Outline of the Categories of Information
Building a Common Framework for Catalogue Entries
Implementing a Common Framework
Organization of the Guidelines
Subjects/Built Works
People/Corporate Bodies
Geographic Locations
Bibliographic Sources
Group Entries
Volume (Sketchbook) Entry
Item Entries
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A Guide to the Description of Architectural Drawings


The Architectural Drawings Advisory Group (ADAG) was convened in 1983 by the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts (CASVA) at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. At the time, many repositories of architectural documents were ready to develop systematic approaches to cataloguing, in an effort to improve access to their collections. Accordingly, ADAG's primary goal was to build consensus concerning cataloguing standards that could ensure to scholars the availability of a consistent set of research information across repositories, perhaps eventually through an electronic network. Moreover, it was hoped that ADAG could both define new standards for such information and develop innovative methods of retrieval.

A cross section of repositories participated in working toward a definition of a standard scholarly catalogue entry for architectural drawings and related materials. The representation was international, including institutions from France, England, Canada, Germany, Austria, Italy, and the United States. The range of institutions included libraries, research centers, museums, professional architectural associations, and archives -- and a variety of collections by size and period, from large government archives holding millions of relatively modern architectural records to specialized departments of old master drawings. The result was a consortium that represented the Royal Institute of British Architects; the Centre Canadien d'Architecture/Canadian Centre for Architecture; the National Archives of Canada; the American Architectural Foundation, American Institute of Architects; the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University; the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, Smithsonian Institution; the Library of Congress; the National Archives and Records Administration of the United States; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the Victoria and Albert Museum; and the Deutsches Architekturmuseum. The \xC9cole Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Graphische Sammlung Albertina, and the Royal Library, Windsor, were represented by observers.

From the beginning ADAG recognized that approaches to cataloguing such specialized materials must be developed in collaboration with the primary users. As a result, a number of scholars worked with the group from its inception, and many repositories were represented by curatorial or archival staff as well as those principally involved with documentation. This mix of user and custodian, steward and interpreter, lent ADAG a unique character.

The organizational structure of ADAG involved three elements. Each of the member institutions sent one or more representatives to three annual meetings. A second component was the expertise provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust's Art History Information Program (AHIP) and staff of the Art & Architecture Thesaurus (AAT) [1]. In addition, the Getty Trust partially funded the third element, a staff for ADAG at CASVA. This staff was responsible for identification of issues, recommendations to ADAG, documentation of the project, and liaison with computer specialists.

In the course of ADAG's meetings, it became clear that cataloguing practices, terminology, and scholars' needs varied widely. Therefore what at first seemed to participants to be a straightforward process of rule writing became instead a series of discussions to articulate and work toward consensus on the issues. But it also became clear that, regardless of the differences, researchers, archivists, and curators could indeed together identify common documentation needs. In light of this, and as it became increasingly apparent that closely related architectural drawings were frequently dispersed among repositories with widely different practices, ADAG explored the possibility of establishing a network to apply the guidelines that were emerging from its discussions.

In 1986 a separate organizational structure was created for that purpose. A subset of four ADAG member repositories and the Getty Trust formed a nonprofit corporation, the Foundation for Documents of Architecture (FDA) [2]. The FDA was governed by a board of directors and had a central staff of eight, housed at the National Gallery in Washington. In 1988-89 this staff was joined by cataloguers from the four repositories for a year of experimental cataloguing on a computer system newly developed by AHIP. It was hoped that the development of computer technology to go with ADAG's cataloguing standards would allow scholars to manipulate catalogue information in ways that would yield new views of the material itself. In other words, ADAG and FDA tried not only to provide guidelines for making finding aids to collections, but, on a higher level, to define what an electronic research environment might be.

In the course of conducting this experiment, FDA encountered a number of questions in addition to the basic one of how to define a set of retrieval requirements for scholars. There were few precedents in the art history field for reconciling differences in cataloguing practices among repositories. While new technology opened unprecedented possibilities, it also presented formidable conceptual and technical issues. After analyzing the experimental period and assessing further funding possibilities, FDA concluded that the development of a computer network was at that point beyond its reach.

But the experience of testing, refining, and expanding ADAG's guidelines during the FDA experiment had considerably advanced the original goal of ADAG: to work toward a common approach to cataloguing -- enough, we felt, to warrant a publication that would summarize and codify the results of eight years of discussion and experiment. In 1990 the FDA Board of Directors appointed a steering committee to direct the preparation of this document. Its authors are Robin Thornes, of the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England, and Vicki Porter, who directed FDA and had managed the ADAG staff since 1986. Whenever possible, Porter and Thornes drew upon ADAG's work as guidance. As with many endeavors of this size and duration, they found it necessary to supplement the findings of ADAG and, in some instances, to deal with issues that ADAG had not addressed. The steering committee and ADAG as a whole reviewed and approved the authors' work during this process.

The resulting Guide is intended to be used as a basis for further progress toward a cataloguing standard for architectural documents. It furnishes a brief narrative discussion of principles and issues identified by ADAG and FDA and relatively detailed descriptions of the categories of information that ADAG and FDA felt should be addressed in documenting architectural drawings and related materials. This publication should therefore be looked on both as a general introduction to the subject of cataloguing architectural materials and—at points—as a relatively advanced set of guidelines for cataloguing. At the same time, the Guide is not intended as a cataloguing manual; nor does it deal in detail with technical implementation issues. Rather, it addresses key conceptual issues. Some categories are substantially better defined than others, and several major questions remain, including how ADAG's recommendations relate to standards being developed by other bodies and how to integrate multilingual terminology[3]. In such cases the Guide summarizes open-ended discussion and makes recommendations when possible.

Above all, the Guide is intended to extend discussion and inform cataloguing practice as widely as possible. It is addressed not only to historians, curators, archivists, and specialists in this field, but also to those who may be confronting the cataloguing of architectural drawings for the first time; to the small repository as well as to the large; to those who are building databases on customized systems and to those with modest card files or whose job it is to write a set of catalogue entries for publication. This is a diverse audience, and a difficult one to address at a consistent level of complexity. The problems of bridging the gaps among professions and between experiences are considerable, as ADAG's many meetings demonstrated. But ADAG came to view this problem as one of its strengths. By providing a common ground of understanding, we hope to come closer to the goal of achieving standards across the varied disciplines and perspectives that make up the audience for architectural drawings.

Henry A. Millon, President, Foundation for Documents of Architecture

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