Campus News - January 16, 2001

Architectural archive draws a picture of built environment
New Mexico and University building plans to be accessible online

By Carolyn Gonzales

Kim Schwenk, photo by Brian Lucero
Schwenk displays an artist's rendering of La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe. The designs are part of the John Gaw Meed architectural archive.

Tucked away in an environmentally and access controlled room in the depths of Zimmerman Library, long, thin-drawered cabinets, like those used to store maps, line the walls and create aisles in the cement-floored room. Carefully stored in the cabinets are entire buildings and the entire University campus laid flat. They are the architectural drawings and plans housed in the architectural archives, a collection within the General Library’s Center for Southwest Research.

On the floor is a masking taped diagram with arrows pointing north, south, east and west. “We’re underground. There are no windows. It’s the only way we can keep our bearings straight,” explains Kim Schwenk, a fine arts student completing her bachelor’s degree while working part time in the architectural archives.

The archives consist of the architectural plans, drawings and, in some cases, models of structures. Housed within the collection are the UNM Facilities Planning drawings. “Processing and preserving that collection has been completed,” says Schwenk, who adds that access to the collection will one day be available on the Online Archive of New Mexico, an electronic database being developed by UNM, the New Mexico State Library and others.

The Facilities Planning drawings are kept together by building. “By keeping all the plans for a specific building together, we can see the building’s changes and evolution over time. The library itself has changed extensively since its original design in 1936,” says Schwenk, who adds that the library has plans for all campus buildings except Dane Smith Hall and the Bookstore.

The University’s first plat plan in the collection is dated 1896. The plan was established after Hodgin Hall, UNM’s first building, was built. Schwenk says the library doesn’t hold original plans to Hodgin Hall, but they do have copies. The design and expansion of campus buildings and grounds is chronicled through the plat plans.

The Bainbridge Bunting collection is easily accessible due to diligent efforts by Schwenk and others. Bunting was a professor of architectural history in the College of Fine Arts from 1948 until 1981.

“The collection strongly represents New Mexico architecture,” says Schwenk, who adds that pueblo and morada styles are part of this fully cataloged collection. A guide to the collection also makes finding specific materials easier.

Probably considered the foundation to the architectural archive is the John Gaw Meem collection. Meem, the architectural artist of buildings like Zimmerman Library and Scholes Hall on the University campus, contributed his architectural and personal archives to the library.

The Meem collection was in very good order when I came to work here last year,” explains Schwenk, who adds that all of his projects were ordered by job number, making accessing the collection easier than most. Schwenk says some of the plans got out of sequence when they were recently microfilmed, but that they have now been put in their correct order.

“Meem was an amazing artist. His draftsmanship is perfect. He could fully commit his vision to paper,” she says. Two Meem projects that stand out to Schwenk for their artistry are the chancel for the Church of the Holy Faith (1953) and La Fonda hotel (1927), both in Santa Fe.

The library plans to have a Meem fellow on board in the spring to go through boxes of job and personal files and add those materials to the database, says Schwenk.

Schwenk has been working on the collection since December 1999. Since August, Schwenk has been working with her successor Ellen Evans-Colburn. “Working with these drawings allows me to handle a rare art form. I plan to go back to the plans from the turn of the century, the 30s and 40s and gain a stronger sense of New Mexico architecture,” says Evans-Colburn.

Both women worked with Judith Murphy, the library’s preservationist, who taught them conservation techniques. “She showed us how to encapsulate the drawings in Mylar. She explained about sealing the edges for low dust and moisture exposure. She explained why it was important to keep the collection in a humidity controlled area and why it was important that the collection be maintained in a secured space,” says Schwenk.

Many drawings still remain rolled on top of the cabinets. “Depending on the paper type, it takes 2-2 ½ weeks to flatten each under weights,” explains Evans-Colburn who speculates it could take up to 10 years to properly preserve the rolled drawings. She adds, “It takes dedication to work down here. Once you’re in the groove, you’re grateful for the opportunity.”

Schwenk says that many people who request use of the drawings, particularly those from the Meem collection, want access to the originals. “We push librarians to promote the use of the microfilmed versions of the materials. They present good detail for copying and the originals are delicate, like leaves or butterfly wings,” she says.

“The architectural archive needs to be a priority. It can’t be left in the dust again. It is important for fellows from the Center for Southwest Research to continue with the project. It’s important for the collection as well as a great experience for the student. We need both funding and people to maintain this collection. I don’t want to see it sidetracked again.”

The University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, New Mexico USA
Copyright ©1998 The University of New Mexico.
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