What do we preserve, for whom and for what purposes? No one disputes the fact that archives are of great value to society, but all too often we fail to reflect sufficiently on this subject, we lose sight of aspects and old contextual information is lost.
With the project ‘Naar een blauwdruk voor een architectuurcollectie Vlaanderen’ (Towards a blueprint for an architecture collection in Flanders), the Flanders Architecture Institute (VAi) will focus for two years on the appraisal of architectural archives.
Heritage care requires strategic investments and decisions on a daily basis: about conservation and management, research, public outreach and participation. A well-considered appraisal policy is indispensable in all aspects of heritage management.
Appraising heritage is about more than just deciding what to preserve and what not. It is about discovering the meanings that lie behind an archive or collection and making them explicit. Not only can this enable you to find out whether something is valuable and worth preserving, but you can also learn where there are opportunities for exhibitions, digitization projects, research projects and so on. Appraising is also about involving people in your collection. You don’t do it alone. By thinking about archives together with other groups, you get to know heritage from different angles and achieve a balanced appraisal.
With this project, the VAi wants to build up expertise on the systematic appraisal of architectural archives.
How do you handle the appraisal of a specific archive? And how can you meaningfully involve different people in this process?
For this phase, the VAi selected three archives, each with their own character, as cases. We developed a flexible template to quickly map out the archives with the help of volunteers. For each archive, we set up a sounding-board group of historians, archivists, architects and people from the cultural sector to reflect on the significance of the archive in two sessions. All the methodologies are published in a toolkit for the heritage sector.
The three case studies:
On 1 January 2018 the Architectural Archives of the Province of Antwerp (APA) was integrated into the VAi. With it came a collection of about 140 archives. One of the main tasks of the VAi was to develop a Flemish architecture collection with international reference value. But how can we make choices while respecting the specificity of the historic APA collection?
With this question in mind, we took advantage of the recent attention for heritage appraisal to set up an appraisal project around the historic APA collection. In this project, we tested international appraisal methods such as Significance 2.0 (Australia), Op de Museale Weegschaal (Netherlands) and Reviewing Significance (UK).
Red threads in this exercise were collaboration and participation, the interwovenness of the APA collection in the wider Flemish landscape of architectural archives, and the reuse of the findings for the rest of the heritage sector.
Film: Appraising the pilot projects of 2017-2018
This project is supported by a subsidy from the Flemish Community. For the development and implementation of our methodologies, we base ourselves on the Basic standards for a quality appraisal project, drawn up within the Flemish heritage sector.