Washington, D.C. – Washington National Cathedral has selected the National Building Museum as the custodian of its Construction and Design Archives. The collection consists of more than 32,000 historic architectural drawings related to the design and construction of the Cathedral and other historic buildings on its 57-acre campus in Northwest Washington.
The materials provided by the Cathedral will become a permanent part of the National Building Museum’s collection of over 75,000 photographs, 100,000 architectural prints and drawings, 100 linear feet of documents, and 25,000 objects, including material samples, architectural fragments, historic building toys, and paper models. The move will make these materials, never before seen by the public, more accessible to the hundreds of thousands of people who visit the National Building Museum every year.
Washington National Cathedral’s construction archives collection consists of drawings that span from 1896 to 2007, as well as photographs and microfiche. The drawing collection traces the close tie of the evolution of Washington and our nation with the construction of the National Cathedral. It includes contributions from the many prominent architects and landscape architects including: Ernest Flagg, Bodley & Vaughn, Frohman Robb & Little, Philip Hubert Frohman, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., Trevilian Architects, and Segretti Tepper.
The collection documents the creative process of almost every facet of the decorative arts that make the Cathedral such a pilgrimage location for building arts enthusiasts. Included in the collection are sketches on trace paper, correspondence with contractors and craftsmen, iterative renderings, design cartoons and construction drawings for intricately carved woodwork, hand-forged ironwork, stone carving and stained glass. The gift also includes the Philip Hubert Frohman Architectural Drawings Collection, which encompasses other projects around the country designed by the Cathedral’s principal architect, Philip Hubert Frohman.
The Cathedral transferred the collection primarily to ensure long term stewardship of the documents, while also making them more readily accessible and viewable by more people. After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the Cathedral moved the collection to a more secure, climate-controlled location at a warehouse in Rockville, Maryland. However, it remained largely inaccessible to Cathedral staff, researchers, and the general public. With this move, the National Building Museum collections department will undertake the extensive task of processing, digitizing, organizing and conserving each drawing for the future.
“Washington National Cathedral is unlike any other building in this city or this country,” said James W. Shepherd, the Cathedral’s director of facilities and preservation. “This move allows even more people to experience how this national treasure was designed and constructed, and we are grateful to join with the National Building Museum as stewards of this amazing architectural legacy.”
The Cathedral has been featured as a subject in recent National Building Museum exhibitions. In Designing for Disaster, finial fragments helped tell the story of the 2011 Central Virginia earthquake’s impact on the historic structure, which caused more than $34 million in damages to the Cathedral. In Scaling Washington: Photographs by Colin Winterbottom, the Cathedral was one of two subjects (the other was the Washington Monument) documented by fine art photographer Winterbottom during the post-earthquake restoration process, from high atop the repair scaffolding.
The Museum also holds the Robert C. Lautman Photography Collection of over 30,000 prints, transparencies, and negatives, which include hundreds of historic photos of the Cathedral. Plans for a future exhibition about the Cathedral drawing from these collections, and the newly donated materials, are being considered.
“We are honored to be entrusted with the preservation and safekeeping of this invaluable, historically important collection that has national significance,” said Chase Rynd, executive director of the Museum. “The Cathedral is one of the great national architectural marvels and we are thrilled to be able to tell that story.”