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Libraries collaborate to make image archive available


More than 3,500 scans of drawings and photographs by renowned architect William Muschenheim now are available in a searchable database thanks to collaboration between the Bentley Historical Library and Columbia University's Avery Library. The collaboration creates a virtual library of the architect's entire collection.

"The Muschenheim digital collection is an exciting new resource for scholars and architects," says Nancy Bartlett, archivist at the Bentley. "Until now, the geographic separation of the collection meant that students or researchers had to work in both New York and Ann Arbor, and even then did not have the ability to view the entire collection as a whole. This collaboration is one of the first of its kind and demonstrates the value and potential of online resources."

The collection is organized online using a timeline of Muschenheim's career and major projects as the graphical interface. A combined archival finding aid gives detailed descriptions of the Avery and Bentley holdings by project.

"The Bentley Historical Library is very fortunate to have received the original drawings and photographs of the house Muschenheim designed and inhabited, along with a substantial portion of his other architectural projects," Bartlett says.
"The Muschenheim digital collection is an exciting new resource for scholars and architects. This
collaboration is one of the first of its kind and demonstrates the value and potential of online resources."
—Nancy Bartlett

This database of Muschenheim work is the result of research by Kent Kleinman, a professor at the University of Buffalo's School of Architecture and Planning, where he is chair of the Department of Architecture. Kleinman's work on the Muschenheim archive, completed in 2002-03, was made possible in part by the Mellon Foundation/Public Goods Council Fellowship program at U-M.

Though a sizeable portion of his work was done in the New York City area, Muschenheim taught at U-M's College of Architecture while continuing a practice in Ann Arbor from 1951-89. During that time he designed his own house on Ann Arbor's Heatherway Street, and designed and witnessed the completion of a "unistep" staircase for the Museum of Art, a staircase removed in later renovations.

"Trained in Vienna and an acclaimed New York architect," says Douglas Kelbaugh, dean of the Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning, "William Muschenheim brought to Ann Arbor a sophisticated, modernist sensibility that was ahead of its time. In 1984, our college thought highly enough of him to have named one of its three faculty fellowships in his honor. Archiving his work for faculty, students and the public further honors his name and legacy."

In the late 1930s Muschenheim was called upon by Solomon R. Guggenheim to convert an East 54th Street Manhattan former automobile showroom into exhibition space for Guggenheim's archive of modern art. Known as the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, the building was demolished when construction began in 1956 for a new museum, which by that time had been renamed the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

One of Muschenheim's students, Dennis Holloway, a 1966 graduate, described his undergraduate experience with the professor as working with "one of the most liberating architectural philosophers with whom I had come into contact. He opened my mind to 'modern' architectural thought and perception more than any other teacher in my formal education. He was one of those rare teachers who, instead of pushing a personal approach or philosophy of design upon the student, would quietly observe what the student was trying to explore, and then open new doors and help him express the ideas in the most contemporary creative way."

"William Muschenheim was known as 'Willie' to his close friends," Bartlett says. "He designed an atmosphere as much as a home for himself and his family. I was fortunate to live for one year in his house on Heatherway where he had designed a separate living space for his children and later rented this space. During my time there I was included in Muschenheim's weekly dinner parties to which a wide variety of guests came, both long-term friends as well as newcomers." Bartlett says.

"Muschenheim always was eager to meet architects visiting town or new to the faculty at Michigan," she says, "and they were all uniformly greeted with an offer of a cocktail and a curiosity about new ideas in architecture. His exploration of color on surfaces throughout his home, his collection of modern furniture, the view out into his deep garden, along with his New York élan made for a particular ambience in the heart of Ann Arbor.

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