Construction Archive

Digitizing and computer database

Since the nineties the Wrocław Building Archive had been working on stocktaking of its resources using dBASE IV. The base’s properties and technology of that time did not allow for conjunction of project pages with photographic reproductions (then still analogical). The focus had been on scientific description of the Archive’s recourses.

Fruition of the acquired experience in terms of computerization of data was creation, in 2006, of a project of another – new base ordered by The Museum of Architecture. Taken under consideration at that time was specificity of the Archive’s resources and customization of a database. It had been a big step towards digitizing of the resources, because the base allowed for working out the project pages and conjoining them with digital reproductions. A great progress had been a significant improvement in entering data and retrieving it from the database. Photographs in advanced digital technique were taken with Kodak and Hasselblad digital cameras. Photographic technology ensured high-quality pictures in TIFF format. The database however had limited parameters, and one of its most crucial drawbacks had been storing digital reproductions only in jpg format. For that reason original files in TIFF format had been stored on CDs and DVDs. These data carriers proved to be quite unreliable and required making copies to preserve and secure the digital reproductions. The digital photography technology also had its limitations in ability to make large quantities of reproductions. Moreover, photographing of large-format architectural projects turned out to be a problem, because the reproductions were lacking quality and would not convey true value of an original plan or a project.

Considerable increase in data and lack of possibilities for further expansion of the base was a decisive factor in implementation of a new database Heracles v1 in 2008. The program had been designed with cooperation and consultation of employees of the 19th and 20th Century Wrocław Architecture Department and the Wrocław Building Archive Department, alike. The base tailored to the character of archival resources considerably facilitated entering data in many text fields created for the needs of scientific description of archival records. New solutions enabled storing data together with digital reproductions in the TIFF format on a server, which significantly improved safekeeping of the data, quick retrieving by readers of the Building Archive. Pictures of projects and plans were still taken by a digital camera, nevertheless digitalizing resources on a large-scale had not been possible. To secure data backup copies would be made on a regular basis, and all activities in the base were recorded and performed by authorized users.

The goal of the record digitalization above all is to save from destruction the extant archival sets and their broader dissemination. Hence, for a number of years, the Museum of Architecture had carried out actions to wholly digitalize the records to enable fast and safe access to the archives without harm to original projects and plans. It was not until 2010, on account of a EU project Digitalizing and dissemination of resources of the Building Archive in the Museum of Architecture in Wrocław, that the long-term striving could be realized.

To reach optimal quality of digital reproductions a state-of-the-art scanner of the firm Cruse Spezialmaschinen GmbH was purchased, which had ability to scan even large-format projects in perfect quality. Thus far it is the one and only scanner of that sort in Poland. Products of this firm are used by such prestige institutions like Cambridge University, Pentagon in Washington D.C., National Archives in London, Vatican Museum or Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Within the project it was possible to organize a professional reprographics room, where archival collections are scanned and digital reproductions processing is handled. Modernized also was the website of the Museum of Architecture, where, on a regular basis, accessible are the digitalized archival collections. Simultaneously, in order to improve the data descriptions, a new base Alkmena was implemented allowing for wider elaboration of the data by the users and even faster retrieval of the stored information. Considerably improved became substantive elaboration of the project pages and storing large quantities of digital reproductions directly on a server.

For the scientific description of plans used, to a great degree, was the substantive experience gained from the previous database (Herakles v1), however Alkmena 5.0 offered new possibilities with regard to the amount of entered data regarding projects, connection of individual pages with objects and digital reproductions. Individual project pages (records) include information about the projects and objects, which they pertain to (Polish and German names, objects’ addresses and architects’ names). The basic data regarding plans are, inter alia, emblems (old and present), signatures on a project (specifying people authorizing and executing), heading, drawing’s content (number and type of projections, cross-sections, elevations, details, site plans), its dimension and scale, used material and technique. Moreover, gathered is additional data about projects, for example: publications containing their reproductions, exhibitions, where they were presented, information about their restoration and rental. Scanned digital reproductions of plans are imported to the database and connected with individual records in the form of image files and in the TIFF format. For data security reasons a backup copy is made on a regular basis on a separate server located in the building of the Museum of Architecture. Users of the base have separate accounts, thanks to which all of the activities and operations in the database are recorded.

During the first stage of the EU project Digitalizing and dissemination of resources of the Building Archive in the Museum of Architecture in Wrocław a standard of digitalization was worked out. The entire process starts with marking the archives, then plans are scanned and then they undergo a graphic process. Ready digital reproductions are imported to the Alkmena 6.0 database, where they are connected with the plans’ pages. If a given project has a ready page in the database and a digital reproduction – it becomes available for access on the website of the Museum of Architecture. Within the digitalization project, as of March 2012, described and accessible on the website were 15 thousand objects (plans, projects, maps, archival pictures). After the close of the EU project work on full digitalization of the archival records will continue, what will allow for dissemination of collections, as well as securing and saving original projects from mechanical damages occurring with traditional form of sharing plans in the reading room of the Building Archive.

New technologies enable hastened and wider access to unique resources, and at the same time give chance to preserve cultural artifacts in the form of digital reproductions for future generations. Thanks to it the life of original, more than a century old archival records will be extended.