Preserving Design Records

As with all archival collections, the goal of preservation is to maintain a stable environment suitable for each type of record in order to maintain access. Materials degrade at different rates and through different processes based on several factors, including chemical composition. Many design records are made up of the same media and supports as other archival material and standard preservation methods are appropriate for use. However, some design records pose unique problems that require individual assessment and specialized knowledge.

Record Types, Supports, Media, Reproduction Methods, and Born-Digital Files

In addition to common record types like correspondence, photographs, and A/V materials, there are many other types of records, both analog and digital, found in design records collections. The most common items include oversized original drawings such sketches, renderings, working drawings, and as-built and record architectural drawings. These may be original hand-drawn or printed from design computer software. In addition, there are also architectural reproduction drawings, often products of photomechanical processes, that were created for wide-distribution to contractors. Other records, such as specifications, project manuals, and planning documents exist as supporting construction documentation. Three-dimensional objects such as architectural models, plaster maquettes, samples, awards, clothing, office furniture, and product samples can also be found in design collections. The most common supports for two-dimensional materials found in design records collections include but are not limited to tracing paper (also known as tissue paper), tracing cloth (also known as drafting cloth or linen), paper, impregnated paper (sometimes referred to as "vellum,” not to be confused with the animal skin product), and polyester film. Three-dimensional objects such as models, furniture, samples and clothing can be made of paper, plastic, wood, metal, adhesives, and textiles.

Physical media for design records ranges from graphite, colored pencil, charcoal, ink, watercolor, and gouache. There are also a wide variety of reproduction drawings, blueprints being the most well-known. However, there are a number of other methods, many of which are problematic, such as diazotypes, the process of which involves using ammonia salts for developing the image. In addition to these, there are many other methods that have been more popular during different times throughout history. Identifying the reproduction method is key to understanding the best method of preservation.

Born-digital design records include common file formats such as textual files, emails and spreadsheets. However, there are a number of digital design files that are created using proprietary design software. These can include AutoCAD files, Building Information Models, Geographic Information Systems files, and parametric files.


Oversized materials and objects should be handled with care. Ideally, they should be transported flat on either a rigid support carried by one or more persons or by using a cart. If this isn’t possible, materials should be rolled around a wide tube to provide internal support. 

Cleaning and Humidification

Many architecture, design, and engineering drawings used as functional tools on a construction site may be covered in dirt and dust. The various methods for creating drawings, including the use of pressurized tape, sticky-back elements, and friable media may also require cleaning. Drawings can be cleaned the same way as other archival materials, by gently using soft bristled brushes, sponges, and shredded staedtler mars erasers. Cleaning techniques requiring the use of solvents should be left to trained conservators. For drawings that need humidification, there are techniques for relaxing both rolled and wrinkled paper mentioned in more detail in the resources below.

Long-Term Storage

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. Ideally, architectural drawings should be stored flat in archival folders in steel flat file cabinets separated by medium. If cabinets are not available, drawings can be stored horizontally, rolled around a stable inner support and wrapped with appropriate archival materials such as interleaving paper, polyester sleeves, linen tape, and long storage boxes. Drawings should never be stored rolled on end or in a plan hanging cabinet as this will damage the edges of the drawings. Many photo-reproductive methods can result in off-gassing, staining, and fading and should be taken into consideration during long-term storage planning. For 3D objects, you can reach out to the Museum Archives Section or other Allied Groups and organizations listed below.


Factors posed by digital design records include file degradation, missing software, incomplete multi-part files, and a need for emulation services. Please refer to the Digital Design Records Taskforce page for more information.


American Institute for Conservation

AMIGOS Library Services, In. - Imaging & Preservation Services

Conservation Center for ARt and Historic Artifacts (CCAHA)

Northeast Document Conservation Center 

Regional Alliance for Preservation (RAP)

SAA Preservation Section


Alexander Architectural Archive, Storage and Care of Architectural Records, 

AIC Paper Conservation Wiki,

Ellis, Margaret Holben. The Care of Prints and Drawings. Nashville: American Association for State and Local History, 1987.

FAIC, Connecting to Collections Care,

Glück, Eva, Eva-Maria Barkhofen, Irene Brückle, Hans-Scharoun-Archiv, and Akademie Der Künste. “Papier - Linie - Licht : Konservierung Von Architekturzeichnungen Und Lichtpausen Aus Dem Hans-Scharoun-Archiv = Paper - Line - Light : The Preservation of Architectural Drawings and Photoreproductions from the Hans Scharoun Archive”. 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.

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.>

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.

“Oversize, overwhelmed? Caring for Maps and Architectural Drawings in Your Collection.” Webinar. 3/16/2017.

Page, Susan and Diane S. Nixon. “Storing and Handling Oversized Materials,” Restaurator, 15,  (1994): 129-141.>

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.

Schrock, Nancy Carlson and Mary Campbell Cooper. Records in Architectural Offices: Suggestions for the Organization, Storage and Conservation of Architectural Office Archives, 3rd rev. ed., Cambridge, Mass: Massachusetts Committee for the Preservation of Architectural Records, 1992.

Wilson, Helen. “A decision framework for the preservation of transparent papers,” Journal of the Institute of Conservation, 38:1, (2015), 54-64.