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Nov. 3, 2004


Libraries collaborate to make Muschenheim image archive

Muschenheim houseANN ARBOR, Mich.—More than 3,500 scans of drawings and photographs by renowned architect William Muschenheim are now available in a searchable database thanks to collaboration between the University of Michigan's 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," said Nancy Bartlett, archivist at the Bentley Library. "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 single whole. This collaboration is one of the first of its kind and demonstrates the value and potential of online resources."

The images are accessible for study at:

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.

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 1951-1989. During that time he designed his own house on Ann Arbor's Heatherway Street, and designed a unistep staircase for U-M's Museum of Art, a staircase subsequently removed in later renovations.

The digital collaboration was created as part of a program at U-M intended to give both undergraduate and graduate students greater exposure to primary source material.   Kent Kleinman, chairman of architecture at the University of Buffalo's School of Architecture and Planning, undertook the digital archive project when he was in residence at U-M in 2002-2003 as a Mellon Foundation/Public Goods Council Fellow.

"William Muschenheim brought to Ann Arbor a sophisticated, modernist sensibility that was ahead of its time," said Douglas Kelbaugh, dean of U-M's Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. "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."

Muschenheim, who was known as Willie to his close friends, designed an atmosphere as much as a home for his family and friends, Bartlett said.

"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," she said. "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."

Muschenheim was always eager to meet architects visiting town or new to the faculty at Michigan, she said, 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 elan made for a particular ambience in the heart of Ann Arbor," she said.

"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," she said.

The Public Goods Council at U-M includes academic units not affiliated with a school or college. These units advance scholarship and culture through collaboration with its members and other university entities to enrich the educational and cultural experience on the U-M campus and in the community.

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Contact: Joanne Nesbit
Phone: (734) 647-4418