Adrian Steel

Adrian Steel

Last updated on 24 October 2019

Adrian Steel is Director of Collections and Programmes at the Royal Institute for British Architects in the UK

Architects have used digital technology to aid design for several decades. The RIBA Collections – which comprise over 4 million items altogether – include the records of Colin St John Wilson and Partners, the architectural practice responsible for the British Library. The British Library was one of the earliest projects to benefit from computer-aided design, and among the surviving records are computer tapes and printouts relating to this pioneering use of technology.

But it is only in recent years that RIBA has begun to be contacted about digital records in large quantity, for acquisition and for access. As famously stated by the Housing Minister during their party conference recently, architects are ‘doing it on a computer’ now… and the 3D printing of models in a relatively throwaway fashion means we can’t rely on these to survive as the representation of an architect’s work either.

RIBA faces the challenge of digital preservation infrastructure, access and so on, as other archival repositories do. With architectural digital records there are also unique challenges as to format.

From 2020 we are upskilling our organisation and starting to organize to tackle this challenge, working with the DPC and, we hope, others facing similar issues. While it might not be possible to ‘rescue’ this backup copy of our collections catalogue which dates back many years, we hope to stop the same fate befalling the recent records of architecture in the UK…

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