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Library of Congress acquires collection of rare architectural drawings, and photographs
Union League Club, New York City (project). Drawing by architect Richard Morris Hunt, 1867.

WASHINGTON, D.C.- The Library of Congress announced the acquisition of the American Institute of Architects and American Architectural Foundation Collection, consisting of rare and significant architectural drawings, photographs and illustrated publications. The materials will be housed in the Library’s Prints and Photographs Division.

The new acquisition adds an estimated 160,000 drawings, 30,000 photographs and rare illustrated books to the Library’s rich holdings of millions of architectural documents. Included in the acquisition are original works of art, detailed technical materials, information-rich business files, ephemera and sourcebooks.

In recognition of the materials’ historical significance and potential value to architectural historians and researchers, the boards of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the American Architectural Foundation (AAF) approved transfer in 2009 of their organizations’ architectural drawings, photos and publications. As part of the transfer agreement, the National Building Museum will serve as the AIA/AAF Collection’s exhibition partner.

The collection has arrived at the Library of Congress and will gradually become available for public use. The archive of iconic American architect Richard Morris Hunt is being prepared first for service by special appointment. The work of other creators will follow, as specialists continue to prepare this vast collection for access. Researchers can contact the Prints and Photographs Division to learn the status of the materials and to inquire about appointments.

With the AIA/AAF materials coming to the Library of Congress, two celebrated architectural repositories become one storehouse of knowledge and inspiration. The value of the merged collections is dynamically illustrated by the reunion of William Thornton’s legendary 1790s "Tortola Scheme" design drawings for the U.S. Capitol—two from the AIA/AAF Collection joining the two already at the Library of Congress. The two AIA/AAF "Tortola" drawings will be on view sequentially in the National Building Museum’s upcoming exhibition "Unbuilt Washington," which opens on November 19. Likewise, priceless Statue of Liberty design drawings by Hunt and Gustave Eiffel will join the treasured Statue of Liberty materials already at the Library.

C. Ford Peatross, director of the Library’s Center for Architecture, Design and Engineering, said "The AIA/AAF Collection’s greatest strengths include its magnificent Beaux-Arts sketches and renderings, its tens-of-thousands of vintage photographs representing the beginnings of architectural photography in the 19th century, and its rare and often extremely beautiful architectural publications, many collected by Hunt and his family."

The acquisition includes Hunt’s more than 15,000 original student and design drawings in the Beaux-Arts tradition that served as a cornerstone of the architectural profession in America. Hunt was an AIA founder and the architect of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the base of the Statue of Liberty, many of the great Gilded Age mansions of New York and Newport, and the grand Biltmore Estate in North Carolina.

"It is more than appropriate that these new acquisitions will complement and strengthen the millions of documents in the Prints and Photographs Division, including the Historic American Buildings Survey; the Historic American Engineering Record; the Historic American Landscapes Survey; the archives and drawings of William Thornton, B. Henry Latrobe, Charles Bulfinch, Cass Gilbert, Raymond Loewy, Charles and Ray Eames, and Paul Rudolph; and the photographic archives of Samuel Gottscho, Sigurd Fischer, Philip Trager, and Carol Highsmith, among many others," Peatross said.

Other highlights of the acquisition include mid-19th-century architectural photographs by French pioneer of the medium Charles Marville; drawings by winners of the AIA’s prestigious Gold Medal such as 1925 honoree Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue; and designs by luminaries spanning the centuries, from Thomas U. Walter, 1804-1887, to Chloethiel Woodard Smith, 1910-1992.

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