72nd Annual Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) Conference Report, Providence, RI (April 24-28, 2019)

By Aimee Lind, Getty Research Library (ARLIS SAH Liaison)

The 72nd Annual Society of Architectural Historians conference was held in Providence, RI from April 24-28, 2019. As it was my first time visiting Providence, I wasted no time exploring the city’s historic Downtown and residential College Hill neighborhood by foot. Of course, as a librarian, I couldn’t help but visit other libraries, and Providence has some great ones. I particularly enjoyed seeing RISD’s extraordinary Nature Lab and Visual + Materials Resource Center, as well as the delightful Athenaeum.

RISD Nature Lab,  Edna Lawrence Natural History Collection

Providence Athenaeum

Rhode Island State House (McKim, Mead, & White, 1895-1904)

Industrial National Bank Building (aka Superman Building) ( Walker & Gillette, George Frederick Hall, 1928)

 

Old Stone Bank Building (C.J. and R.J. Hall, 1854)

Wednesday Evening

The conference got started on Wednesday night with the Opening Night Social Hour, held in the ballroom of the Rhode Island Convention Center, followed by the SAH Business Meeting. SAH President Sandy Isenstadt spoke about the present state and future directions of the organization:

Strategic plan for the decade ahead developed two years ago

  • Global and local approach to promoting the study of the built environment
  • Teaching and scholarship
  • Financial sustainability
  • Nurture next generation of scholars; promote diversity

In evidence at this conference

  • Paper sessions on new regions and issues
  • Inaugural Edward Sekler talk
  • Graduate student resources
    • Book group
    • Lightning talks
    • Mentoring cafe
    • Free professional headshots
  • Addition of poster sessions
  • Session on Vectors of Change, pressing issues coming to the fore
  • Pop Up session on Notre Dame

JSAH made some online issues open access in order to raise awareness of the journal. The issue on the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus has been accessed by 150,000 people.

Buildings of the US & SAH Archipedia continues to lower barriers to access with more scholarly content in a more user friendly format.

Archipedia 3.0 now has:

  • Open access including metadata
  • Mobile friendly
  • Updated legacy materials
  • New back-end /content mgmt system

SAHARA now features highlights with themes.

SAH is providing youth outreach, funding fieldtrips for underserved K-12 students, teaching them to observe and analyze the built environment.

For adults, there were study programs / field seminars /study days:

  • 2018 Cuba
  • 2019 Japan (12 days, led by Ken Oshima)
  • Summer 2020 N. China and Mongolia (led by Nancy Steinhart)
  • Study days at National Museum of African American Culture, DC

A two year grant from the Mellon Foundation is underway to gauge health of architectural history as a degree of study and gather data about the academic status of this study in higher education. Sarah Dreller will be leading this research.

He took the opportunity to review the SAH policy statement

  • Core values
  • Personal conduct
  • Position statements (ACLS)
  • New page on website, Click on ADVOCACY tab

…and then Treasurer Michael Gibson reported on the organization’s finances and fundraising events:

  • Chicago Arts Club Gala raised $139,000
  • Fall fundraiser Weimar, Dessau, Berlin tour sold out in hours
  • July 17th NYC Century Club event honoring Diller Scofidio + Renfro

Finances 2018

  • Successful fundraiser in Paris
  • $110,000 unrestricted donation
  • $70,000 netted from St Paul conference [Clarification:  $70,000 is the net figure prior to expense allocations, which aren’t applied until the end of the fiscal year. SAH actually netted $-3K after expenses and administrative allocations.]
  • Bumpy rise with investments but currently at 5.7 million, 4.5% draw rate from portfolio
  • Half of funds raised for Charnley-Persky House

Grants

  • Gill Family Foundation for grad students
  • NEH Open Humanities Portfolio Program
  • Mellon Grant, arch history in higher ed study

Following the Business Meeting, we were treated to an introductory address by Barnaby Evans, founder of Waterfire Providence, who gave a great talk about the history of the city, its architecture, and the preservation movement that has led to such a vibrant downtown.

Thursday

On Thursday I attended several open panel sessions that included papers on topics as varied as Memorial Libraries as Cenotaphs, the Paris Exposition des Arts Decoratifs, College Unions, CIAM, Boredom, Installation Art, and the 1964 New York World’s Fair Pavilion of Spain as well as a panel session called Space, Architecture & Cultural Identity: Materializing Asian America.

The entire conference program with abstracts is available here.

Of great personal interest to me was the roundtable on The Preservation of Digital Architectural Records, led by Ann Whiteside, a follow-up to last year’s roundtable:

Ann started off with a Building for Tomorrow update

2018 activities:

  • Building for Tomorrow Forum was held at SAH in St. Paul.
  • At issue: Barriers to collecting for different stakeholders
  • List of strategic directions over the course of the next 5 years
  • Held a Steering Committee meeting in May
  • Spent June-July refining the strategic directions
  • Late summer/early fall – sent out a call for volunteers to participate in several efforts:

Present efforts:

  • In 2018, connecting with Community Standards for 3D Data Preservation (CS3DP) (convened working groups)
    • Preservation Best Practices – Rebeccah Baker (NARA), Emily Vigor (Berkeley), and Will Rourke (UVa)
    • Metadata Standards – Katie Pierce Meyer (UT Austin)
    • Copyright/Ownership – Nicole Meyer (Morphosis), Nancy Hadley (AIA)
    • Access/Discoverability – Katie Pierce Meyer

Work includes – meeting with these groups to understand the work they are doing, and to  provide input about design records specifically.

2019 activities:

  • Creating an Effort Map and inventory of allied digital curation efforts; Volunteers include Rebeccah Bake (NARA), Nancy McGovern (MIT), Birgitte Sauge ( department of architecture at the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design in Norway). They have created a map of digital curation efforts around the  globe, and have identified key contacts at those institutions to talk with about their work.
  • Literature Review group – to update the SAA Design Records Section bibliography (CAD/BIM). Volunteers are Emily Vigor, Matthew Allen (U Toronto), Emily Pugh (Getty), Jessica Qualiaroli (Yale), Kit Arrington (LC). They have updated the bibliography and are in the process of sharing their work.
  • Stakeholder Outreach Plan. This group includes Aliza Leventhal (LC), Pauline Saliga (SAH), Sylvia Welsh (Harvard). This group has developed a list of questions for interviews is software vendors.

Software vendor outreach is a next critical step in our work. IF ANYONE HAS CONTACTS, Please let Ann know asap. This has been the biggest challenge.

  • Presentations have been given at SAH 2018, AASL, 2019. A Roundtable session will be held at SAH in2019, also DLF.
  • Building for Tomorrow has had representation at the LC 3D Data Stewardship Forum in November 2019; Building for Tomorrow is a chapter in the recently published 3D/VR in the Academic Library: Emerging Practices and Trends. 2019. An article on the project was written for Arredamento Mimarlık,  Turkish architecture and design journal.

A lively discussion on these updates followed at the SAH Providence Roundtable. I am including my notes in full at the request of several attendees.

Need for educating design students about thinking about records upon creation

Session with Matthew Allen @ GSD; content: what is being produced? Teaching basic file management

Thoughts from practitioners?

  • Talk to deans of architecture schools
  • Teach archival awareness as an educational component of the degree
  • Make the case for preservation; cut through levels of bureaucracy to acquire and preserve materials

Firms not understanding that scanning once is not enough; preservation is an ongoing, iterative process

Animations: no consistency in software; models: CATIA, Autodesk, Form 2, FinalCutPro, Illustrator etc. files can’t be accessed; need ability to emulate software and computing environment; ideally firms need a dedicated digital asset manager to keep them up to date.

CAD  models etc.– print out hard copies but BIM can’t be printed

Bottom line, especially for state run agencies– what is the cheapest way to do this?

Students are just trying to get project done

Can we keep paper when possible/practical and only deal with digital when we need to? But paper preservation methods require maintenance too.

Some firms have archivist(s) on staff; file structure that project teams have to follow; established practice but generally only the larger firms.

Ongoing process but most concerned about smaller firms– need to be given mechanism and info to preserve.

Could we go to AIA and set up archive bureau so the message is spread? AIA disseminates message and pays to do so; could be part of continuing education credits/criteria for licensing.

Legal problems

  • clients own a lot of what is produced
  • Terrorism concerns with plans getting out

Not just architecture firms, but Engineering and GIS need to be captured/preserved.

Firm websites – web archiving, good way to capture at least basic information on smaller firms?

If only keeping final versions of models, drawings– concern over loss of depth of intellectual content / process.

Saving / organizing email? Even many archivists do a bad job of this. How can we expect others to do better?

So much data! Digital documentation of cultural heritage sites (archaeological) can easily have 10 years of data on one site.

Digital data will eventually be the biggest asset. How to protect data and protect against others being able to access it illicitly.

Are intellectual property rights shifting? In Italy you now need permission to publish photos taken at certain cultural heritage sites.

Drawings vs. models vs. 3D models made by 3rd parties -what is the true model/ record of a structure especially if IP owned by so many shareholders?

Software currently in development will provide IP/GPS location of anyone who accesses it as part of metadata; can self-destruct of not approved.

Concern for protecting moral rights of creators.

Documenting students / competitions- who knows what will be important to future researchers?

By providing existing digital archives for students to work with, would that help them understand the importance?

Harvard Archives keep student work for accreditation purposes; reserve right to use for non-commercial purposes; essentially persistent licence for non-commercial use.

Looking at doing digital design records pilot; where are roadblocks?

GSA standard for BIM modeling

May also need to talk to developers

Port Authority requires that architects/contractors use their hopelessly outdated software- who owns what?

Thursday Evening

That evening, the awards reception was held at the stunning Providence Art Club, followed by the inaugural Eduard F. Sekler talk given by Joan Ockman who spoke at the historic First Baptist Meeting Hall on the Future of Modern Architecture.

Providence Art Club (Sydney Burleigh and Edmund R. Willson, 1885)

Friday

On Friday I attended panel sessions on Architectural Drawings as Artifact and Evidence, the Spatial, Visual, and Social Effects of Surface in Architecture, Architecture & Copyright, Transatlantic Encounters: Africa and the Americas and attended a lunchtime roundtable on Pluralizing Histories of the Built Environment.

Saturday

Regretfully, my travel arrangements and a very full conference program precluded me from attending the closing event at the RISD Museum or going on any of the tours offered, clearly to my detriment. They included:

Sunrise on the Riverwalk

Roger Williams in God’s Providence

The Crest of College Hill

Social Class and Religion in Stained Glass

LGBTQ Providence Walking Tour

Adaptive Reuse on College

Before Antoinette: African-American Sites along Benefit Street

The Stones of Providence

The Architecture of Industry

Benefit Street

Newport’s Best-Preserved Colonial Neighborhood and Climate Change

Bristol’s Architectural Legacy

Gilded Age Newport in Color

Ira Rakatansky: Mid-century Modern in Providence

Rhode Island Vernacular: From the Stone-Ender to the Square Plan House

Brown University: An Architectural Tour

Parkitecture: The Built Environment of Roger Williams Park, 19th Century to the Present

Women Designers in Rhode Island

H.H. Richardson and North Easton, Massachusetts

Cape Cod Modern House Trust Tour

Complexities and Contradictions of 20th-Century Architecture in New England

Eighteenth-Century Newport

Great Spaces: Architectural Landmarks of 19th-Century Newport

Seaside Resort Architecture at Watch Hill

If you were lucky enough to attend any of these tours or have additional items of interest to report on the SAH Conference, please do not hesitate to comment below.

Providence, R.I.— you are a charmer, indeed. I’ll be back!

2 thoughts on “72nd Annual Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) Conference Report, Providence, RI (April 24-28, 2019)

  1. Thank you for this synopsis.
    The SAIA campus chapter is very active here.
    I believe this would be a good outlet fo instilling a firms Records Management and leading towards CE or Pro Dev enrichment.

    ‘Could we go to AIA and set up archive bureau so the message is spread? AIA disseminates the message and pays to do so; could be part of continuing education credits/criteria for licensing.’

  2. Thank you for mentioning the “state of the field” data-gathering study that SAH is undertaking with support from the Mellon Foundation. I am the researcher you linked to in your post.

    Your readers might be interested to know about some of the progress we’ve made so far. The undertaking has a new name, The SAH Data Project, and a new dedicated webpage within SAH’s “Publications & Research” heading. We also have a process blog that provides more in-depth information about the project as well as some of the decisions we are making. And there is more to come.

    I would like to add that architectural librarians have played an absolutely crucial role in my own research over the years. I value your input and would be happy to answer any questions that ARLIS members might have. My email address is on the project page — please do not hesitate to reach out.

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