University of Melbourne Archives

Architectural Drawings at the Archives: A Listing and Storage Survey

by Mark Richmond, Archivist

(from the UMA Bulletin No. 9, October 2001)

When the Archives was established and enunciated a collecting policy that included business records, 'business' was interpreted to include the professions, such as the law, medicine and, of course, architecture. Various collections of drawings and other records of architects and builders have thus been acquired by the UMA under the rubric of business; others have been received as a component of general business collections (e.g. Foy & Gibson) while some have come under other collecting categories, e.g. trade union records (Victorian Trades Hall Council), and others still have come from non-business and non-union organisations. The 'bottom line' is that, as an institutional as well as a collecting archive, it is inevitable that the UMA would acquire a certain quantity of drawings, especially as part of an ever-growing and ever-renewing built environment, both on and off campus.

The collections include those in the printed Guide to Collections pages one to six, especially - Harold Desbrowe Annear, Bates, Smart and McCutcheon (which, since the time of Joseph Reed's appointment as University Architect in 1858, has designed many University buildings), Robin Boyd, J. J. and E. J. Clark, Clements Langford, Leith and Bartlett (which includes some drawings of Robert Haddon), E. E. Milston (including some material from his partnership with Don Hendry Fulton), William Pitt, and A. W. Purnell (from his own practice and from the numerous partnerships he entered into in Melbourne and Sydney).

Of the firms listed above, Clements Langford Pty Ltd was a prominent building firm which began in a small way in the 1880s, and really flourished from the end of World War I until the 'credit squeeze' of the early 1960s; it alone contains drawings from some 140 different architectural firms or individuals, including Nahum Barnet, Buchan, Laird and Buchan, Charles D'Ebro, A. S. Eggleston, Gawler and Drummond, A. and K. Henderson, H. A. Norris, Oakden and Ballantyne, Best Overend, A. and H. Peck, Smith, Ogg and Serpell, Stephenson and Meldrum, H. W. and F. B. Tompkins and Albion Walkley. The drawings include a number of designs for buildings at the University of Melbourne.

Other collections of architectural drawings held at UMA include those of Albert Bode (Kerang, Swan Hill), Peter Burrowes and Associates, the Exhibition Building Trustees' copies of drawings of the various additions and annexes to the main building, Moore and Hammond; Michael Ryan (Ararat and Horsham), Stephenson partnerships (with Meldrum, Turner et al., though the core collection of those drawings is held by the State Library of Victoria), the University of Melbourne Staff Architect's copies of drawings for various jobs, and Yuncken Freeman Associates.

Listing Project

The level of listing varies considerably across these collections, from:

  1. l. the individual sheet listing of Clements Langford (also indexed), Leith and Bartlett, Robin Boyd, Harold Desbrowe Annear, Michael Ryan, and Albert Bode;
  2. the sheet-numbering by job name (and incomplete sheet-listing) of Bates, Smart and McCutcheon pre-2001 accessions (also indexed but in need of revision);
  3. the listing to job level of J J and E J Clark, William Pitt, Ernest Milston, and the University Staff Architect's drawings (being copies of drawings from a variety of hands);
  4. the part-listing to job level of A W Purnell and partnerships and James Earle partnerships;
  5. the creator-listing of Yuncken Freeman by job number (with a checklist of job names and numbers); and
  6. unlisted collections of drawings.

An incidental but important imperative driving the architectural drawings project is the impending sesquicentenary celebration next year of the arrival in Melbourne of Joseph Reed (a disputed date, but 2002 it is), and the need to supply Bates Smart, and through them the authors of a planned book on the history of the firm, with a checklist of the firm's drawings held at the UMA. To this end, Mark Richmond suspended his detailed description of each drawing in favour of a fast-tracked operation which involved assigning a unique UMA number to each job and each sheet in order to establish some inventory control, and to provide Bates Smart with a list of every job for which drawings are held (the result was a list of 152 jobs and 1587 sheets, not including the substantial quantity of drawings for the new Wilson Hall).

In the meantime, the BSM Collection was substantially augmented by two transfers of mainly older drawings (already listed inhouse) as part of the firm's relocation to new premises - fittingly, in one of its landmark modern designs, the ICI (now Orica) building, overlooking one of its landmark older designs, The Melbourne International Exhibition (now The Royal Exhibition Building, described by its new parent Museum Victoria as its largest collection object!).

Storage Problems

A certain proportion of the architectural drawings are housed in steel plan cabinets, nearly all of them the familiar ten drawer style stacked three high; there are two steel vertical cabinets which have been deemed less satisfactory, though still in use. The Exhibition Building-related drawings came to the UMA with the wooden plinth and plan cabinet in which the trustees had stored them. Many others are held in a rolled form, generally wrapped and labelled by the UMA and stored in cartons, or across a double width of steel shelving primarily designed to hold boxed or unboxed MS or printed archival material. The Yuncken Freeman drawings continue to be held in the numbered cardboard cylinders in which the firm had placed them for their own secondary storage, and a further large quantity of their drawings in the same format are soon to be transferred. And most recently, in August 2001, a quantity of tracings arrived from the Property and Buildings department of the University in another storage mode, being Planex (Vertiplan) vertical cabinets using suspension strips on hanging rods.

A constant problem has arisen with many of the drawings stored in plan cabinets, in that many of them, especially those of Clements Langford (which are all in drawers) and A. W. Purnell (some of which are in drawers) came to the UMA in a rolled state, and were converted to flat drawer storage without the benefit of professional relaxing and flattening, or of individual sheet sleeving. It has been beyond the means of the UMA to provide this level of professional conservation or encasement.

The present trend of thinking is that the drawings which are still rolled and either encased in cylinders or wrapped in paper, should stay that way for the time being and not be converted to drawer storage unless the required flattening and sleeving can be provided. The question is more one of devising a means within the shelving whereby rolled drawings can be stored in an accessible manner, perhaps through some kind of pigeon-holing in existing shelf modules by intershelving, plus some system of vertical dividers. Some of the storage shelving at the office of Bates Smart is of this type.

For the future, some of the problems of storing and retrieving drawings will of course be reduced as the collections, or the most heavily-used of them, are digitised into electronically accessible form.

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