Richard Meier's passions in life include not only art and architecture, but also organization and careful record-keeping. For as long as he has run an office, Meier has assigned a dedicated employee to keep everything from valuable drawings to routine correspondence safe and handy. Meier's current archivist is Laura Galvanek, who oversees the storage of the firm's records at both its office on the West Side of Manhattan and at a larger, remote facility in Queens (where rents are cheaper). That secondary space contains hundreds of architectural models, some more than 30 years old, and is now open to the public once a week (call 212-967-6060 to visit). Galvanek, 33, worked as an archival assistant (for Tiffany & Co.) and curator of exhibitions (for the Morris Museum, a showcase for arts, science, theater, and historical artifacts in Morristown, N.J.) before taking the job with Richard Meier & Partners Architects last year. Archiving, she says, “is a way to preserve the history of your organization.” But there is more at stake than preserving your design process for future generations. Being able to show your best work when you want to, Galvanek says, may also help you land new business, and having ready access to all project materials can help you serve your current clients better.
Keep cool. Original sketches are among the most important documents to archive, but tracing paper breaks down faster than other kinds of paper. So when Meier finishes a drawing, Galvanek puts it in an acid-free container. She keeps the container away from direct sunlight in a room that's cool and where relative humidity is kept at about 50 percent. If you can't afford climate control, at least don't store things in the attic, which is prone to temperature swings, she says. If you don't have an archivist, you can buy the things you'll need—including acid-free storage boxes and acid-free tissue paper—from companies like Talas (www.talasonline.com) and Metal Edge (www.metaledgeinc.com), whose websites provide lots of information on the best ways to store drawings, correspondence, articles, and photos.
Mission control. The first thing you need to do is come up with a mission statement, so you know what you want to save and why, says Galvanek. There are the obvious things, like sketches that could be valuable some day. But there are also the kinds of documents that aren't intrinsically valuable, but that you'd like to be able to put your hands on quickly. At Richard Meier & Partners, all computer hard drives are backed up daily. In addition, architects are asked to print out key correspondence; once a week, the hard copies are filed, newest on top, “so if you're talking to the client and the system goes down, you can walk over to the file and pull the document you need,” Galvanek says.
Dare to Excel. There's no point in saving things if you don't know where to find them. Twenty years from now, you should be able to put your hands on any record, Galvanek says. Meier's office maintains an Excel spreadsheet for every project; the sheet gives the description and location of each item archived. You don't have to use Excel; choose any template, Galvanek says, but be consistent. And try to catalog information at least once a week, so that you don't fall behind, she says. Sound daunting? Luckily, she says, “Architects are the most organized people I know.”
Nothing lasts forever. Documents are only useful if there's a way to read them. Paper documents may last 100 years, but a CD may not reach its 10th birthday—a few scratches could make it unintelligible. And then there's technological obsolescence. If you have documents on old floppy disks, you may not have a way to read them today, and the same may happen in a few years with CDs. So make plans to copy data from one format to another every few years, Galvanek says.