January 07, 2016
The New York Public Library has announced a release of more than 180,000 photographs, postcards, maps, and art prints from their digital collection. According to the New York Times, the collection will allow high-resolution downloads, much of it free of copyright restrictions.
As traditional architects, we are thirsty for the insight that original photographs, scale drawings, even diagrammatic plan sketches can offer into the methodology of our favorite architects of times past. What heretofore unseen architectural treasures are waiting to be discovered?
Of course the effort towards digital access is not unique to the New York Public Library. Here are some other favorite digital sources:
Sir John Soane’s Museum Collection Online has digitized Soane’s collection of drawings by other architects, including James and Robert Adam, along with his own sketchbooks and architectural drawings.
The Library of Congress Historic America Building Survey includes period photos and measured drawings of historic buildings and structures throughout the country. Below left is a photograph taken in 1936 of the Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church, in Jefferson, Texas, which was tragically lost to fire in the early 1990’s. We used these photos and the drawings from a Works Progress Administration survey to understand the character and scale of the original church in designing the new structure, as seen in the photograph on the right.
Accessed through the Woodson Research Center at Rice University, the Weber-Staub-Briscoe Architectural Collection, 1909-2010 includes photographs of 940 pattern boards (design molds) and metal castings of architectural details such as stair rails, fencing, and other metalwork ornaments manufactured by Weber Iron & Wire Company from the 1930’s to the 1990’s in Houston, Texas. Some were designed by architects John F. Staub and Birdsall P. Briscoe.
And just for fun, try Mansion Maniac, a whimsical game developed by the New York Public Library in which a Pac-Man like character explores the floorpans of historic mansions.