87 linear feet — 10000 drawings
The Gunnar Birkerts and Associates Collection offers researchers a rich perspective on the work of one of the masters of American modern architecture whose career spans the second half of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. The initial accessions of Birkert's material encompassed 69 linear feet of the firm's textual records, which are associated with 14 of Birkerts' distinguished buildings, and 7158 original drawings and prints documenting the evolution of the architectural design process for each project. In 2008, the records and drawings of 74 more projects were included in the collection, bringing the total amount of textual material to 82 linear feet and the number of drawings to over 10,000. Altogether, these visual materials detail many of the expressive elements for which Birkerts' architecture is renowned, including his bold forms, simplification of detail, innovative selection of surface materials and dramatic use of indirect light. Although six of the buildings in the original collection of 14 projects are located in Michigan, along with the offices of the firm, nine other structures were built in New York, Indiana, Mississippi and Minnesota, testimony to the national scope of this architectural practice. The following buildings were selected for inclusion in the collection by Birkerts and Bentley Historical Library staff because they represent the significance, diversity and evolution of the architect's work:
- Haley Funeral Home (1960-1961)
- University Reformed Church (1960-1964)
- Freeman Residence (1964-1966)
- Lincoln Elementary School (1965-1967)
- Tougaloo College Master Plan, Library and Dormitories (1965-1972)
- Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis (1967-1973)
- Duluth Public Library (1969-1980)
- S.U.N.Y., Purchase, Dance Instructional Facility (1970-1976)
- Corning Municipal Fire Station (1973-1974)
- Calvary Baptist Church (1974-1977)
- University of Michigan Law Library Addition (1974-1981)
- Corning Museum of Glass (1976-1980)
- Ferguson Residence (1980-1983)
- St. Peter's Lutheran church (1981-1988)
- Additional Projects (added in 2008)
The initial accessions Gunnar Birkerts and Associates Collection are arranged in 14 series, each of which contains the business records and architectural drawings for one building. The finding aid begins with a description of the narrative records in chronological order in each series. An item-level description of the architectural and engineering drawings follows, grouping drawings in folders according to design phases, as described above. The finding aid lists the titles of drawings, when they exist, as well as title bar information including original dates, revision dates, numeric sequencing and, in some cases, names of consulting engineers. A description of the medium and support of each drawing is also given.
The 2008 accession to the collection includes of documentation of 74 additional projects consisting of 3,000 drawings and 13 linear feet of textual materials and photographs. The documentation for these projects is generally not as extensive as for the fourteen in the original accessions and the finding aid does not describe them in as great detail. They have been grouped together as single series titled "Other Projects" and the individual projects are listed in alphabetical order by project title
One of the collection's greatest strengths is found in its emphasis on the architectural design process, offering researchers a broad, visual representation of the evolution of each building through the "Schematic Design," "Design Development" and "Construction Document" sequences. Because Gunnar Birkerts and Associates meticulously saved each drawing associated with the firm's projects, this collection provides an exceptional view of the daily design process, as solutions were sought which defined the architectural character and individuality of a structure. Each of the 14 buildings in the Gunnar Birkerts and Associates Collection is conceived as an individual series, which contains the textual and visual documents associated with the project. Within each of the 14 series, the architectural and engineering drawings are arranged chronologically by design phase, beginning with "Schematic Design," when the owner's program is analyzed and sketches are drawn to illustrate the scale and relationship of the project's components. Researchers interested in viewing the earliest conceptual drawings associated with each building are encouraged to consult the finding aid of the collateral Gunnar Birkerts Collection, which amasses the sketches by the architect's own hand for most of his projects. Digital images of 284 of these conceptual sketches can be seen online in the Bentley Historical Library Image Bank through Gunnar Birkerts, Conceptual Drawings. An understanding of the beginning stage of design for each building is best obtained by studying the conceptual and "Schematic Design" documents in both the Gunnar Birkerts and Associates Collection and the Gunnar Birkerts Collection.
The second "Design Development" stage in each building series includes more precise site plans, floor plans, elevations and sections which further define the dimensions, mechanical/electrical systems, building materials and architectural character of the project. This phase often ends with the production of artistic presentation drawings which are used to obtain the client's approval of the design. Although the collection contains a large majority of original sketches and drawings on tracing paper, vellum, linen and mylar, many blue-line and sepia prints have been retained in each series if they are substitutes for missing originals or if they are annotated and thus show the ongoing search for solutions in the evolution of the design process.
Each series in the collection also records the third "Construction Document" phase, during which the final working drawings are developed before being sent to contractors for bids. These drawings are the graphic representation of the written "Specifications," included in the textual records of every series. The "Construction Documents" for each building, which were often revised to show changes after construction began, may be of significant value to historic preservationists or future owners seeking to restore the building to its original condition or adapt it to a new use.
The Gunnar Birkerts and Associates Collection is also significant in its pairing of the visual documentation described above with the textual records of each building, which describe the decisions and actions of the firm during the design and construction process. Thus, scholars can read the program information, specifications, addenda and memoranda associated with the architectural drawings during each chronological stage of the building's design. Written contracts, correspondence, transmittals and field inspection reports further inform historians about the relationship between the firm and its clients, contractors, consulting engineers, landscape architects and sub-contractors, documenting in rich detail the business affairs of a nationally known architectural firm in the second half of the twentieth century. Of particular value within the narrative records of each building series is the "Architect's Conceptual Statement". These statements offer design and history students an opportunity to understand the interchange of objective and subjective influences on Mr. Birkerts' creative process and the solutions which define the architectural character of each building.
The Gunnar Birkerts and Associates Collection is also of exceptional value to scholars because it represents the end of the era of hand-drawn architectural documents. By the end of the twentieth century, many architects have begun to use the computer in the development of design and construction drawings. However, this collection of the original 14 buildings contains only drawings which show the flow of the creative process from the brain, through the hand, to the paper. Even drawings which are marked "void" are retained because, like annotated prints, they show the evolution of the design as the search for architectural solutions begins to define the building. Whereas the use of computer-aided design would undoubtedly delete many intermediary design drawings from a collection, this aggregation of hand-drawn documents shows the artistry and complexity of the creative process. The beauty of the architect's pencil line on delicate tracing paper, smooth vellum and opaque mylar is preserved here for future generations of scholars, just as its use in the late 1990s is being abandoned by many architects.
In 2015, Gunnar Birkerts donated a large collection of 7,840 color 35 mm slides, associated with the design and construction of 123 projects, documenting through photographs the work of his entire career. This additional collection is encompassed in the series titled, "Photographic Slides of Projects."