Blake's Choice: Selections from the Alexander Architecture Archive
Blake Alexander started what has become known as the Alexander Architectural Archive in 1958, after he directed a team of student architects recording historic buildings in Pennsylvania for the Historic American Buildings Survey. Professor Alexander adapted the HABS format to his own course at UT, requiring students in his architectural history class to measure and draw historic Texas buildings as one of their assignments. Known as the Texas Architecture Archive, this rapidly expanding collection soon outgrew his office and was moved into a small storage room, otherwise known as “Alexander's closet.”
In the mid-1960s, one of Professor Alexander’s students arrived with large paper sacks filled with tattered, water-damaged drawings. As Professor Alexander examined them, it became apparent that they had in fact been through a flood—the great Galveston hurricane of 1900. These drawings by the well-known Galveston architect Nicholas Clayton had been given to the student by Clayton’s granddaughter and became the first professional records to be deposited in the collection.
The Clayton drawings opened up the prospect of seeking original drawings of other important Texas architects whose records needed to be preserved. In 1979, the University of Texas Libraries became the repository of the records, and it was moved to the Architecture and Planning Library and named "The Architectural Drawings Collection."
Other collections became available as word spread of this new resource. The family of Robert Ayres generously donated the records of the San Antonio firm of Ayres and Ayres. About the same time, Professor Alexander contacted a descendant of James Riely Gordon, one of the premier designers of Texas courthouses. Professor Alexander also helped secure the acquisition of the original design drawings for The University of Texas campus by Paul Philippe Cret.
Today the Alexander Architectural Archive is the largest such resource in Texas, containing over 200,000 drawings and over 61 linear feet of papers, photographic material, models and ephemera, representing thousands of projects in Texas as well as New York, Chicago, California, and Great Britain. Professor Alexander was a pioneer in recognizing the importance of preserving architectural records. The resources he collected have played an important role in the restoration of many of Texas’ most important buildings and continues to be essential for the study of American architectural history.
In 1997, the Texas Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians sponsored a campaign to name this valuable archive after its founder. The University, in support, recognized that without Alexander’s initiative, records of our architectural heritage would have perished from neglect. It is with great appreciation and celebration that the collection he founded is named the Alexander Architectural Archive.
Blake's Choice: Selections from the Alexander Architectural Archive celebrated the renaming of the Architectural Drawings Collection to the "Alexander Architectural Archive" in March 1998. Blake Alexander chose the materials exhibited to reveal a sampling of the breadth and depth of the collections found in the Archive. The result featured beautiful renderings, design sketches, and technical drawings displayed with specifications, construction photographs, job files, and contract books, as well as architect's tools and office furniture, exhibit models, lecture slides, newspaper articles and personal effects. Lastly, the exhibit featured publications, photographs and awards which reflected Blake's long career as an architectural educator. The image featured in the exhibition poster was also chosen by Blake Alexander and is of the Texas State Building, World's Columbian Exposition, 1893- Accepted competition design, Chicago, IL, James Riely Gordon, Architect.
Copyright 1999. The Alexander Architectural Archive. The University of Texas at Austin. All images are in collections of the Alexander Architectural Archive. Images are either copyrighted by the University of Texas at Austin or are used in accordance with fair use laws. The exhibit (and the images therein) is provided for educational purposes only. Any unauthorized use or duplication is strictly prohibited.