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Processing the Davida Rochlin Papers by center for primary research and training scholar, grace diliberto

This summer, I have had the chance to process the Davida Rochlin Papers. Davida Rochlin is a second generation Los Angeles architect. Educated at the University of California, Berkeley, earning both a Bachelor and a Master's degree in architecture, Rochlin gained recognition early in her career for research begun for her Master’s thesis on the American porch. Throughout her career, this focus on the culture and utility of the American porch has emerged in projects that explore vernacular architecture, public-private life, and sustainable design.

The following four images are of pen and ink drawings of porches done by Rochlin in Berkeley and Atlanta and used in Craft & Folk Art Museum Exhibit, The Front Porch Exhibition. These drawings pop out throughout Rochlin’s papers, evidencing the way that ideas and images continually shape the architect’s work throughout her career.

Pen and ink drawing of porch done by Rochlin in Berkeley and Atlanta and used in Craft & Folk Art Museum Exhibit, The Front Porch Exhibition (Image 1 of 4)
Pen and ink drawing of porch done by Rochlin in Berkeley and Atlanta and used in Craft & Folk Art Museum Exhibit, The Front Porch Exhibition (Image 2 of 4)
Pen and ink drawing of porch done by Rochlin in Berkeley and Atlanta and used in Craft & Folk Art Museum Exhibit, The Front Porch Exhibition (Image 3 of 4)
Pen and ink drawing of porch done by Rochlin in Berkeley and Atlanta and used in Craft & Folk Art Museum Exhibit, The Front Porch Exhibition (Image 4 of 4)

Today, Rochlin is still a practicing architect, so this collection marks only the beginning of her body of work. Included in the collection is work done by Rochlin while a student at UC Berkeley’s School of Environmental Design, research done around the American porch leading up to the exhibit at the Craft & Folk Art Museum, early career projects completed while working for various firms, projects undertaken by Rochlin after founding her own architectural firm, office records, and materials from a 2010 pop-up exhibit on the new American porch.

Coursework from an independent study course at UC Berkeley designing a childcare center (Image 1 of 2)
Coursework from an independent study course at UC Berkeley designing a childcare center (Image 1 of 2)
Photograph of Rochlin’s exhibit on the porch at the Los Angeles Craft and Folk Art Museum
Model for the Kenquest building by Davida Rochlin Architecture
Photograph of Rancho Girasol in Taos with an emphasis on the porch (Image 1 of 2)
Photograph of Rancho Girasol in Taos with an emphasis on the porch (Image 2 of 2)
Los Angeles Times article reviewing Rochlin’s 2010 exhibition and featuring her porch typologies again

This collection provides a unique peek into the practice of a contemporary architect, with evidence of every stage of the architectural process. Among Rochlin’s papers are hand drawings, correspondence, site photographs, permits, computer generated plans, and countless snippets of notes, revisions, and edits.

Structural calculations for Sea Level House
Geological survey for Sea Level House
Water pollution control plan for Sea Level House site
Vegetation management plan for Sea Level House

One project that I found particularly interesting is the Sea Level House in Malibu. When doing my initial assessment of the collection, I noticed that this project took longer than Rochlin’s other projects, lasting around five years. Upon a closer comb through of the materials, however, I quickly realized why this was. Part of building in Malibu involves many environmental considerations, particularly regarding water, erosion, and fire safety. Included in these papers were countless plans, revisions, and notes from local planning, homeowner’s association, and community meetings, biological and archaeological assessments, soil studies, vegetation planning, and more.

Sea Level House floor plans
Exterior elevations for Sea Level House
Photograph of the completed Sea Level House in Malibu

Rochlin’s work also serves as evidence of the evolution of architectural practice more broadly, particularly how technology has shaped and changed the field. As an architect who started their career in the late seventies and early eighties, Rochlin was schooled in the art and science of hand drawings and plans. As technological innovation takes hold, however, a shift towards computer-aided design (CAD) can be detected. Rochlin herself observed that this shift was, in some ways, a creative loss, but also allows for new innovations in design. Yet, the move towards CAD drawings also presents challenges for the archive, as the bulk of architectural archives shift to born-digital materials that were created using proprietary software. This raises many questions around ongoing preservation and access to these materials, which are increasingly the primary source of evidence of an architect’s practice.

Some randomly discovered hand jotted notes by Rochlin
Napkin notes regarding West Sea Level written by Rochlin

Overall, processing the Davida Rochlin Papers has been a great learning experience. While the collection arrived to Library Special Collections pre-processed, and I was lucky to be able to use many of the series and subseries that had been set up, I found it challenging to resist the urge to move materials around at the expense of original order. The messiness of hand-scrawled notes, countless revisions to plans, and seemingly random tidbits of information is as much a part of the architectural process as neatly ordered drawings and records of correspondence. Thus, I strived to maintain this contextual information, only moving oversize materials for the purpose of preservation, and focused on making the materials discoverable through the finding aid.

Credits:

All images are from the Davida Rochlin Papers, UCLA Library Special Collections (Collection 2369).

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