ephemera: Architectural ephemera is a unique area of collecting. How did you first become involved in it?
Summers: I first became interested in collecting architectural ephemera when I entered architecture school. I collected plans by others initially, but later, as I began to produce my own work, I also kept everything involved with each project, such as sketches, clients notations, etc.
I have had a number of serial renovation clients, a few very amusing stories about these clients were published in the San Francisco Chronicle recently. These types of projects generate an enormous amount of ephemera.
ephemera: What problems do you face as an architectural ephemerist?
Summers: The single biggest problem has always been storage. I had a horrible experience in the mid-90s when all of my materials were stolen from a self-storage space near Santa Cruz, California. The thieves were likely attracted by my collection of Arne Jacobson Furniture, and bottles of wine from Beaune. Since that time I have obtained a small warehouse where I keep my collections. Now the challenge is to properly store various materials.
It is difficult to find new original material because most architects never give away hand-drawn sketches. I have, however, obtained some hand-drawn material from engineers.
I also have lots of building plans that have been stamped when received by municipalities. These are often have written notations and revisions. I also have a few old-fashioned blueprints from mid-century and earlier.
ephemera: You've overcome a lot of adversity to build your collection. What are your favorite items? How do they inspire you?
Summers: I am interested in manually drawn architectural plans, drawings, and quick sketches. I think that the DNA of an architectural project can be discovered by considering drawings and materials that are used during the design process, and the ephemera generated as the ideas proceed through various stages. It seems to me that the use of computer-aided drafting separates the designer from the created work during the early stages of the project. The spirit of the design should be grasped from the initial sketch, with computerization necessary beginning at a later point in the design development process. I like the work of other designers both past and present.
Summers: I encourage others to create a filing system. One of my weaknesses is that I file poorly.
ephemera: What resources and tools do you recommend?
Summers: I am experimenting with moving materials from boxes to sealed plastic containers, which appear to work well. However, I intend to research the best ways of storage.
ephemera: Thanks, William. I'll bet there are a lot of old drawings and floorplans lying around in the storage rooms of old architectural firms. Maybe someday they start putting them up on eBay as collectibles.