Selling Out: Architects and their Archives

from the news:

In reflecting on where a long career's worth of architectural drawings and models will ultimately go, Frank Gehry is not focusing strictly on institutions that he feels close to like the Guggenheim Museum, say, for which he designed a famous satellite branch in Bilbao, Spain. He's trying to determine which place will pony up.

"I don't want to give it away, it's an asset", Mr. Gehry said. "It's the one thing in your life you build up, and you own it. And I've been spending a lot of rent to preserve it."


"The architect Peter Eisenman, 74, says he could not afford not to sell his archives, which he did for an undisclosed amount to the Canadian Center for Architecture in Montreal; the sale was made in pieces over the last 10 years. The goal was to provide for his children, he said."


The architect Charles Gwathmey said about selling archives: "I think it's wrong. Archives are part of the record. How do you put a value on it even"


In the Central Park South studio of Billie Tsien and Tod Williams, however, cardboard models gather dust in corners until they deteriorate or are thrown away. Ms. Tsien said she had no interest in her work being collected and studied one day.

"I was hoping for a funeral pyre," she said. "The only thing we really care about existing beyond us is the buildings."

Entire Article: NYT

Jul 23, 07 8:17 am

Ah the virtues of a virtual museum of architecture.

Jul 23, 07 8:47 am

I agree with ghery, you do own it, it is your asset. I like the romantic notion of the funeral pyre though.

Jul 23, 07 8:54 am
o d b

and why not? considering recent discussions it seems like a good idea to me.

what about people doing it earlier in their careers to support atypical forms of practice. I read that Ben Van Berkel sold his student drawings in galleries before even graduating from the AA. And I heard the hernan diaz alonso has a deal w/ some museum (moma maybe?) where they will buy all the models his firm produces for the next five years!! that's some proactive archiving right there!

like i said, seems like a great way to support yourself if you can actually pull it off.

Jul 23, 07 9:01 am
"Try for a time lock, quick!"
Jul 23, 07 9:06 am

odb, I tend to agree. Specially that quote about Eisenman made me feel bad for him, is he really in that bad of a financial shape?

The notion that the building is the only thing left to study ignores the fact that some architects do not build much but are still worth studying. And how does an architect that does not build all that much make money?

BUT, in some cases it seems like overkill. Some of these architects have ALREADY been paid for the work to produce the stuff. I guess that if they want to charge a storage fee it may be alright, but to sell everything seems like they are getting paid twice for the same thing. What about when a client refuses to pay you for some DD services as he or she knows you can sell it later?

Jul 23, 07 9:11 am

I saw this article too. Interesting....I suppose if you have people that like your work and support it enough to want to buy it, then more power to you. I know I was completely taken aback when some people wanted to buy an art poster that I created a number of years ago. I think that some process work is actually quite beautiful.....but, like Billie Tsien, I want to create a funeral pyre for most of my models.

I guess what I'm saying then is that I'm neutral to this idea and really have contributed nothing to the discussion, lol.

Jul 23, 07 9:16 am

the client pays you for the work, not the documentation/artifacts. we sell facilitation of construction of a building, i.e., services, unless otherwise stated. (there are time, for example, when a client specifically asks for/pays for presentation drawings or models, in which case these belong to the client.)

Jul 23, 07 9:16 am

go in museumpeace
and may museumpeace be with you

Jul 23, 07 9:19 am
o d b

but i think most of what is getting sold are study models, hand drawings, sketches, etc. the process work, not necessarily the final drawing set, although it is probably included, i imagine it would be a small percentage of these archives, I would imagine. the stuff that is more valuable are the things that architects usually have trouble getting the client to pay for, until they reach a certain level of notoriety.

i've heard k. michael hays waxing philosophical about the mounds of tracing paper he uncovered in the CCA's Eisenman archive for the Cannaregio design. that's the stuff that is valuable in these archives.

there was an interesting article in the New Yorker a few weeks ago about the UT Austin literature archive mentioned in the article. For writers, they included early drafts and manuscripts, and written correspondance. these things are interesting for architecture archives as well. it would be great to have not only the drawings, etc, but the exchange of ideas between these people and their friends/enemies, etc.

Jul 23, 07 9:20 am

odb, I agree. I also enjoyed the New Yorker article on UT's literature archives:

No one agrees with Gwathmey on this one?

Jul 23, 07 9:25 am

Oh Steven, I did not mean that clients pay for exactly 5 models and 3 sketches. But part of the fee and services is DD, and the models were paid for in that way. It may be a stretch, but I am asking myself, outloud, if the possibility of selling the DD documents could start changing some fee structures...

Jul 23, 07 9:30 am
o d b

not really.

I mean, if you got the means, it's a nice gesture to donate your stuff. but I know that Eisenman turned his first profit EVER in the last couple of years. maybe he's just a bad businessman, but he sacrificed a lot for this thing called architecture, and he mine as well get something in return for it.

and Gehry, well, he's just he shrewdest businessman of us all, isn't he?

Jul 23, 07 9:30 am

brother can you spare a dime?

Jul 23, 07 9:47 am

commodify the artifact

virtualize and open source the archive

Jul 23, 07 9:54 am

exactly what I was going to say honk... open source any pro-bono or public works. (at least).

Jul 23, 07 11:20 am

Truthfully there is nothing wrong legally or financially to make a buck. Personally, I think the whole thing is a shame. They know that they are significant figures in architecture and their work means something to architectural progression, so why not donate that material for educational purposes. It's just sad, and for the record I'm not the historic preservationist type that likes to keep any piece of crap model around either.

Jul 23, 07 11:29 am

I saw Elmlie Terracota tiles on E-bay this weekend...signed.. He was the chief draftsman in Sullivans Office in charge of ornamentation.
Some Chic town salvage guy is making away like a bandit.

Jul 23, 07 11:41 am

ummm...I'm not feeling too much sympathy for Petey boys problems making a buck. his issues are of his own for him using his archives to turn a profit....well, i just feel sorry for all the unpaid interns and architects that actually produced all that work over the years...fat chance they'll ever see any of that cash.

Jul 23, 07 2:16 pm

its better that the architects make the money that Max Protech

Jul 23, 07 2:20 pm

With all the writing Eisenman has done over the years.
All those books.
Not that he is writing Harry Potter but either you are doing the books to feed you professionally as a marketing vehicle or it is simply an exercise in ego and you should shut the doors and simply write and teach.

How can he have no Money?

I understand his process is exhaustive and very critical but at a certain level the Business of business is the issue.

This disturbed me……

Jul 23, 07 2:53 pm

i'm not sure what you all think the numbers are here, but if you saw the article, the cca offered 1.2 million to gehry, just for the peter lewis house archive alone.

1.2 million for a single project.

gehry could get somewhere between 15-20 million for his entire archive - that's nothing to sneeze at. that pretty much means a very nice bonus check for the partners who have stuck with him for 20+ years. believe me, he won't take home the whole amount by himself.

also, gehry's really looking for a patron/group of patrons to come up with a plan with an institution to acquire it all - it wouldn't have to be a lump sum, but could be a certain amount paid out over time. also, it would free him of the obligation to care for all the material. my guess is that, in the end, peter lewis will be in the mix in terms of contributing towards an archival purchase.

also, think about it this way: almost every great living artist can sell proofs, sketches, etc. related to their final creations separate from the object itself.

Jul 23, 07 3:10 pm

laru, your fixation in the 1.2 million made me thought of something. What would happen if instead of spending so much money in these guys the institutions spent all those millions of dollars helping out emerging architects? Does Gehry really need an extra couple of millions? I can only imagine the amazing design research a couple of people I know would do if they had just a fraction of that money.

@honk if... word

Jul 23, 07 7:51 pm

It pains me to say this, but on the one hand, Gehry is right. Just look at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and School of Architecture. They would have been completely bankrupt after Wright's death and the collection would have been divided and unavailable for study.

On the other hand, Billie Tsien recognizes that the architecture should be paramount, not the architecture-making. This seems the most logical from an intellectual perspective.


As a sidenote, Eisenman should have been a deejay. He really likes the sound of his own voice.

Jul 23, 07 8:21 pm

i'm just wondering how eisenman sustained an office for 20 years if he was always in the red...

Jul 23, 07 9:42 pm

really? is it so inconceivable? i'm sure it's somewhat common for an architect/academic like eisenman to supplement their "professional" income (or lack thereof) by teaching, by giving lectures, by writing books, essays, etc. surely there are plenty of academic architects that produce large bodies of work while maintaining employment at a university (as their primary income, leaving the architecture practice as a means to explore x, y and z outside of the constraint of feeding the family)...

Jul 23, 07 10:11 pm

what about those architects who publish their drawings and sketches, etc in a book form for each project???

Diller + Scofidio Blur Building book for example

Jul 23, 07 10:25 pm

haha, laru, you think gehry is going to share the money he gets from his whack sketches? fat chance.

i too, think it is presumptious on one hand to pay the help very little and use them to produce 'great' work, and then cash in with 'your' archives. it sucks that thousands of interns and employees unpaid overtime only will go to support the coffers of the self-annointed 'genius'. create grants for architecture students, or be a patron for gods sake, this self absorbed starchitect-hipocrosy really gets under my skin. the authorship of every one of these projects is spread over hundreds of people, and the gehry,eisenman,etal input is a tiny percentage of what it really takes to produce all of the 'archives', nonetheless the actual buildings.... you think peter writes his own books? rem? not hardly, i know a couple of the 'ghostwriters' that have written them, the stars edit. much like they do with the actual work. gwathmy understands this, todd and billie understand this, but then, they are collaborators on projects, not self obsessed.

come on stars, give a little back to the profession. it's what gave you what you have.

Jul 24, 07 2:24 am

punky -

i absolutely think his firm (which will be entity selling the archives) will distribute the proceeds from the sale according to whatever profit-sharing arrangement they already operate under. so, yes, i do think his partners will see some of that money and i think it's a prime reason he's looking to sell it vs. donate it. the alternative you propose (he's going to keep it all for himself) pretty much runs contrary to how almost every business operates (ie one partner in a multi-partner firm cashing in huge on the efforts of all the others and not sharing).

tod williams and billie tsien obviously have a different opinion and one that i personally respect.

one question back for you: do you think richard serra produces all of his sculptures 100% by his own hand? does this make the content and experience any less valuable? no one disputes that it takes a huge supporting cast to create a firm, but whether you like gehry's work (or any of those characters) or not, the reality is they provided the vision and framework to create the opportunities they've been given. that's a hell of a lot harder to do than it looks and i'm all for their right to cash in on the backside if that's what they want to do.

Jul 24, 07 7:57 am

The thing with unpaid interns etc...

if this selling of archives becomes convention, then architects can expect the payoff, and will be more willing to pay for the work up-front...

thats some cold, trickle-down comfort for y'all....

Jul 24, 07 2:15 pm

laru: so, the 1 million dollar 'genius' fee (outside of project fees) that gehry gets personally for the pleasure of having him do a project for you, that gets shared too? not.
gehry's greed is not really what i was referring to though, it was more of a responsibility architects should have to be a patron, to help the profession, the education of young architects.... give it to a university, AIA, anything but look for the highest bidder.
not sure i buy the richard serra comparison, artists usually are understood as singularities, with personal visions. architects should have a much more social role, and collective responsibility with their work. richard serra's work wouldn't exist without richard serra, i'm sure edwin and craig +staff could produce the same good work whether frank was around or not. big difference.

all i'm really saying is, you shouldn't have to make money on everything, and to cash in on material that should be donated just seems perverse to me, not something to be celebrated. but hey, my sketches aren't worth thousands either, so it's easy for me to say.

Jul 25, 07 1:14 am

based on the mess of dead files at some offices i've seen, maybe all that money is just hourly pay for getting things organized enough to be useful?

Jul 25, 07 7:34 am

Why is everybody picking on Gehry? To my knowledge he doesn't let anybody work for free, and he actually pays really well at every level. Frank is not the guy to go after on profit sharing and compensation issues.

Jul 25, 07 7:45 am

punky -

in a lot of ways i agree with you (although we may just have to agree to disagree about whether gehry would be considered a 'singularity' - by my reckoning, he is certainly considered as such by all the major museums) and he could certainly donate it to some such institution.

problem in this case is: the darn thing is worth too much to do that. it's like saying if you caught hank aaron's record breaking home run ball (in this day and age) that it should just be given back to the hall of fame. easy to say, but if a todd mcfarlane is waving 3M in your face for that ball it's a little harder to 'just hand over'.

Jul 25, 07 7:47 am

i kind of agree laru. although gehry getting top dollar is like barry bonds wanting 3 mill before he'll hit the ball out of the park.

but i do agree, if gehry threw his stuff out the window, i'd probably try to grab some and put in on ebay.

Jul 29, 07 8:31 pm

I save all my sketch books, and hope when I pass on that my unborn children can auction them off to support their college fund

Jul 29, 07 9:08 pm

I think there is a difference between Eisenman turning a business profit and his personal income from teaching, writing, whoring his architectural persona - those aren't necessarily things related to Eisenman Architects ltd; he offers a client based service he still owns his brand

Jul 29, 07 9:12 pm


serra has a staff

Jul 29, 07 9:21 pm

I'm selling all my archives now, actually. I have 16 moleskin notebooks and a 6 year old dell chock full of mediocre photoshop drawings & photos.... I'm thinking of calling MoMA.

oh and a vase I made when I was 9.

Jul 31, 07 2:11 pm

btw, eisenman is only able to stay in business because of his ability to file chapter 11 every x # of years. i don't even think there's a company that will accept checks from his office anymore.
that said if the archives can be seen as a revenue source, it then needs to be considered as part of the office's earnings not as a personal piggy bank (which from the article is what i feel Petey boy feels it is). that's part of what is screwing this profession. i personally don't believe that gehry works in this manner....eisenman, on the other hand, i don't have the same faith in.

Aug 3, 07 10:55 am
I Patch
Aug 3, 07 1:27 pm

i'm putting all my napkin sketches on "E-Bay" this see if there is a sucker born every second.

Aug 3, 07 4:56 pm
Mulholland Drive

Eisenman lost his sugar-daddy when Phillip Johnson died.

Aug 4, 07 2:26 am
Carl Douglas (agfa8x)

In my view, Eisenman's body of work is significant for architectural history. It needs to be in an archive somewhere. If Eisenman can find someone who wants to pay him to have that body of work, good on him.

Aug 4, 07 3:21 am

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