100 years of architecture student design work to be preserved, archived

Architecture professor Marci Uihlein is leading a project to preserve and catalog a collection of University of Illinois architecture student drawings. The drawings are student design projects from 1890 to 1985, including this 1947 design for a distribution center. Photo by Fred Zwicky

NOV 4, 2019 8:00 AM
JODI HECKEL

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The history of architecture education at the University of Illinois – and of architectural styles and cultural values over a 100-year period – sits behind a low doorway into a flood-prone basement room in the Architecture Building.

Hundreds of student design projects from 1890 to 1985 are stored there, hidden and mostly inaccessible.

Architecture professor Marci Uihlein is working with University Archives and the University Library’s Preservation Services to catalog 1,600 drawings representing 775 student projects, do any necessary preservation work and move them to the Archives’ collections. The project received a $10,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

“This is part of our heritage,” Uihlein said. “Part of this is establishing a culture of archiving and saving things that represent our own history and understanding that we’re building a story with all of this work.”

Student design projects currently are stored in a flood-prone basement room in the Architecture Building without temperature or humidity control.
Photo by Fred Zwicky

The Illinois School of Architecture is the second-oldest architecture school in the country, and it conferred degrees to the first male and first female architecture graduates in the country. Nathan Clifford Ricker, the first person to earn an architecture degree in the U.S. in 1873, was the head of the architecture department for 37 years and the dean of the College of Engineering for 27 years. He designed several campus buildings, including Altgeld Hall. Ricker revised and developed the architecture curriculum throughout his career, including the study of the first skyscrapers being built in Chicago.

The collection of student drawings includes work by James White, the campus architect from 1907-32 who designed a number of campus buildings. This drawing, “Studies in France, Library,” was made in 1895.
Photo by Fred Zwicky

The student projects were selected by professors as exemplars of design work. Among the students whose work is stored in the basement room are James White and Ralph Johnson. White was a campus architect from 1907-32 who co-designed Altgeld Hall with Ricker. He also designed Busey Hall, Smith Memorial Music Hall and many other buildings on campus. Johnson designed Temple Hoyne Buell Hall, where the School of Architecture is located.

“We’ve been unintentionally curating a collection for a very long time,” Uihlein said.

University Archives already has student architectural drawings from the 1870s and 1880s in its collection, including work by Ricker. Uihlein expects increased interest in early architecture education around the 150th anniversary of Ricker’s graduation.

These floor plans for an art museum were made in 1897 by Francis J. Plym, an alumnus who founded Kawneer Company, which manufactures architectural aluminum products.
Photo by Fred Zwicky

The drawings are also valuable today, as current students can examine how previous students communicated their ideas and design.  This is an important part of architectural education, Uihlein said.

The historical drawings demonstrate the tools and techniques used at the time they were made, the history of design and the cultural values apparent in the architecture of various time periods. Projects display the Beaux Arts style of the 1890s and the postwar industrial style of the late 1940s. They include designs of an evacuation camp in the 1940s, community colleges and nuclear power plants in the 1960s and an “Equalizing the Sexes Pod” in the 1980s.

This is a detail from a 1970s-era design for a lightweight multifamily housing complex “for remote or normally inaccessible areas, which is largely self-sufficient and makes a minimal impact on the natural ecology of the area.”
Photo by Fred Zwicky

“This body of work represents the change in teaching and change in materials and change in cultural values over 100 years. You can see what was deemed important for an architectural project,” Uihlein said.

“I like seeing the type of work by generation. Work from the 1920s looks very different than work from the 1930s, and it looks very different from the 1940s and 1950s. You can look at them by time period and see what’s going on and what’s being created,” she said.

The drawings are not catalogued in a way that allows faculty members or researchers to find everything. Part of the work of the project is to create metadata and catalog all the projects online so they can be transferred to University Archives.

A detail from the 1947 design for a distribution center.
Photo by Fred Zwicky
Summary
100 years of architecture student design work to be preserved, archived
Article Name
100 years of architecture student design work to be preserved, archived
Description
The history of architecture education at the University of Illinois – and of architectural styles and cultural values over a 100-year period – sits behind a low doorway into a flood-prone basement room in the Architecture Building.