Leah Armstrong

Designing an archive

In Uncategorized on March 18, 2011 at 15:43

Having been a history student from Undergraduate to MA to PhD level since 2005, my research has taken me to a number of archives in Britain and Ireland- from the National archives in Dublin to the Emap archives in London College of Fashion. On this journey, I had become familiar and comfortable with the idea of what an archive is; a building (usually rather official) where boxes of material are held in a systemised and cataolgued form. You make an appointment, you travel there, you take some pictures, and you go back home to write about it. As a tool with which to analyse and engage with the past, it has rather moulded the way in which we view the past; distant, closed and systemised: it’s somewhere else.

Recently, my expectation of what an archive looks like was challenged by the arrival of 126 boxes of CSD material to London. Uncatalogued, non-codified, I began to see the concept of an archive in radically different light.

The work of Luciana Gunetti at the Politecnico di Milano, Department of Architectural Design, (DPA) has helped me re-think the idea of how we archive the past, specifically in a design context.In an article entitled ‘An atlas for a history, a theory and a criticism of Italian visual design’, Gunetti seeks to re-define the design archive as ‘an open space and to identify new forms for the enhancement and enjoyment of an archives contents concerning Communication Design, namely a specific interactive instrument aimed at a historical-critical knowledge to use and share, for research and study work, in a perspective whereby the ‘memory of the project’ is to be considered as the focal point of new design.’

What Gunetti is aiming towards here is an exciting new vision of how designers might use and engage with previous designers work, arguing that rather than closing archive material away in boxes, it might be arranged visually, mapped, or ‘atlased’. Using the internet as the archive ‘home’, she states that a ‘visual narration of thematic pathways’ is possible and preferable as a new means of ‘systemising’ the archive, so that there would be ‘no separation between history, theory and practice’.

It seems to me that design history is already challenging the wider field’s perceptions and notions of what an ‘archive’ is. It no longer has to be closed away in a building. The Design Archives in particular is already committed to the dissemination of archival material, in visual form, online. We should continue to think of new ways of maximising the web-archive as an ‘open cultural resource’ and in a design context specifically, something that can visually represented or mapped.

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