The Architecture of the Archive project

Damien Hassan Wednesday, May 30, 2018 - 13:35

Earlier this year, the SRO entered into a new collaborative project with the University of Western Australia’s School of Design. Intrigued by the type of records held in the State Archives Collection, and the challenges in storing, preserving and making accessible our State’s official archives, UWA Lecturer Mark Sawyer suggested using the SRO as a “case study” and to have his first year architecture students develop proposed designs for a new SRO Search Room.  This type of architectural modelling is a key requirement for architecture students as part of their course work. For the SRO case study, students were provided with a diverse range of examples of State archives which have unique needs or which may be difficult to access properly without the right kind of infrastructure.

For example, how would you read all the signatures in this 1928 Petition for hotels to close at 6pm unless you had the space or the right infrastructure to do so? The Petition measures over 20 metres long. Or, how do we address the needs to store and make accessible 3D models of government buildings that by their nature are very large items, intended for inspection and public display, but which also have unique long-term preservation requirements?

During the semester, the UWA students have been examining these sorts of problems and developing their own ideas how they can be resolved from an architectural point of view, as well as how a new, modern Search Room would look and operate for the 21st Century. While the student designs are purely speculative, this case study does give the students first-hand experience with working with a client (in this case, the SRO) and thinking through specific design elements and build proposals to meet very particular needs.

In April, the SRO participated in a mini symposium held at UWA in which the students presented their work to date. This was a fantastic opportunity to see how a group of creative and enthusiastic people - our future architects! – have approached the design challenges presented to them. Students spoke about their models and how they have approached the task. For the SRO, it was an opportunity to rethink how public access to State archives could be delivered and to be presented with ideas outside of the box (both figuratively and literally - commercial archive boxes were used by the students in constructing their Search Room models).

A range of guest speakers from UWA and the SRO also presented at this symposium. It was very enlightening to hear how those heavily engaged in architectural theory and practice are using government archives to support their research and work.

The SRO is very pleased to be a partner in this project and to support the student’s work which will be completed this semester. We will provide a recap of the project later in 2018 when the student design work is completed.