About Digitarh

Digitization of the UAUIM Archive - Projects and Sketches (1950-1970)

About the project Ana Vesa-Dobre

Digitization of the UAUIM Archive - Projects and Sketches (1950-1970) is a project carried out by UAUIM from the University Scientific Research Funding Fund (FFCSU no. 2023-007), which aims to digitize part of the School's project archive. Areas covered include Digitisation (F) and Strategic Research (H), focusing on a small segment of documents held in the archive: tutored or test projects and Sketches, over 60 years old. The main aim of the initiative was to preserve these historical documents as faithfully and appropriately as possible, by scanning and minimally processing the digital images obtained, and to make them accessible to the academic community (and beyond) for research or other specialist didactic processes, thus facilitating the creation of a digital archive.

DigitArh Project aimed to identify parts of the UAUIM archive which, due to their historical and architectural relevance, could then be made accessible to the local and international specialized public, through an online platform / UAUIM website, while aiming to increase the performance and visibility of Romanian research internationally. The main strengths of the project are the promotion and opening of important resources for the field (architectural education, academic heritage, history of the School) to the local and international profession and university, the preservation of documents for future generations (relevance of online archiving), accessibility to all interested media, as well as availability in an innovative format (research infrastructure development - innovation development). Finally, the intention to digitise the School's archive is part of a wider process, in which many of the diploma projects designed during the communist period (1944-1989) have already been scanned. Consequently, completing this research resource also with the specialist Sketches and blueprints from the 1950s and 1970s has enriched the online archive, naturally continuing a necessary and timely approach. Also, the formation of a specialised study team (architects and pedagogues, IT specialists) has favourably influenced the quality of the academic research human resource.

The urgent need to adapt/transform traditional archives into digital ones is also felt in the case of specialist archives: for the School of Architecture, the digitisation of documents significantly facilitates scientific research in the field, makes specific studies accessible to valuable analysis resources, actively participates in the preservation of a unique local academic heritage and ensures the perpetuation of information/databases to future generations of architects.

IT specialists are essential to the project of digitisation of the classical archive, ensuring the transformation of documents from the traditional format (paper, photographic film, slides) into electronic, digital format, a process that will implicitly allow the long-term preservation of the data, its protection against possible destruction by water, fire, breakage, exposure to light etc. and direct availability to the Guild and the School, openness to the local and international academic environment, etc.

Year projects and Sketches were archived on photographic film at the end of each academic year after a qualitative selection (only the best ones were kept). The earliest class from which we have been able to discover sketched documents is that of the 1957-1958 academic year, and the last class available in the archive is that of 1967-1968. Most sketches and projects are preserved from the year 1962-1963. After scanning, we obtained more than 1030 images, of about 800 projects or sketches. The scanning process was slow and thorough, with careful handling of archival documents (photographic films) and saving the new images thus obtained at optimal resolution for archiving and online viewing. After a first selection of the images, we started cataloguing them according to several criteria: the academic year in which the drawings were made, the subject of the sketch/subject and the related thematic category, the name of the author, the name of the supervisor or tutor, the number of sketches in a project (in the case of test or year projects; Sketches always have only one drawing). This inventory efficiently organised the entire volume of digital images, making it possible to filter them later according to need and the desired selection category.

Sketches of that Time, as They Appear to Us Today Melania Dulămea, Ana Vesa-Dobre

The process of inventorying the images also generated a deployment of themes/subjects, from which certain weights or dominants can be easily observed. For the younger years (I-II), the themes of the Sketches focus on Housing (Coupled Housing, Duplex Apartment, Shelter in the Woods, Student Dormitory, Holiday Home, Mountain Cabin, Shelter House) and Education (Elementary Schools, Two-Classroom Schools, Library, Mixed School). The surveys outlined in the first year complete the thematic palette, alongside the classic studies: the course (?) Order and Order Applications is special and the drawings in this category are beautifully drafted, with specific details and rendu (French rendering). We assume they were exercises in assimilating classical orders, with the conjugation of various elements and specific details on a given theme: Portico with 5 Bays, An Entrance Gate, Vestibule, Reading Room, Architrave Detail, An Arched Bay, Interior Staircase, Exhibition Pavilion, Superimposed Orders, Composite Capital "Trajan", Composite Capital "Diocletian's Baths at Rome", Roman Corinthian Order, A Propyle, Greek and Roman Ionic Order (parallels of the elements and proportions of the subsets and details of the two variations of the Ionic, with rendered plans, sections and elevations). The conjugation of the classical orders must also be understood here in the context of the late 1950s, with the revival of the valences of classical architecture and its implants in the realist-socialist language. However, the projects in this category appear to us to be authentic and well-founded, with respect for proportions and details, all of which are finally highlighted by a classical drawing in the dictionary sense of the word: model, paradigmatic, on the one hand, then illustrating the harmony of the parts and the whole, in the form and substance balance.

For the third year, Collective Dwellings and the themes of Leisure, Tourism and Recreation become dominant (Hotel in the Mountains, Restaurant, Swimming Pool, Hotel in Histria, Shelter in a Park, etc.), as well as those of installations and structures, followed by the themes of Transport and Commerce (Bus Station, TAROM Agency, Covered Tribune etc.). Agricultural themes are still present in the School's curriculum, starting in year IV, with Farming Centre Households, Farms, although their weight seems to be small compared to the other complex projects of years IV-V: Systematization themes (Microraion, Workers' Quarters), Cultural (Theatre, Decorative (Design) Projects, Club, Theatre Scenography and Lighting Design, A Commemorative Monument, School of Architecture, Hotel Hall, Outdoor Theatre) or Leisure (Village Hall, Swimming Pool, Restaurant, Decorative Fountain, Library in a Park etc).

The Furniture Project of the 1963-1964 academic year (year of study not identified, probably 3rd year) illustrates a rich portfolio of studies on this theme, equivalent to current object/furniture design projects, developed as the detail phase of Collective Housing in the same year. The plans describe the furnishing of each space in an apartment, by functional categories, light partitions (utility walls), up to lighting objects and execution details. Lists of furniture quantities and sizes are discussed and argued from ergonomic and investment efficiency perspectives, in the context of the 1960s when mass production, standardisation and typification were imperative ideological directives. Pieces of furniture are thus described as advantageous if one opts for "anonymous, multifunctional and interchangeable" ones, which favourably respond to the conditions of economy of investment, adaptation to the type-plan and industrialisation (serialisation). The only disadvantage identified for these configurations is "monotony" (indefinite multiplication). The details also include stereotomy studies, in which the sub-assemblies of furniture modules can be cut from the available material boards with 100% efficiency.

Representation techniques range from the exuberant and vibrant beaux-arts drawing to the rigorous and stenciled technical drafting. Sketches always have the perspective as the centrepiece, illustrated as such not only through pagination and consistency, but also through attention to detail. Perspective is almost always rendered (watercolour, airbrush, ink, wash etc.) so that it becomes the attractive piece of the drawing. To be sure, the drawings were in colour, but archiving by black and white photography makes it possible today only to imagine them - until possible future processing of the images with computer software, which would allow the drawings to be re-transposed into their original colour. The plans often have textures and hatching to illustrate functional zoning or materiality, in a technique of representation that is more artistic than technical. In the case of today's Sketches, traditional (hand) drawing is incomparably inferior and probably irretrievably lost to that of the blueprints of the 1960s. Then, traditional drawing also illustrates an aptitude for customisation and originality, which the computer has subsequently blurred. In the 1950s and 1960s, drawings had a unique identification number (as they do to this day), but this used to be also drawn by the student-author. This is why the drawings of the time had catalogue numbers processed into a unique design, which took over from the graphics of the fonts used in the texts and sometimes also found their way into the shape of the title. For us, today's archival researchers, the graphics of these catalog numbers on the drawings helped us more to easily identify the authors of the drawings and decipher illegible drawings. The titles are sometimes abbreviated or summarized ("A Pavilion" has the title A.P., which is slightly odd) and often contain graphics from the actual theme, a letter or a project logo. Letraset sheets were also used for texts and annotations, furniture templates, linear or dotted hatching from pre-defined stickers. All of these were, in fact, obvious precursors of the computer, which today generates the same predefined pieces (fonts, furniture, hatching). Perspectives, in traditional drawing, have significant landscape elements for the project site (mountain horizon, water, vegetation, sun) which in today's computer sketch drawing have become generic at best.

The evaluation of test projects (PVs) and Sketches has been kept to this day in a similar formula, with the only difference being the value of the marks: then they were higher, with marks between 8 and 10 for the most successful projects, which today is increasingly rare, with a terrible average of around 5. It may also be a symptom of the evolution of the Sketch itself, as an exam within the general framework of the School's development, and of how the 21st century student architect is (or is not) still available for such an exercise of creativity. The over-saturation of the influx of information today could have this side-effect of the student's non-availability or lack of creative, original response.

Sometimes, written justification is given on the sketches for the rejection of a project and the reasons for it.

Due to the change in the mid-1950s from grading with "Mentions" I-IV to grading from 1-10, a large number of projects from that time retain double grading, probably for reasons of avoiding mistakes. The double scoring boards are also a way for us to investigate and understand more clearly the equivalence relationship between the two evaluation scales.

Other apparent numbers on the drawings from that time may have to do with: cataloguing those selected for photographing and archiving, mentioning the author's studio, awards or rankings.

Finally, the project of digitization of UAUIM's archive of Sketches and projects is a process of innovation and research, with the intention of revealing a segment of the School's history and evolution. Beyond the reading of traditional drawings, whose valences seem lost to current generations, the projects describe the architectural mentalities and affinities from a difficult period of the local professional climate, becoming a valuable source of recovery and decoding of the recent specialized history.

The Digitization Project Cristina Mândrescu

Continuing technological developments and changes in image storage and representation formats present a risk in accessing current film archives, as physical media for reading films may be increasingly difficult to find or maintain in the future. For this reason, it is important to take steps to ensure that film archives are converted and preserved in accessible and sustainable digital formats. This may involve digitising films, creating backups and storing them in secure digital environments. The DigitArh project aims precisely to prevent the irretrievable loss of archival projects from the School of Architecture, which contain important information for its cultural and historical heritage. In addition, easy access to archival projects within the educational process supports a comprehensive education and contributes to the formation of architectural professionals with a rich understanding of the past, present and future directions of the profession.

Architecture is generally strongly influenced by the historical, social and political context of the time. During the 1950s and 1960s Romania was marked by the communist regime led by Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, and architecture was one of the disciplines subordinated to a communist ideological vision. Among the characteristics of architecture specific to this period are the modernist-socialist influences, encouraging the construction of large, functional buildings with utilitarian purposes, monumental structures in accordance with socialist principles. Socialist modernism brought to the fore the idea of social utility and sought to abandon bourgeois aesthetics in favour of more functional architecture. The emphasis was on building housing for workers and the working class. Numerous blocks of collective housing were built, often in functionalist architectural styles, with an emphasis on efficiency of space and standardisation. Urban planning in Bucharest underwent significant changes during this period, with spaces being planned according to communist principles, with an emphasis on utility and social equality. All these characteristics are also found in the projects of the School of Architecture, and archiving and access to previous projects not only supports the education and professional development of students, but also contributes to building and maintaining a rich, constantly evolving academic culture. Photographs on film are not just documents, they become a testament to the evolving ideas, craft and collective spirit of budding architects.

Analysis of the films in the School's archive today has revealed workshop projects and projects designed as part of the Sketch to Sketch examination. The latter still plays an important role today in the process of assessing students' skills and creativity as it involves the production of a preliminary project sketch, in a limited time, to assess design skills, visual communication skills and the ability to express architectural ideas in a succinct way. Incorporating computers into architectural education can bring many benefits, increasing the efficiency and relevance of the learning process but this is at the expense of the quality of hand drawing, as is the tradition of this examination. In the past, however, projects were carried out exclusively by hand-drawing, encouraging a more relaxed architecture, with more attention to form and detail. Hand-drawing in architecture is not only a traditional technique, but also an essential tool that contributes to the development of creativity, effective communication and connection with the essence and tradition of architecture, developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Unfortunately, however, the photographs analysed are taken on black and white film, and some of the value of the drawings is lost in favour of information about brightness and contrast, or details and textures that may become more obvious.

Archiving projects in schools of architecture and facilitating student access to previous projects is of significant importance in the educational process and in the professional development of future architects. Primarily this gives students the opportunity to learn from the experiences of other colleagues. Studying successful projects or those that have faced challenges can provide valuable insights into how various problems have been addressed and solved. Exploring past projects can serve as a source of inspiration and stimulate creativity. Students can learn about different architectural styles, design approaches and trends, preparing them for a career where diversity of styles and concepts are important aspects. In addition, consulting past projects allows students to develop their critical analysis skills. They can evaluate both positive and negative aspects of projects, thus developing the insight and critical skills needed to evaluate their own work. At the same time, consultation and discussion of past projects can contribute to a more cohesive academic community. Students can benefit from feedback and advice from their peers, building a collaborative and stimulating academic environment.

In terms of the teaching process, teachers can use past projects to illustrate concepts, approaches and solutions in lectures. This can facilitate the teaching-learning process and provide concrete examples to explain certain architectural principles.

Last but not least, archiving projects contributes to preserving the heritage of the school of architecture. Each project represents a contribution to the evolution of the school and to the history of architectural education. Archiving and access to past projects in schools of architecture not only supports the education and professional development of students, but also contributes to building and maintaining a rich and constantly evolving academic culture.