Contents - Previous - Next
6.3 The design of library and archive buildings
Archive Buildings and Equipment
The open plan and flexibility
What space for the library? A discussion on the library building
Archive Buildings and Equipment
Definitions - Brief to the Architect. Overall Plan.
1. Definition of an archive service
Before embarking on a study of the construction and equipping of an archive repository, it may be useful to begin with some definitions.
Whilst the definition of archives is almost everywhere the same - the whole of the documents produced by an organisation, administrative unit, firm, establishment, even a family or a person, in the course of the exercise of their activities and preserved for reference purposes - the same cannot be said of the definition of an archive repository.
In some countries, the public archives are organised under a separate and independent administrative body, with its own buildings, staff and regulations; whilst in others they are, to greater or lesser degree, linked to libraries, museums or documentation services. Sometimes they are closely tied to the bodies producing them (as, for example, in England where some major administrative units retain responsibility for their own archives); more frequently they come under a separate and independent administration once they cease to be in current use (as in France, where the Directorate of the Archives of France is responsible for the whole of the public archives with rare exceptions).
There is yet another difference. Some countries recognise two types of archive repository: repositories solely concerned with preservation ("historical archives"), intended solely for documents of historical interest, marked for permanent preservation; and intermediate repositories ("records centres": in French "dépôts de préarchivage"), where documents destined to be destroyed after shorter or longer periods are housed. This distinction does not exist everywhere, and indeed it is not always necessary when the archive repository is closely linked to the body where the archives originated.
All these differences in ideas, organisation and operation are reflected in the differences between archival buildings. For example, a budding intended to house exclusively the archives of a province will be different in many particulars from one in which are gathered together, under one direction, the archives, library, museum and headquarters of the learned society of this province. Equally the small budding housing the archives of some local administration will have little in common with the enormous one housing the central archives of a modern state with all its ancillary services.
The differences in ideas about the rôle of an archive service also have a bearing on the construction and equipment of repositories. Some countries still adhere, more or less, to the traditional idea of a complete separation between "historical archives" and "current administration". Here, the archive service only has contact with historians and, to a much lesser degree, with the general public by way of historical exhibitions. Elsewhere, there will be a close connection between the archive service and archive-producing departments, which may result in the transformation of the repository into an administrative documentation service. The budding will then reflect this function by the different evolution of some of the working areas.
Whatever the type and size of an archive service, every repository must meet certain basic requirements, which are the same in each case and are well known. They are: a) preservation of documents in complete security, hence the need for safe storage areas, protected against fire, humidity, excessive sunlight, insects, rodents, burglars, etc.; b) production of documents to those requiring them, hence the need for space for listing, packing, labelling, catalogues and inventories, search room; c) repair of damaged documents; d) documentary reproduction - microfilm, photocopying, etc.
To these basic needs will be added, in varying degrees, secondary needs: public exhibition of documents; production of documents for educational purposes; moulding and repair of seals-, administrative documentation, etc.
Thus, it will be seen how pointless it would be to speak of budding and equipping an archive repository without first of all defining the kind of archive service it is intended to house; in other words, without drawing up a brief for the architect.
2. Drawing up the brief
Whether the question is one of planning a new budding or of adapting an existing budding, nothing useful will be achieved without a precise brief. It would be wrong for the archivist to expect the architect to draw up the brief: it is essentially the user's job to do this. If the brief has been well thought out and set down, any errors in its execution will be the architect's fault and it will be a simple matter to compare his results with the brief which was before him when he drew up his plans. If on the other hand, the brief has been negligently or imprecisely drawn up, the architect cannot be blamed for imperfections for which he was not responsible.
The care with which this essential document should be drawn up is, therefore, self-evident. The role of this Manual is to help archivists in this task but not to take their place. Only the head of an archive service knows exactly its needs (quantitative importance of the documents in his care, importance of future transfers, number of searchers, etc.). Many factors enter into the reckoning. First among these is the amount of money at the architect's disposal for carrying out the job. There would be little point in drawing up an ideal brief including all the most up to date technical improvements - unfortunately always the most expensive - if the budget for construction is a modest one. The first mark of good sense is to know how to equate the brief with the real possibilities of carrying it out.
The archivist's theoretical brief must be set against the practical facts of the problem. It is then for the architect to say what is and what is not practicable. Once he has advised on and agreed to the draft brief which has been submitted to him, the document is finalised and will serve as a basis for drawing up plans.
3. Archivist and architect
Everyone to his own job. The archivist knows the needs of his service; the architect knows the solutions which will satisfy these needs. It would be as presumptuous for the archivist to claim the right to draw up the plans for his future repository as it would be for the architect to ignore the suggestions and the possible criticisms of his client. Ideally then, close collaboration between architect and archivist is indispensable for the satisfactory completion of an archival building.
However, in practice things do not always fall out this way: sometimes the archivist has requirements which cannot be met, or, has only vague ideas about the equipment he wants; the architect, for his part, sometimes has set ideas which he seeks to impose despite the archivist's advice, or, through excess of work on hand neglects to keep in touch with the archivist and draws up his plans without consultation.
What should one do in such circumstances? It is clear that the archivist cannot force his way into the architect's office and make a scene. On the other hand, the architect cannot seek the archivist's advice every five minutes. In cases of sharp conflict, recourse can be had to arbitration by higher authority, usually whoever is financing the work. But such extreme measures, happily, are rare. More usually, in these matters, good manners win the day, the more so since both sides recognise that, in their different spheres, each is equally competent.
Whether it is a question of building or adapting, once the preliminary consultations have taken place the matter is now one for the architect. He knows the latest technical developments and is responsible for the actual works. He is in a position to suggest new solutions and draw the archivist's attention to difficulties created by the brief. Only for the most weighty reasons, connected with the proper functioning of an archive service, should the archivist oppose the adoption of the architect's plans, although necessary modifications and improvements may be incorporated as they are being drawn up by mutual agreement.
Later on another problem, often a source of conflict may arise, that of supervision of the work. It is essential for the archivist to follow the course of the work closely, since at this point he may detect minor errors or omissions which can easily be remedied as they occur, but which become irremediable once the job is finished. Unfortunately, the architect rarely voluntarily invites the archivist to inspect progress and the archivist must take the initiative in visiting the site, where his welcome may not always be as friendly as he could wish. However, he must persevere: an archivist who has not closely and minutely followed the course of the work will have forfeited the right of blaming the architect if anything goes wrong once the job is finished. A weekly visit should be part of the archivist's professional duty.
4. The basic choice: anew building or the adaptation of an existing one?
For at least fifty years there has been much argument as to whether it is better to build new premises or adapt existing ones to house archives.
A brief summary of the arguments in favour of each point of view follows:
a) In favour of old buildings
The cost is usually lower since there are normally no major works to be carried out on the main structure of the building. The advances of the last thirty years in the internal renovation of buildings have made it possible to re-use old repositories by modernising their interiors. There may also be an opportunity of saving ancient monuments (palaces, monasteries, churches...) threatened with destruction by converting them into archive repositories (see plate 22, b). Lastly, an argument of a sentimental kind, not without its value when it is a question of preserving part of a cultural heritage, the atmosphere of an historic building may seem to be more attuned to the nature of archives than a new, impersonal, characterless budding.
Against these arguments, it can always be argued that, with rare exceptions, buildings erected for purposes other than the preservation of archives only lend themselves to the necessary functional adaptation with difficulty and imperfectly. Also, if, as is almost always the case, the whole interior must be re-adapted and fitted out as a preliminary, then the cost is often the same as, if not more than, that of a new budding.
b) In favour of new buildings
The obvious advantage is the greater convenience and flexibility: all the requirements of the brief to the architect can be transferred more easily on to the plans for a new budding than to those for an adaptation of an old budding. The architect will also have the advantage of the choice of budding materials, etc.
As to the sentimental argument, as with all such arguments, it can neither be countered nor supported by logical argument. It is true that, in certain cases, the use of an historic budding in which to preserve archives may be desirable from a psychological viewpoint: the prestige of the budding may reflect on the archive service (as is the case in Paris, for example, where the beauty of the Palais Soubise and the Palais Rohan has contributed notably in bringing the National Archives to the attention of the general public). On the other hand, such a solution is frequently chosen solely on the more or less valid grounds of economy, with all the drawbacks this brings to the functioning and future of the service.
Indeed, the types of building which lend themselves to adaptation as an archive repository without costly and complicated internal work are rare. Usually, adaptations of this kind are inconvenient and defective (the experience of the National Archives in Paris, referred to above, is instructive in this respect).
A compromise solution, which may prove satisfactory when sufficient space is available, is to put the working areas of an archive service in an old building and to build a new repository block immediately next to it; or to convert the nave of an old church into strongrooms and to build a new aisle for the working areas.
To return to the psychological arguments, it should be added that the use of an old building conveys little prestige on an archive service unless it is a stately building of character and artistic merit; this is not the case of old factories or warehouses, or even prisons, which are too often offered for conversion into archive repositories.
The argument against conversion does not apply to records centres for which, contrary to archive repositories properly called, accommodation which is both economical and improvised will suffice.
Finally, one decisive argument in favour of a new budding should not be ignored: in the world of today, it is in the archivist's best interests not to turn his back on his own times. The general public - and administrators - are only too ready to regard archives as a collection of dirty, useless old papers, A new and attractive building can greatly contribute to overcoming such prejudices. To insist too strongly on the occupation of an old budding, however "historical" it may be, will only give firmer roots to the notion that archivists are incurably wedded to the past. The consequences of such an opinion on the future of an archive service are only too obvious.
5. Second choice: single building or multiple buildings?
In most countries, it is usual to concentrate all the archives under the control of one archivist in one single building. The advantages of this are self-evident: economies in construction, equipment, staff and time, since everything is in the same place and thus fetching and carrying is reduced to a minimum. However, there are drawbacks especially if the archives are important: there is a risk that the building will become excessively big, occupying a large surface area, which is expensive if it is in the centre of a town. On the other hand, in case of disaster all the documents will be destroyed together.
For this reason, some countries have adopted the system of splitting their archives between several buildings, separated to a greater or lesser extent one from the other. Thus the risks arising from a disaster can be spread and too great a concentration in one place, with its effect on site costs, avoided. But one immediately runs up against other drawbacks: increases in staff needed for running these dispersed repositories; complications in internal relations; a growing risk of disorder and bad administration.
We have also to consider the question whether "historical archives" and "intermediate records" should be kept in the same budding or in distinct buildings (archive repositories versus records centres), a question which has already been alluded to above.
While no strict rule can be defined for all cases, it is nevertheless clear that it would be absurd to disperse archives throughout several buildings when their total bulk is of a moderate size. If, taken together, the whole of archives and intermediate records do not exceed 15,000 to 20,000 linear metres (for the meaning of this expression, see below, p. 139), one single budding should suffice to hold them. But once the figure of about 25,000 lin.m. is reached, it is almost invariably better to separate archives and intermediate records.
Of course this discussion about the advisability of a single building or multiple buildings for archives is entirely independent of the fact that, in important archive buildings, the strongrooms often have to be divided into two or more blocks; and also that working areas often are in a distinct block from the strongrooms.
6. Third choice: choice of site
Whether it is a caw of a new budding or an old one, of a single repository budding or multiple buildings, the proper choice of site is vital. Many mistakes can subsequently be corrected, but not the choice of a bad site: the whole future of an archive service can be jeopardised by such a mistake.
Unfortunately, the "ideal site" is very difficult to define. Many factors enter into the reckoning, some of them contradicting others.
a) Sites to be avoided: at least it is possible to define without any hesitation sites which should be completely avoided:
There are other types of site which should as far as possible be avoided, but to which the same categorical prohibitions do not apply: sites near sources of noise (busy main road, railway station, factory); sites which would preclude future extensions to the repository either by reason of their limited area or because of town planning restrictions on the height of buildings. Sites which are difficult of access by reason of steep slopes or bad roads should, as far as possible, be avoided.
In any case, before deciding on any site whatsoever, the soil should be carefully surveyed and trial bored so as to avoid unpleasant surprises when digging of the foundations begins.
b) Definition of the best sites. If a repository principally intended for the preservation of historical archives is being built, it will be desirable to site it in the university quarter of the town; even more so if libraries and museums are intended to be near the archives, as is the practice in many countries.
If, on the other hand, the repository is for departmental records, it will be preferable to keep them near the centre of administration, which is usually in the heart of a town. Such a site is a prime essential if an administrative documentation centre is linked with the archives, to which officials of the administration must have easy access at all times.
This all seems very straightforward. Unfortunately, it most often happens that:
The "ideal solution" then seems to vary, depending on whether one is talking of a small archive service or one on a vastly bigger scale.
In the first case, (repositories of between 15,000 and 20,000 linear metres run) every endeavour should be made to find a site in or reasonably near a town centre, easily accessible but sufficiently isolated to allow vans carrying records to turn round on the site with ease. A surface area of 800- 1000 sq.m. should suffice for this size of building and it should not be hard to find a suitably located site of this kind.
If, however, it is a question of a large and important archive service, it would be wisest - as has been said before - to distinguish clearly between:
It is extremely important that if buildings to which the public has access are situated away from the centre of a town, they should be easily accessible by public transport; this should be a prime consideration in the choice of a site.
c) Is it satisfactory to house archives outside towns? Since, in the opinion of many people, archives are dead things, it is often suggested that they can be kept in the country, e.g. in an old castle or ecclesiastical building, far from a town, where land is cheap. The supporters of this point of view add that maximum isolation is thus ensured and as a result archives are protected, especially from wartime dangers.
Such a solution should be rigorously avoided. It can only end in the suffocation of the archive service, which will be cut off from contact with administration, historians and the learned public. Except in the case of services of the greatest importance (such as the Spanish national historical archive, whose presence in Simancas alone justifies the existence of a hostel in this small country town lost amid the plain of Old Castille), archives, in general, tend to be under-utilised if they are situated outside a town.
Of course, the establishment of "security" repositories in isolated places far from centres of population, intended solely for the storage of archives in wartime, may be envisaged. But such repositories should not be confused with permanent peacetime repositories; no one would think of exiling the Mona Lisa to the heart of the Auvergne mountains, or the pictures of the Metropolitan Museum in New York to the Rocky Mountains, or Tutenkamen's treasures to the middle of the Nubian Desert, under pretext of safety or security. Archives, like paintings, sculptures, and books are a part of a living culture; their place is amongst the people who create and use them.
It is always possible to leave the heart of an archive service in a town centre (offices, search rooms, catalogue rooms, etc., i.e. those parts of direct service to the public) and to spread the storage accommodation which is the most cumbersome part, out around the edges of the town. Such a solution is both practicable and acceptable, subject always to two essential conditions:
Finally, specialised types of repositories, e.g. for security microfilm, are normally found on isolated sites, offering the maximum guarantee of safety against all foreseeable means of destruction.
d) Orientation of the buildings. Once the site has been chosen, thought must be given to the possible orientation of the budding (in so far as a choice is possible, which will depend on the shape and layout of the site).
Because of the dangers to documents from excessive sunlight, it is better to avoid giving strongrooms a direct southern aspect in the northern hemisphere or a direct northern aspect in the southern hemisphere.
In areas exposed to winds from the sea carrying humidity and salt or to hot, dry winds, it is undesirable to site strongrooms facing these winds, although their damaging effects can be lessened by good insulation against heat and humidity.
For search rooms and other working areas in general, that orientation which gives the best natural light should be sought.
7. Fourth choice: a building above or below ground?
The principal attribute of an archive repository is security, and it is tempting to ensure this to the maximum by burying the strongrooms below ground. Moreover, this solution has another attraction in that it is an economical use of a site, especially in a large town. Finally, protection against the hazards of war is inseparable from the idea of underground shelters.
These various reasons explain why, over the past three decades, many countries have either excavated new or adapted existing underground repositories. This solution merits close attention but it is only fair to point out that, despite the advantages mentioned above, there are two very considerable disadvantages:
Again, unless an existing underground tunnel is used, the cost of an underground budding with the extensive excavations, lining and digging which will be involved, may well be greater than that for budding on the surface of the ground: economies in site costs will be largely counterbalanced by this expenditure.
If the primary consideration is to provide protection against the hazards of conventional warfare, normal underground construction will suffice (beginning some 3-4 in. under the surface, provided there is a satisfactory protective ceiling); if, however, protection against nuclear weapons is what is wanted, then, all available evidence suggests that extremely deep tunnels will be needed, well away from military targets; consequently, the problem here is very different.
In practice, such underground installations as tunnels excavated as wartime air-raid shelters, disused railway tunnels, mine galleries driven into the rock may be considered for use as archive stores, provided that all the necessary air-conditioning, emergency pumps, ventilation etc., have been installed and are in continuous operation: but such installations are usually at some distance from a town and their use will have the undesirable result of separating the archives from their users, which, as has previously been mentioned, should be avoided.
The location of archive repositories below ground, With a few exceptions, therefore, tends to be unsatisfactory, both from an operational and a financial point of view. It is quite usual, however, even desirable for an archive budding to have two or three underground floors, fitted out as strongrooms or areas of special security. Mobile shelving can be used here. In practically all modern office buildings (e.g. banks, headquarters of large undertakings, etc.) archives are stored underground in a perfectly satisfactory manner; but it should always be remembered that if this solution is to work properly, an air-conditioning plant is essential and this is expensive.
As to wartime security repositories, which have been alluded to earlier, they fall rather outside the scope of this present Manual. Every important archive service must have access to one of these in case of serious danger, situated well away from centres of population and military targets and built - or better excavated - to withstand modern weapons of war. The construction of such repositories should be gone into in conjunction with civil defence services in the general context of the protection of cultural property in time of war. Here the matter can be but briefly referred to.
8. Fifth choice: a horizontal or vertical building?
It has, for a long time, been traditional to build archive repositories at ground level. This is obviously the simplest solution with the fewest constructional problems.
However, the size to which major archive services have grown means that the surface area required is now considerable. To take an example: a repository with some 20,000 lin.m. of shelving of the conventional (non-mobile) type will have some 2,600 m. of gangways and passageways, a figure corresponding to the shelving of a medium sized repository. For a larger service, the figure would soon be 6,000 m., 8,000 m. or more.
It can thus be seen that it will be in the interests of the service to reduce gangways, and thereby surface area as much as possible, thus ensuring economical use of the site, which will almost always be costly in a town.
For these reasons, one is led more and more to think of constructing high-rise buildings. With modem architectural techniques these no longer present any difficulties and repositories of 20, 30 and even 40 stories are perfectly feasible. Here, most internal traffic is vertical, by way of lifts, thus eliminating the difficulties of manoeuvring trolleys along apparently interminable gangways.
It should, however, be noted that high-rise buildings need special foundations, which are generally very expensive. There is, therefore, no point in building "archive towers" as a matter of course; the solution to the problem depends on the price of land, the importance of the archives to be stored, the nature of the soil (a tower costs less to erect on rocky ground than on soft), etc. The working of the lifts should also be borne in mind: in the event of power cuts or break downs, the situation can become catastrophic; and it is by no means easy, outside a big town, to maintain and repair such sensitive lifts as those in a 20 or 30 storey building.
9. Sixth choice.- traditional framework or framework incorporating the load bearing uprights of the shelving as an integral part of the structure?
The use of metal shelving makes it possible for the architect to link together closely the framework of the shelving and that of the building itself, by using a building structure suitable for load bearing shelving.
The respective advantages of a traditional framework and one able to accomodate load bearing shelving are studied below. But it should be emphasised that it is at the stage of drawing up the plans that this choice will have to be made.
In effect, a framework to accomodate load bearing shelving requires, at all levels, a network of metal uprights in more or less close-set ranks, which governs the whole internal arrangement of the building. If working areas and strongrooms are placed one above the other, these uprights can cause serious functional problems, and, as a result, the whole plan of the building requires careful thought.
10. General plan of the building
A multi-purpose archive budding is composed of three (or four) basic elements:
There is one fundamental principle to be observed in linking these different elements and drawing up the plan of the buildings: the strongrooms must be isolated from the rest of the building to ensure their protection against fire. This can be achieved either horizontally or vertically; put another way, the strongrooms can be built either physically separated from the other areas or separated from them by thick walls or placed above or below each other with fire resisting floors and ceilings.
The problems posed by such walls, floors and fireproof doors will be seen below. Here we need only consider the effects of this necessary isolation on the plan and general idea of the buildings.
The most simple way to ensure the separation of strongrooms from other areas is of course to build the strongrooms block on one side and on the other the administrative and technical block, connected only by corridors with fire resisting doors.
However, this solution is not always practical if only because of the large surface area it requires. The isolation of strongrooms can be equally well achieved by means of fire resisting walls within the same block of buildings (see plates 9b-d and 10a-b). It can also be achieved in vertical buildings by the use of fire resisting floors or ceilings.
Should strongrooms occupy upper or lower floors? It seems logical to place the heavier elements (strongrooms) in the lower parts of a budding; provided the lifts are adequate, working areas can then be on upper stories. This solution has the added advantage, in larger towns, of ensuring that offices, search rooms, etc. are furthest removed from street noises and polluted atmosphere. At street level or below would be areas for the reception and weeding of documents and certain workshops (see plate 11 b).
The other solution, which puts strongrooms above working areas, is technically feasible through the use of thick reinforced concrete floors supported by stout pillars. This allows working areas to remain at street level and avoids constant use of lifts.
The overall plan of the budding, then, depends on the shape and dimensions of the site and on the method adopted to separate the strongrooms from the other areas.
A traditional layout is L-shaped, with the strongroom block perpendicular or at right angles to the administrative and technical block. It is very satisfactory, as is the T-shaped layout which is similar (see plate 9c-d).
Using fire resisting walls where necessary, concentric, square or rectangular layouts can also be adopted, the centre or one side or one angle of a quadrilateral being occupied by strongrooms (see plate 9b).
If the budding consists of two blocks of strongrooms the most rational layout is either H-shaped or in the shape of a square U in which the median bar will represent the working areas (plate 10a).
If there are to be several strongroom blocks, a star shaped building will ensure the best operation of the service (plate 10b).
11. Provision for the future
No archivist can claim to have done his job properly, when building or adapting a budding for his service, if he has not provided for extensions sufficient for the foreseeable future.
It is impossible to forecast the need for such extensions in the abstract; it obviously depends on the rate and extent of accessions, Careful statistics should be kept, to ascertain:
Ideally, an archive budding should, from the time of its construction or adaptation be designed to meet the needs of at least the next 10 years; in addition to the racking needed to store holdings at the time of building or adaptation, enough for the foreseeable transfers of the next 20 years should be installed, allowance being made for the corresponding destruction. But twenty years is a short time in the future of an archive service; one must think even further ahead. Failing the initial construction of a building large enough to meet the needs of the next 50 to 100 years (and this would be excessively ambitious), provision for possible enlargement of both strongrooms and working areas should be made. This enlargement can be at ground level or vertically; in the latter case, provision should be made when the foundations are dug for future extra floors and weight to be placed on them.
In the absence of precise and detailed figures (a risky business anyway), it would be agreed, as a rule of thumb, that the potentiality of doubling the capacity of a repository would be looked upon as satisfactory.
Contents - Previous - Next