Preserving Design Records

Design records include an assortment of record types, media, and supports that must be individually assessed in terms of preservation needs. Physical and digital records each pose their own issues and need to be addressed accordingly.

Types of records, which can be both physical and digital, commonly found in collections include:

  • Original drawings such as as-built and record drawings, working drawings, renderings, and sketches
  • Reproduction drawings, which mostly used photomechanical processes
  • Documentation such as specifications, project manuals, planning documents, and office records
  • Three-dimensional objects such as architectural models, plaster maquettes, awards, original office furniture, and product samples

Types of supports commonly found in design records collections include some of the following:

  • Tracing paper also known as tissue paper
  • Tracing cloth also known as drafting cloth or linen
  • Paper
    • Impregnated paper sometimes referred to as "vellum"
    • Rag paper
  • Photoreproduction drawings including but not limited to the following
    • Blueprints
    • Diazotypes
    • Aniline prints
    • Hectographs
    • Sepias
    • Photostats
    • Ferrogallic prints
    • Gel-lithographs
    • Pellet prints
  • Photographs
    • Positives and negative prints
    • 35 mm slides
    • Glass plate negatives
  • Audiovisual material
    • Videos (digital and tape)
    • Audio recordings
  • Digital files
    • CAD files and software
    • Parametric files and software
    • Building Information Model files and software
    • Geographic Information Systems files and databases

Types of media commonly found in design records collections include:

  • Graphite
  • Colored pencil
  • Ink
  • Watercolor

Physical types of materials degrade at different rates and through different processes based on chemical composition. As in most archival repositories, many types of records typically represented in design records collections include:

  • Papers
  • Plastics
  • Wood
  • Photographic material
  • Film
  • Adhesives
  • Art media
  • Magnetic and digital media

Factors to consider regarding preservation of physical design records include exposure to light, heat, and relative humidity, as well as the presence of biological agents, such as pests and mold. Another factor to consider is that many of the photoreproductive methods pose problems in terms of off-gassing, staining, and fading. Factors posed by digital design records include file degradation, missing software, incomplete multi-part files, and a need for emulation services.

The goal is to maintain a stable environment suitable for the particular type of records in a collection in order to maintain access to these complicated records.

For further information on the identification and preservation of design records:

Alexander Architectural Archive, Storage and Care of Architectural Records,

Glück, Eva, Irene Brückle, and Eva-Maria Barkhofen. Papier - Linie - Licht: Konservierung Von Architekturzeichnungen Und Lightpausen Aus Dem Hans-Scharoun-Archiv = Paper - Line - Light. Berlin: Akademie der Künste, 2012.

Hammill, Michele E. "Washingtoniana II: conservation of architectural drawings at the Library of Congress," Book and Paper Group Annual 12. Washington, DC: Book and Paper Group (BPG) of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, 1993. (available at

Homburger, Hildegard, and Barbara Korbel. "Architectural Drawings on Transparent Paper: Modifications of Conservation Treatments." The Book and Paper Annual. (1999): 25-33.

International Council on Archives. A Guide to the Archival Care of Architectural Records: 19th-20th Centuries. Paris : ICA, 2000. (available at

Kissel, Eléonore and Erin Vigneau. Architectural photoreproductions: a manual for identification, 2nd Ed., New Castle, Del.: Oak Knoll Press, 2009.

Lowell, Waverly and Tawny Ryan Nelb. Architectural Records: Managing Design And Construction Records. Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2006.

Price, Lois Olcott. Line, Shade and Shadow: The Fabrication and Preservation of Architectural Drawings. New Castle, Del.: Oak Knoll Press and the Winterthur Museum, 2015.