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Documentation

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We know of it. What do we know about it? What can we share? Documentation expands the historical record and puts information at the ready for advocacy. The absence of an organized effort to document significant buildings of the Modern movement—many before they were lost—was one of the driving impetuses behind the founding of DOCOMOMO International in 1988, hence the organization’s name “Documentation and Conservation of Buildings, Sites and Neighborhoods of the Modern Movement.”

The International Register was created at the time of founding to be the central depository of documents known as fiches, each holding historical information and images on a given building. It’s a trickle-up system. Local DOCOMOMO chapters prepare fiches on buildings in their geographical region. These documents become part of the chapter’s Register and the National Register for the country and eventually the International Register.

The New York/Tri-State chapter supports this goal by documenting significant examples of Modern movement architecture, urban design and landscape design in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey. Our chapter’s efforts are led by a Register Committee made up of several board members. Fiches are prepared for the local Register by volunteers—chapter members, students and interested individuals from across the Tri-State area. So far a small selection has been completed, yet some of the most significant buildings in our region await documentation in fiche form for the Register. We need many more volunteers to help with documentation. Please consider writing a fiche on a Modern movement building you have previously researched or ask us to suggest a building from the fiche “wish list.”

About the International Register

The International Register is overseen by the International Specialist Committee on Registers (ISC/R), a committee of DOCOMOMO International.
• The ISC/R invites all working parties to contribute to the DOCOMOMO international selection by means of completed fiches, according to published directives.
• The fiches are standardized in a ‘full’ format and a reduced “minimum” format.
• The ISC/R reviews annually all new submissions for the Register.
• The documentation is housed at the Netherlands Architecture institute (NAi) in Rotterdam, where it can be consulted on request.
• The “New International Selection” (NIS) is meant as an extension of the already existing DOCOMOMO registers, labeled IS.
• The international documentation is a work in progress. Extension of the IS by means of the NIS is required to enlarge the scope of the DOCOMOMO registers both geographically—by submissions from newly chartered working parties or by submissions concerning unexplored regions—and in terms of types and periods by including examples of modern urbanism, landscapes and gardens.
• The aim of the NIS is above all scientific: to contribute to the advancement of knowledge and to extend modern architectural history.

What is fiche?

A fiche is a narrative text document following a prescribed outline accompanied by a bibliography and a set of images. Fiches can be prepared in one of two formats: Full or Minimum.

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Minimum Fiche
The Minimum Fiche is designed to encourage more fiche preparation activity and ensure wider access to the Registers. The Minimum Fiche collects the essential data of a Full Fiche in a form suitable for publication in ‘one-page’ presentations as well as transfer to an online database. While data under some heads are compressed to simple A, B, C, D rankings, several “memo” fields permit inclusion of text up to about a page in length which database users can read and print.

Full Fiche
The Full Fiche is intended for scientific research and documentation, as well as for raising awareness of modern architecture at an international level. In evaluating a particular site, DOCOMOMO’s tests for modernity seek to establish innovation, technical, social and aesthetic significance. Detailed selection criteria can be found in the “Selection Criteria” document below.

New York/Tri-State Register Activity

The DOCOMOMO New York/Tri-State Register Committee has been working for the past two years to add fiches to the Register. The practical value of this effort was made evident in May 2008 when the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission turned down a proposal by St. Vincent’s Hospital to demolish the Curran/O’Toole Building (Albert Ledner, 1964). Our minimum documentation fiche and a backgrounder publication on the building were presented to the Commission during its public review process as part of much needed primary research. After multiple hearings the Commission opposed the demolition, citing the Curran/O'Toole building's historical and cultural significance as an example of Modern architecture in Greenwich Village. Later, the research was core material in the NY State Historic Preservation Office’s determination that the building is eligible for State and National Register listing.

With the help of graduate students from Columbia University’s Historic Preservation program under the guidance of professor Jorge Otero-Pailos additional fiches continue to be added to the Register. These fiches document some of our region’s quintessential Modern movement sites—the Glass House, TWA Terminal, the Yale Art + Architecture Building, the Whitney Museum and 2 Columbus Circle—all sites long overdue for official DOCOMOMO documentation.

In addition, a chapter member prepared a fiche on the Bell Labs complex in Holmdel, NJ (Eero Saarinen, 1962) as follow up to the successful April 2008 design charrette co-organized by DOCOMOMO New York/Tri-State. This fiche also fulfilled the DOCOMOMO International “chapter homework” requirement for 2008, which was a fiche on a significant example of industrial heritage.

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