The archive, artistic research, and responsive documentation

Most of this is pulled from my thoughts regarding the Anarchivist position at matra lab.

This spring I came across Lawrence Halprin’s RSVP Cycles and reluctantly skimmed through it. While in graduate school for landscape architecture I had always dismissed Halprin’s work, (wrongfully) accusing it of being too obvious. But the RSVP Cycles were fresh and brand new to me and immediately woke me up. The Sea Ranch Ecoscore is what initially drew me in. To approach the site analysis process as if documenting a musical score was groundbreaking to me as a designer even in 2017. Lawrence's and Anna's vision and work, which tied together new modes of inquiry through experimentation, documentation, and community participation, changed how landscape architects work. They initiated the community design process - and gave landscape architecture and urban design a way to connect more deeply across disciplines.

Halprin’s RSVP Cycle Theory alongside the concept of responsive documentation has forced me to confront my current role as Research Development and Knowledge Manager at OLIN. Design research has had to carve out its own place within the broader research field. As design researchers, we ask how can we adopt (adapt) existing research methodologies and practices? And how do we document our research process? How do we ensure its accessibility? Where does this intersect with other disciplines? My role at OLIN is moving from providing information resources (as our in-house librarian, archivist, and knowledge manager) and support for our new research and innovation community (OLIN LABS) into generating a process for creating (and working with/in) a living archive and responsive documentation. I am working with our designers and project managers to create a protocol that defines what knowledge gathered during project work is useful to our designers, how to extract it, when to extract it, and then equally important how to document, store, and make accessible our processes and findings. OLIN LABS leaders are working together to determine how research projects are selected from this knowledge building process. We have already kicked off several informal projects, one primary research project, and are eager to build upon our successes and lessons learned. 

By reconstructing the role of archivists, we transform how researchers practice, which will inform new processes and new work. The archive can be a site of resistance, a place to build community, and may be the place to house the framework for increasingly more complex work to emerge and respond to changing practices.