Issue 6
ISSUE
STORY TYPE
AUTHOR
10
PERSPECTIVE
June 17, 2024
We Need More Than Fewer, Better Things
by Deb Chachra
10
PERSPECTIVE
June 3, 2024
An Ode to Garages
by Charlie Weak
10
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
May 28, 2024
In Search of Domestic Kintsugi
by Edwin Heathcote
10
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
May 13, 2024
The Perils of the Landscapes We Make
by Karrie Jacobs
10
PERSPECTIVE
May 6, 2024
Using Simple Tools as a Radical Act of Independence
by Jarrett Fuller
9
PERSPECTIVE
April 29, 2024
Why Can’t I Just Go Home?
by Eva Hagberg
9
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
April 22, 2024
Why Did Our Homes Stop Evolving?
by George Kafka
9
ROUNDTABLE
April 8, 2024
Spaces Where the Body Is a Vital Force
by Tiffany Jow
9
BOOK REVIEW
April 1, 2024
Tracing the Agency of Women as Users and Experts of Architecture
by Mimi Zeiger
9
PERSPECTIVE
March 25, 2024
Are You Sitting in a Non-Place?
by Mzwakhe Ndlovu
9
ROUNDTABLE
March 11, 2024
At Home, Connecting in Place
by Marianela D’Aprile
9
PERSPECTIVE
March 4, 2024
VALIE EXPORT’s Tactical Urbanism
by Alissa Walker
8
PERSPECTIVE
February 26, 2024
What the “Whole Earth Catalog” Taught Me About Building Utopias
by Anjulie Rao
8
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
February 19, 2024
How a Run-Down District in London Became a Model for Neighborhood Revitalization
by Ellen Peirson
8
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
February 12, 2024
In Brooklyn, Housing That Defies the Status Quo
by Gideon Fink Shapiro
8
PERSPECTIVE
February 5, 2024
That “Net-Zero” Home Is Probably Living a Lie
by Fred A. Bernstein
8
PERSPECTIVE
January 22, 2024
The Virtue of Corporate Architecture Firms
by Kate Wagner
8
PERSPECTIVE
January 16, 2024
How Infrastructure Shapes Us
by Deb Chachra
8
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
January 8, 2024
The Defiance of Desire Lines
by Jim Stephenson
7
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
December 18, 2023
This House Is Related to You and to Your Nonhuman Relatives
by Sebastián López Cardozo
7
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
December 11, 2023
What’s the Point of the Plus Pool?
by Ian Volner
7
BOOK REVIEW
December 4, 2023
The Extraordinary Link Between Aerobics and Architecture
by Jarrett Fuller
7
PERSPECTIVE
November 27, 2023
Architecture That Promotes Healing and Fortifies Us for Action
by Kathryn O’Rourke
7
objects and things
November 6, 2023
How to Design for Experience
by Diana Budds
7
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
October 30, 2023
The Meaty Objects at Marta
by Jonathan Griffin
6
OBJECTS AND THINGS
October 23, 2023
How Oliver Grabes Led Braun Back to Its Roots
by Marianela D’Aprile
6
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
October 16, 2023
Can Adaptive Reuse Fuel Equitable Revitalization?
by Clayton Page Aldern
6
PERSPECTIVE
October 9, 2023
What’s the Point of a Tiny Home?
by Mimi Zeiger
6
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
October 2, 2023
A Book Where Torn-Paper Blobs Convey Big Ideas
by Julie Lasky
6
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
September 24, 2023
The Architecture of Doing Nothing
by Edwin Heathcote
6
BOOK REVIEW
September 18, 2023
What the “Liebes Look” Says About Dorothy Liebes
by Debika Ray
6
OBJECTS AND THINGS
September 11, 2023
Roy McMakin’s Overpowering Simplicity
by Eva Hagberg
6
OBJECTS AND THINGS
September 5, 2023
Minimalism’s Specific Objecthood, Interpreted by Designers of Today
by Glenn Adamson
5
ROUNDTABLE
August 28, 2023
How Joan Jonas and Eiko Otake Navigate Transition
by Siobhan Burke
5
OBJECTS AND THINGS
August 21, 2023
The Future-Proofing Work of Design-Brand Archivists
by Adrian Madlener
5
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
August 14, 2023
Can a Church Solve Canada’s Housing Crisis?
by Alex Bozikovic
5
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
August 7, 2023
In Search of Healing, Helen Cammock Confronts the Past
by Jesse Dorris
5
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
July 31, 2023
What Dead Malls, Office Parks, and Big-Box Stores Can Do for Housing
by Ian Volner
5
PERSPECTIVE
July 24, 2023
A Righteous Way to Solve “Wicked” Problems
by Susan Yelavich
5
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
July 17, 2023
Making a Mess, with a Higher Purpose
by Andrew Russeth
5
ROUNDTABLE
July 10, 2023
How to Emerge from a Starchitect’s Shadow
by Cynthia Rosenfeld
4
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
June 26, 2023
There Is No One-Size-Fits-All in Architecture
by Marianela D’Aprile
4
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
June 19, 2023
How Time Shapes Amin Taha’s Unconventionally Handsome Buildings
by George Kafka
4
SHOW AND TELL
June 12, 2023
Seeing and Being Seen in JEB’s Radical Archive of Lesbian Photography
by Svetlana Kitto
4
PERSPECTIVE
June 5, 2023
In Built Environments, Planting Where It Matters Most
by Karrie Jacobs
3
PERSPECTIVE
May 30, 2023
On the Home Front, a Latine Aesthetic’s Ordinary Exuberance
by Anjulie Rao
3
PERSPECTIVE
May 21, 2023
For a Selfie (and Enlightenment), Make a Pilgrimage to Bridge No. 3
by Alexandra Lange
3
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
May 8, 2023
The Building Materials of the Future Might Be Growing in Your Backyard
by Marianna Janowicz
3
BOOK REVIEW
May 1, 2023
Moving Beyond the “Fetishisation of the Forest”
by Edwin Heathcote
2
ROUNDTABLE
April 24, 2023
Is Craft Still Synonymous with the Hand?
by Tiffany Jow
2
OBJECTS AND THINGS
April 17, 2023
A Historian Debunks Myths About Lacemaking, On LaceTok and IRL
by Julie Lasky
2
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
April 10, 2023
How AI Helps Architects Design, and Refine, Their Buildings
by Ian Volner
2
SHOW AND TELL
April 3, 2023
Merging Computer and Loom, a Septuagenarian Artist Weaves Her View of the World
by Francesca Perry
1
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
March 27, 2023
Words That Impede Architecture, According to Reinier de Graaf
by Osman Can Yerebakan
1
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
March 20, 2023
Painting With Plaster, Monica Curiel Finds a Release
by Andrew Russeth
1
PERSPECTIVE
March 13, 2023
Rules and Roles in Life, Love, and Architecture
by Eva Hagberg
1
Roundtable
March 6, 2023
A Design Movement That Pushes Beyond Architecture’s Limitations
by Tiffany Jow
0
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
February 7, 2023
To Improve the Future of Public Housing, This Architecture Firm Looks to the Past
by Ian Volner
0
PERSPECTIVE
February 7, 2023
The Radical Potential of “Prime Objects”
by Glenn Adamson
0
SHOW AND TELL
February 20, 2023
Xiyadie’s Queer Cosmos
by Xin Wang
0
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
February 13, 2023
How Michael J. Love’s Subversive Tap Dancing Steps Forward
by Jesse Dorris
0
SHOW AND TELL
February 7, 2023
Finding Healing and Transformation Through Good Black Art
by Folasade Ologundudu
0
BOOK REVIEW
February 13, 2023
How Stephen Burks “Future-Proofs” Craft
by Francesca Perry
0
ROUNDTABLE
February 27, 2023
Making Use of End Users’ Indispensable Wisdom
by Tiffany Jow
0
OBJECTS AND THINGS
February 7, 2023
The New Lessons Architect Steven Harris Learns from Driving Old Porsches
by Jonathan Schultz
0
PERSPECTIVE
February 7, 2023
The Day Architecture Stopped
by Kate Wagner
0
OBJECTS AND THINGS
February 7, 2023
The Overlooked Potential of Everyday Objects
by Adrian Madlener
0
ROUNDTABLE
February 7, 2023
A Conversation About Generalists, Velocity, and the Source of Innovation
by Tiffany Jow
0
OBJECTS AND THINGS
February 7, 2023
Using a Fungi-Infused Paste, Blast Studio Turns Trash Into Treasure
by Natalia Rachlin
Untapped is published by the design company Henrybuilt.
OBJECTS AND THINGS
08.21.2023
The Future-Proofing Work of Design-Brand Archivists

More architecture and design firms are creating archives to preserve and improve on past innovations—and to share them with the world.

A woman hunched over a series of letters and photographs.
Llisa Demetrios, chief curator of the Eames Institute of Infinite Curiosity, is establishing a growing archive of work by her grandparents, Ray and Charles Eames. (Courtesy Eames Institute of Infinite Curiosity)


The Society of American Archivists—an 87-year-old organization that counts more than 6,200 professionals working in institutions around the country among its members—defines an archive as “the permanently valuable records of people, businesses, and governments.” Incorporating reports, accounts, drafts, final manuscripts, photographs, and other media, these depositories inform how we think about a given entity.

And so, with archiving comes great responsibility. Archivists decide what’s worth remembering, and what we can forget. Items kept represent their view on a subject’s most valuable contributions—consequential edits that shape legacies, inform subsequent ideas, and impact public opinion. In other words, archivists have the power to interpret not just the past, but what lies ahead.

Though traditionally set up as storehouses supporting museums, libraries, and a few entertainment heavyweights (MGM, Disney, and Warner Bros.), archives have become valued extensions of other entities, including architecture and design companies. A growing number of these enterprises have established depositories not only as a means for documentation and a resource for product development and improvement, but for marketing, thrusting the design-brand archivist into the public eye.

Exactly what this shift entails, and how one toes the line between culture and commerce, varies based on the practitioner. But efforts of archivists in this sector all seem to work toward the same design-world holy grail: future-proofing a firm’s innovations.

Furniture and lighting in an exhibition against a red background
Installation view of the 2023 Cassina exhibition “Echoes, 50 Years of iMaestri.” (Photo: Agostino Osio)


One facet of a design-brand archivist’s work, it appears, involves helping colleagues navigate and interpret heaps of information related to current projects. These record-keepers are responsible for elevating the cultural status of architecture and design as well as for culling raw data that can inform better results. They model self-reflectivity, letting it ripple out to all who encounter it.

“When looking to re-edition Afra and Tobia Scarpa’s famous 1969 Soriana Sofa a few years ago, it was important for our product engineers to look at old technical drawings and determine where improvements could be made,” says Barbara Lehmann, the historical archives and cultural activities curator for the Italian furniture brand Cassina. “This approach also allows us to introduce new materials and processes that are more sustainable. We can also learn from past approaches that have been forgotten over time but are relevant today, if not more so.”

She would know. Lehmann has spent the past two decades building a coherent archive for Cassina. In transforming a disorganized northern Italian warehouse filled to the brim with preliminary sketches, catalogs, and other documents, the archivist, who trained as an architect, applied her practical eye in determining what was important to hold on to.

The Cassina archive mostly consists of iterative prototypes, which the manufacturer prides itself on. Some of these never-realized concepts have been loaned to museums, including Paris’s Fondation Cartier and Rome’s MAXXI Museum, mounting retrospectives of designers who have worked for the brand as rare evidence of unexpected preoccupations or processes. In an effort to control the narrative, Cassina also mounts its own exhibitions, such as “Echoes, 50 Years of iMaestri,” presented in a theatrically embellished basement during this year’s Milan Design Week. The show marked the 50th anniversary of its iMaestri Collection, an ever-growing line of reissued and limited-edition designs by Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret, Charlotte Perriand, and other designers, highlighting the company’s research-based approach. Lehmann was instrumental in not only selecting the pieces that should be exhibited but also the supporting maquettes, drawings, material samples, and disassembled components.

“Increasingly my role is to help uncover the elements of design classics that can be reimagined with an eye toward the use of more sustainable materials and production processes,” she says. “We’re focusing more and more on communicating the various narratives we’ve uncovered on the Cassina website to better inform our customers and design connoisseurs about what they’re buying or sourcing.” And though the Cassina archives are not necessarily accessible to the public, certain researchers can request to visit the facility. Knowledge-sharing, it seems, benefits the company inside and out.

A woman looking through prints in an archive
Items in the Herman Miller archive. (Photo: Carson Brown)


Another storied furniture company, Herman Miller, recently exhibited rarely seen items from its archive in New York to celebrate its centennial. “We’re very much a marketing engine,” says Amy Auscherman, the company’s director of archives and brand heritage. “A lot of what we as brand archivists are tasked with is pulling assets and making sense of primary sources to help support different initiatives, whether that be an exhibition or a social media strategy.”

Auscherman has contributed to the curation of innumerable exhibitions put on by the company and its partner organizations, as well as to the painstaking staging of the Eero Saarinen–designed Miller House in Columbus, Indiana and the ongoing, daunting task of digitizing all of Herman Miller’s tangible materials. A 2019 book she co-edited about the brand catapulted her to celebrity-librarian status as she delivered talks around the country, peppered with Herman Miller lore, to captivated audiences.

When the company acquired the furnishings group Knoll, two years ago, Auscherman found herself having to service far more material, from Knoll and its subsidiaries, conducting what she calls “reconnaissance.” For Auscherman, her role isn’t all about developing commercial promotions; she’s also determining what materials should appear in museum collections and what should remain in the corporate archive. (Her employer, now called MillerKnoll, aspires to create a physical, publicly accessible depository.) This careful allocation helps get the word out, in the most effective places using the most effective products, solidifying Herman Miller and Knoll’s authoritative places within the canon of American furniture production.

“We’re able to fund and facilitate this work without constraints of grants or other stipulations put on purely cultural institutions—which frankly benefits us from a marketing standpoint,” Auscherman says. “It allows for a freer academic and critical examination of design history and our role within it.”

A view into an architecture office archive looking out into a window
Inside Steven Holl’s ‘T’ Space. (Photo: Paul Warchol)


Elsewhere, some design archivists act like cats presenting their kills, quietly putting artifacts in strategic places to be discovered. Opened in 2010, architect Steven Holl’s ‘T’ Space joined the ranks of a number of multidisciplinary cultural campuses within a 150-mile radius of New York City. The woodland Hudson Valley retreat comprises a number of interconnected structures used for residences and programming. One pavilion hosts an archive that Holl and his wife, the architect Dimitra Tsachrelia, established in 2019. A vital member of the firm, Tsachrelia, like Cassina’s Lehmann, has witnessed the development of many projects—lending insight that helps her determine what deserves preservation.

“‘T’ Space is meant to be a place that sparks dialogue about the discipline [of architecture],” Tsachrelia says. “Complete with books about other practitioners and styles, models, and other process material, the archive pinpoints Steven’s will to contribute to that culture.” The carefully curated collection, presented in display cases and on open shelving, offers a complete picture of Holl and his firm’s ethos, yet is by no means static. The display is in constant flux, with Tsachrelia periodically adding and removing elements on display, and targets visiting researchers and practitioners in residence.

Though this archive is less directly oriented towards marketing efforts, it does help solidify the firm’s value and how it differentiates itself from other major practices. In that regard, new clients considering working with Holl and his team indirectly get a sense of what they can expect from the process of developing a new project with them. “In one respect, I think contemporary practice is losing the intensity of building physical model studies,” Tsachrelia says. “The bigger an architectural practice, the less emphasis is given on those little time-consuming beautiful things. For us, it’s essential.”

Over in Chicago, at the architecture firm Studio Gang, in-house archivist and librarian Andi Altenbach follows a similar approach. She curates a temporary exhibition space in the office’s basement annex, accessible to the public by appointment and during planned presentations. “Picking out specific objects from the archive allows us to touch on different relevant topics and reveals some of our practice’s interests that not everyone might know about,” she says. Altenbach also organizes an internal space of resources where staff can explore models, drawings, digital files, and even post-occupancy records of previous projects to benchmark new concepts.

“We’re demonstrating what Studio Gang has already achieved, especially in determining the factors that keep the same clients coming back time and time again,” says Altenbach, who regularly sources material for marketing campaigns and media requests. “We’re also revealing what the firm hopes to achieve in the future.” Like Tsachrelia, she works to uncover and clarify a culture of practice—narratives that can inspire new partnerships and maintain those already in place.

Chairs on a shelf in a spare room
Items collected by the Eames Institute of Infinite Curiosity. (Courtesy Eames Institute of Infinite Curiosity)


Some design-brand archivists simply focus on getting the right message across, aiming to address larger issues. For Llisa Demetrios, chief curator of the Eames Institute of Infinite Curiosity, it’s personal. The granddaughter of Ray and Charles Eames, she seeks to uncover aspects of her highly influential grandparents’ versatile industrial design practice that go beyond the bentwood technology and amoebic modernism they pioneered.

From her Petaluma, California, ranch—which will soon be transformed into a multidisciplinary cultural center, residency, and yes, an archive—Demetrios currently mounts online exhibitions that are informed by her ongoing “opening of boxes.” She, family members, and staff have spent years going through items packed up from the Eames’s Santa Monica office in the late 1980s. Their presentations include “Ray’s Hand,” which revealed the many standard and adapted tools the designer used in her diverse pursuits, and “Tables! Tables! Tables!,” which surveyed the Eames’s many designs of the show’s title object, which are often overlooked in favor of their chairs.

“Part of my mission is imparting [Ray and Charles’s] insights on issues like ecology—something they were thinking about long before it became popular and grappled with through the resourceful, interdisciplinary, and out-of-the-box mindset that was so key to what they accomplished,” Demetrios says.

She’s also not afraid of controversy. Shaping a narrative that works to either address past misconduct or that demonstrates progress is a big part of any archivist’s labor. For instance, the protracted omission of Ray as an equal partner in almost any endeavor she and her husband took on is something both Demetrios and Auscherman—given Herman Miller’s long association with the design duo—have had to address time and time again.

“One thing my family did after Charles and Ray passed away, when museums were only crediting Charles on the labels, was to make sure Ray was included, too,” Demetrios says. “Cherry-picking what she did or didn’t work on actually devalues her contribution.” Ray needs to be credited for all or nothing, and Demetrios can help make that happen.

Installation view of a disassembled shelf in an exhibition
Installation view of the Cassina exhibition “Echoes, 50 Years of iMaestri.” (Photo: Agostino Osio)


In a time when information proliferates in excess, cultural substantiation and holding on to an entity’s proprietary value, if not also a bit of street cred, remains critical. Hiring an archivist is one way for design brands to achieve this within the quasi-commercial, quasi-cultural domain the field resides in today. There’s no longer a need to differentiate between the two, it appears, so long as the information put out in the world is honest. One opens the door for other ambitions.

“Our most successful products have come from designers trying new things with new materials,” Auscherman says. “In my role of being a squeaky wheel, reminding our customers that material innovation has been at the forefront of our culture for over a hundred years, I’m able to prove the brand’s lasting contribution and importance to contemporary practice. It’s not only rooted in furthering the business, but more purely in my mind, the joy of getting to tell stories that can impactful a wide audience on a range of vital issues.”