How should digital media live in the physical world? It’s a question that is challenging institutions across the globe, as an ever-expanding amount of digital-born material needs to be archived in physical storage. Award-winning studio Kanva playfully addressed these concerns in a recent renovation project at Montreal’s Concordia University.
The new Visual Collections Repository (VCR) in the school’s Faculty of Fine Arts houses a collection of works in a variety of formats. It serves not only as a material holdings, but also as a singular place for study and gathering for faculty, researchers and students, as well as a hub for cataloguing and displaying digital files.
With over 350,000 35-mm slides, 41,000 moving images, 18,000 high-resolution digital images and much more, the space was specifically crafted to be suitable for the requirements of its digital and analogue inhabitants.
After studying a vast array of user needs during a 2016 charrette, Kanva (led by Tudor Radulescu and Rami Bebawi) came up with a neat conceit: the entire collection would be contained within a U-shaped wooden structure lining three walls of the facility. “The collection is at the heart of the renovation project,” says the studio.
One wall contains the DVD & blue ray collection while its opposite holds laser disc, betamax and VHS files. At the heart of the room, the much longer central wall hosts the dizzying number of 35 mm slides.
Alongside transforming these three conjoined walls into “inhabitable storage,” Kanva ensured the collection visually anchored the renovation. Playfully riffing on the aspect ratios of various digital formats – from 1:1 native to an overhead projector to 1:43:1 for IMAX – each door is clad in a series of low-relief rectangles marked with their laser-engraved formats.
When closed, the surface reads as a material index of media history. Opened, the tall slim doors with integrated metal pulls tease at the vastness of information just beyond the surface, reminding “users of the wealth of knowledge available in the media bank.”
Far from being simply ornamental, these panels also visually frame the nearby study area, research stations and lounge, while providing crucial acoustic separation for the seminar room, technical space and mini cinema situated behind the collection.
It’s a charming – and thoughtful – take on the inevitable material storage of these seemingly immaterial works. And it reminds us that our digital history is not so easily disposed of, even after clicking “empty trash.”
Kanva renovates Concordia University’s Visual Collections Repository with wooden storage that riffs on the history of digital media.