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A feasibility study of a national archive for Welsh architecture

25 October 2018

Executive summary

Background and scope

The report provides an appraisal of options for a national archive for Welsh architecture. It arises from two concerns: 1) that architects may be uncertain about what to do with material of archival interest produced by their practices and 2) that public archival institutions may not have clear or complementary policies on accepting architectural records. Archival institutions have collected much relevant material but a further initiative is required.

There is undoubtedly a need for architectural records to be safeguarded and promoted. Architecture is a subject of public interest and a cultural industry of importance. Archives have a part to play in its appreciation and understanding. They are used by architects, owners, planners, historians, educationalists, students and the media. Records of special interest are created primarily by the architectural profession but also by owners/clients, local authorities, architectural historians, collectors and research bodies.

The initial view of RSAW in 2009 was that a national archive should be created of architectural drawings. The scope was subsequently widened to the built environment and to drawings and related artefacts such as models and photographs. This report focuses primarily on architecture on the assumption that the initiative can be extended at any time to other professions dealing with the built environment. It includes in its scope all architectural records on the principles that the contexts of records add value to them and that special interest is not limited to drawings.

Substantial records of Welsh architecture and the built environment are already held by archival institutions including the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, the National Library of Wales, regional archive services, museums and university archives and, outside Wales, institutions including the RIBA, the Borthwick Institute and the University of Texas. Some comparative models exist of coordinated collecting initiatives and coordinated finding aids.

Options

  1. Establish a new specialist archival institution for Welsh architectural records.
  2. Designate an existing archival institution as the main centre for Welsh architectural records.
  3. Devise a system of coordination and support for the architectural profession and existing archival institutions.
  4. Do nothing.

Option 1 is not feasible given that the high capital and revenue costs of a new specialist institution are unlikely to be forthcoming in the present climate. Neither option 1 nor option 2 would encompass important archives already secured by existing institutions. Continuing to do nothing would leave the issues unresolved.

Recommendations

The report recommends option 3, a system of coordinating stakeholders, for its potential to build on existing strengths and increase capacity without the need for substantial additional investment. This approach is scalable according to the resources available but could comprise the following initiatives:

  • A programme of raised awareness in the profession
  • An interdisciplinary advisory panel to evaluate the merit of records and make recommendations about preservation
  • Information to introduce Welsh architectural archives and where to find them
  • Records promoted through existing online services such as People’s Collection Wales, Archives Wales and Archives Hub
  • A specialist online index linking to catalogues in all relevant repositories, including national archives, local record offices and repositories outside Wales such as the RIBA + V&A
  • A consortium approach to raising funds for potential acquisition, cataloguing initiatives, online resources, digitisation, exhibitions and engagement activities

The first scalable initiatives – raising awareness in the profession and coordinating with archival institutions – can be achieved by the establishment of an advisory panel for Welsh architectural archives. This might be developed as a mainstream activity for RSAW and stakeholders such as Archives Wales, the National Monuments Record and the National Library.

More ambitious initiatives will require project coordination and fundraising on a scale of £250,000 to £1m. Potential sources include the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Arts & Humanities Research Council and trusts with interests in heritage and the built environment. The lead applicant might be RSAW as a registered charity, a higher education partner in the case of Research Council proposals, or one of the national archival institutions.

Recommended next steps for RSAW are:

  1. Convene a consultation with stakeholders with the aim of establishing an advisory panel for Welsh architectural records and developing consecutive initiatives
  2. Explore interest from related built-environment professions.

Download the full report (PDF)

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