaden the contents, or do you think you can also produce something that will be accepted by the academic community as a piece of research?

    I notice with some humour that you refer to Montréal as 'up there' … not unforgiveable from an American perspective, but if you have a long weekend free and you **really** want to go 'up there', then I suggest you borrow a car and point it towards the James Bay Road (Wikipedia). You may not make it all the way to Radisson, but that is where you will begin to appreciate the stunning landscape of Québec's north.

  19. Brilliant! I've been archiving my old design and architecture books for sometime now and just started putting my scans online. I can't imagine the amount of incredible unseen material would be accessible in private archives. I would love to be involved in this idea. Can't wait to see your CCA excavations…especially the Hejduk and Melnikov stuff.

  20. dear geoff,
    you have just described my dream job! I think it's high time these archives were shared & what better way to do it than with blogs. Very inspiring…i think a career change is in store

    good luck, have fun & i cannot wait to see the fruits of your diggings

  21. I LOVE this idea! And the CCA is an amazing institution that deserves all of its prais and then some.

    I particularly like what you said about it being a form of popular outreach, as that is the keystone of any kind of historical information – what good is it if people don't know it? It's a crucial aspect of creating dialogue and moving it forward, not to mention learning.

    For me, any kind of art historical research should seek to connect these seemingly niche subjects to larger, contemporary contexts and thus democratize the info.

    Good work and I look forward to your musings!

  22. As one who spends a considerable amount of time in archives I am charged by this idea -and a little bit envious- and enthusiastically looking forward to your 'finds'. The great part of doing research in the archives is all the surprise tidbits that surface when we follow a random -er…'scholarly'- thread. Good luck and have fun!

  23. Geoff,
    What an awesome opportunity and I'm sure you'll make great use of it!

    Just wanted to point out that the three airports that you call out were actually designed by Lloyd Wright, son of FLW. Poor Lloyd is often omitted in history, as he chose to be known by 2/3's of his father's name. It would be great if you corrected your mention to "Lloyd Wright."

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