West editor Antonio Pacheco sat down with Maristella Casciato, the new senior curator of architectural collections at the Getty Research Institute, to discuss her recent appointment. The position—left vacant for nearly three years after Wim De Witt’s departure for Stanford University’s Cantor Center for Visual Arts—puts Casciato at the helm of one of the most important research archives in the world.
Casciato, formerly the associate director of research at the Canadian Centre for Architecture, as well as a licensed architect and expert on 20th century European architecture, shared some of her goals for the GRI, including the pressing need to increase digitization efforts, the rising importance of postmodernism, and the value of cross-cultural pollination to the field of architecture.
The Architect’s Newspaper: What do you see as your role as senior curator of architectural collections at the Getty Research Institute?
For me, this is a research position, meaning that anything I’m engaging with here at GRI is part of a larger research process, including acquisitions.
It’s important to consider what the GRI had in mind as an institution for the position when they hired me. They have been looking for someone who is fully embedded in the architecture world as a licensed architect, who understands architecture, and who can look at buildings as part of a particular discipline. They were also looking for an architectural historian, someone who can look at the possible relationship between architecture and history. Not someone who simply considers history as a tool for architecture, but who uses history as a way to expose architecture to many layers of understanding across time.
Tell us about your acquisition goals for the Getty’s collection.
My idea is that we have to look at more than one beautiful drawing, because one beautiful drawing doesn’t help us build a solid research center. One drawing, you can hang that on the wall for an exhibition, but who comes here for a single drawing? Scholars come if there is enough documentation to write a paper. So, my idea is to always look at the acquisition with relation to collecting complete records for a project—the papers, working drawings, the final drawings—because if you hold on to some of these aspects of history, whoever is writing the history in the future will have it easier. You have to provide enough meat and bones to complete your narrative. That’s our philosophy.
For example, one possible acquisition is a set of drawings by Eric Mendelsohn of a power station in Berkeley, California. We currently have a collection of Mendelsohn’s papers in the special collection. [The GRI’s existing collection] are not architectural projects, though, they are documents we received from his daughter—lectures, notes, and so on.
Read the full interview here