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Working with Oversized Architectural Drawings


One of the advantages of being an archivist at the Congregational Library is the opportunity to work with different kinds of historical materials from throughout the centuries and without doubt, one of my favorites is architectural drawings. By their very nature, architectural drawings are generally oversized which intrinsically presents their own preservation and conservation challenges — oversized documents are often their own worst enemies due to their sheer size and weight. In the past, architectural drawings were commonly used in the field and they were often rolled or folded, creating creases that later become tears. Here are some of tips for working with oversized materials, and in particular architectural drawings, which you may very well have in your own collection.

  1. You will need A LOT of surface area to properly organize oversized items. These items are big and need enough space for you to carefully move items around without crushing / crowding them when arranging your materials.
  2. Once all your items are organized in whatever order you've decided — in this case I arranged our architectural drawings chronologically by project — record the information on a spreadsheet, database, on paper, or whatever method you'll use to retrieve the information later.
  3. When ready to re-file materials, I strongly recommend storing oversized materials flat in folders (approximately 15 items to a folder, depending on size and fragility).
  4. If you don't have flat files for your documents (or if the documents have been rolled for so many years that unrolling them without humidification would damage them) while not ideal, it is possible to store oversized materials rolled. In this case, make sure the tubes are large enough to fully support the documents and wrap the outside of the tube with an inert buffer to protect the items from further acidification from the tube. You can wrap Melinex or acid-free interleaving paper for a good barrier. Stack drawings (approximately 15 depending on size, condition, etc.) and roll them evenly together so there are no frayed edges or items hanging out. Wrap again with Melinex or interleaving tissue and secure with linen tape. Store tube inside an appropriately sized box and most importantly — store it horizontally NOT vertically. You want to minimize any shifting and crushing of ends inside the box.
  5. Don't forget to label your folders and tubed boxes to minimize the number of times you have to search for an item!

When specifically working with architectural drawings, you may also want to segregate diazo prints from blueprints or other paper copies because they were made using different chemical processes that don't always react well together, particularly when stored in close quarters. It's not uncommon to see bleeding from drawing to drawing or pink marks on the folders containing diazos. Also, consider having the drawings scanned as PDFs and TIFFs for a working and preservation copy respectively. This will not only limit your future handling of the hardcopy, it will come in handy to future architectural firms should you do any additional work in your space.


For more information on caring for oversized materials and architectural drawings in your collection, feel free to contact our office and check out the following resources:

Northeast Document Conservation Center Storage and Handling of Oversized Documents Leaflet

Books on Caring for Architectural Drawings

  • Kissel,Eléonore and Erin Vigneau. Architectural Photoreproductions: A Manual for Identification and Care. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, Bronx, N.Y.: New York Botanical Garden, 1999.
  • Lowell, Waverly B and Tawny Ryan Nelb. Architectural Records: Managing Design and Construction Records. Chicago, IL: Society of American Archivists, 2006.
  • Price, Lois Olcott. Line, Shade, and Shadow: The Fabrication and Preservation of Architectural Drawings. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press; Winterthur, DE: Winterthur Museum & Country Estate; [Houten, Netherlands]: HES & DE GRAAF Publishers, 2010.

Archival Supply Companies