Avery Drawings & Archives Collections

Douglas Darden papers and drawings, 1979-1996

Summary Information


Douglas Darden (1951-1996) was an American architect based out of Denver, Colorado. Darden was best known for his book Condemned Building, a collection of ten allegorical projects. This collection contains much of Darden's work for that book as well as the process work for his second book, Laughing Girls, which he was working on at the time of his death. It also contains a large portion of his early works and his professional papers in the form of documents, drawings, photographs, and slides.

At a Glance

Bib ID 12113665 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Darden, Douglas, 1951-
Title Douglas Darden papers and drawings, 1979-1996
Physical Description 7 linear feet (7 linear feet); 532 drawings
Language(s) English

This collection is available for use by appointment in the Department of Drawings & Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University. For further information and to make an appointment, please email avery-drawings@library.columbia.edu.



The collection is made up of twelve series: I: Condemned Building, II: Laughing Girls, III: Other Projects, IV: Professional Papers, V: Allison Darden Papers, VI: Slides, and VII: Drawings.


Scope and Content

This collection comprises visual and textual research, notes, written and typed drafts, prints, negatives, slides, sketches, drawings, and video and audio material on tape. The first two series are dedicated to Darden's two major publications which make up the majority of the material for the collection,Condemned BuildingandLaughing Girls. Projects not included in either work are separated into the third series, Other Projects. Darden's professional papers compose their own series, as do the papers of his wife, Allison. Slides and oversize drawings are separated out into their own series.

Series I: Condemned Building

This series contains documents pertaining to the ten projects featured in Darden's bookCondemned Building,as well as documents pertaining to the book's publication. The projects included in Darden's book are unbuilt works. Although Darden draws them in traditional plan, section, and elevation, these projects were designed as allegorical structures only. Darden posits a set of reversa for each project meant to reveal and explore a dichotomy within architecture. His background in literature is evident in his work, as each project is described with a narrative structure akin to the acts in a play, which describe the use of and circulation through each project. Each project also has a "Dis/continuous Genealogy," a graphic history wherein Darden pulls several images from his research and combines them in a "Composite Ideogram" for the project. Some of the projects are described with a psycho-dramatic text, in some cases accompanied by a letter blurring the lines between fact and fiction. Darden also peppers the pages of his book with quotations fromHamlet. Drafts for each of these elements are included in this collection.

Darden's process integrated visual and textual research. His process work combines annotated literary and background text with the collection and manipulation of graphic materials. Most subseries contain project material that includes research materials, generative process work, and prints & negatives. [The oversize study and finished drawings for these projects are housed in Series VII: Drawings]

Subseries 1: Museum of Impostorscontains materials for one of Darden's earlier works, which was submitted to the "From Here to Eternity" exhibition. This project set up an allegorical museum dedicated to historical American impostors. Situated in the Baltimore Harbor Water Gap, the project research included in this subseries concentrates on nearby historical sites and figures, such as Fort McHenry, Francis Scott Key, the Lazaretto, Interstate Highway 95, and the Lehigh Cement Factory. Also included is the semi-fictionalized account of Sarah Wilson, along with notes and drafts, and a few drawings.

Subseries 2: Temple Forgetfulcontains Darden's research and drafts for said project. Temple Forgetful was influenced by his time spent at the American Academy in Rome, as seen by its sitting next to the Basilica of Maxentius, and appropriation of the Romulus and Remus myth. The project consists of two uninhabitable theatres, set as opposites across the legendary boundary line separating Rome between the twins. Darden's research includes information on the new archaeological discoveries at his site, as well as the topics of memory and forgetting. Also includes postcards with some correspondence.

Subseries 3: Clinic for Sleep Disorderscontains research and generative materials for this project situated just off of Liberty State Park in New Jersey. Darden began this project while teaching at New Jersey Institute of Technology; he took many trips exploring the surrounding industrial areas, which influenced his successive projects. His research for this project delved into sleep studies, dreams and nightmares,Hamlet,Freud, Arthur Rimbaud's "The Drunken Boat," and Ernest Hemingway's "Now I Lay Me." Generative materials feature images of electroencephalograms (recorded electrical activity of the brain), works by Picasso, and Dante's Inferno, amongst his notes and drafts. Includes one drawing.

Subseries 4: Night Schoolcontains the materials for a project at the McMillan Water Filtration Plant, in Washington D.C. Darden designed a school anchored by an open air theatre which must operate at night. His research materials consist mainly of site research, including photographs and plans of the site and research into ancient trilobites found at the site. The project was influenced by Greek Theatre, which can be seen in his notes and drafts in this subseries. Materials also include correspondence with Army Corps of Engineers and with Stanley Tigerman & John Whiteman, as well as visual gridded studies for this project's "Dis/continuous Genealogy," and two drawings.

Subseries 5: Melvillacontains Darden's materials for his design of a library built on location of Herman Melville's former home on East 11th St. and Fourth Ave in New York City. Research materials focus on Melville,Moby-Dick,whale hunting, and the Iroquois, and include building history and maps for the project site. [Darden's copy ofMoby-Dickis not included in this collection.] The subseries includes notes, visual studies, drafts, paste-ups, articles, and transparencies for "Dis/continuous Genealogies," as well as correspondence regarding the research and publication of Melvilla, from 1989-92.

Subseries 6: Hostelcontains research and generative materials pertaining to the Aswan Dam and its displacement of Nubians; Darden pulls from this dichotomy of construction/destruction to design a project that symbolizes this contradiction as a temporary home for Nubian workers. Darden's research focuses on infrastructure and transportation, especially that related to water; materials include postcards and newspaper clippings. The subseries also includes notes, drafts, a transparency of the project's "Dis/continuous Genealogy," as well as three drawings.

Subseries 7: Saloon for Jesse Jamescontains material for Darden's project originally started in Stanley Tigerman's studio at Harvard GSD in 1983. The project draws on the duality of the anti-hero and ideas of confrontation. It includes research on mining, specifically the Kennecott Copper Mine, on Jesse James, and on Great Salt Lake and Saltair as well as miscellaneous documents such as pamphlets from Amtrak and maps of Utah. Project materials also include several postcards with correspondence, two drawings and a collage.

Subseries 8: Sex Shopcontains research material, but no drawings or prints for the project. The research material draws from Georgia O'Keeffe, Marquis de Sade, Duchamp, Fourier, Lequeu, and pornography. While there are no drawings, Darden did create a "Dis/continuous Genealogy," materials for which are included in this subseries. [Series VI: Slides includes 9 images of a model for this project not included in the bookCondemned Building]

Subseries 9: Confessionalcontains material for a proposed confessional booth at the site of the Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre in the Church San Pancrazio, in Italy. Materials include site research, as well as notes, correspondence, drafts, and 5 drawings. The project draws on Alberti, the ideas of balance and intersection, radio transmission and amplification.

Subseries 10: Oxygen Housecontains the material for Darden's project based on the fictitious story of an ex-railroad employee, Burnden Abraham, who after being injured in a train derailment must live in an oxygen tent. The subseries contains research material on train instruments and railroad infrastructure, anatomy of the lungs, hydraulics, and zeppelins. It also contains images for the "Dis/continuous Genealogy," notes, drafts, paste-ups, correspondence, and one drawing.

Subseries 11: General Materialsincludes materials for the publication ofCondemned Building,such as notes, work on the frontispieces, a list of Hamlet quotations to be featured in the book, font/text experimentation, drafts (bound and unbound), and correspondence with Princeton Architectural Press.

Series II: The Laughing Girls

This series contains research materials and process work for the project Darden was working on at the time of his death.Laughing Girlsincorporated architectural drawing, collage, and narrative in the form of an architectural graphic novel centered on three characters: Helen, Cass, and Polly. The series includes correspondence regarding travel and requests for financial assistance, as well as information on and submissions to various grant programs. It also includes a spiral bound portfolio of several artists meant to be included in the project, entitled "The Graphic Novel: an Investigation of the Interdisciplinary Design Process."

Ten folders contain research materials on outbreaks of laughter and mania, on the anatomy of the human body (specifically that of speech capabilities and female reproductive cycles), on Africa (Darden's early site for the project), on Boston (a stop in the story's itinerary) and on Darden's two main sites for the project: Troy New York, and Troy in Greece. These folders include maps, postcards, pamphlets, newspaper clippings, and magazine clippings.

Darden's process for the project included experimenting with text and font, and rendering with various graphic images he had collected from his research and travels. This series includes many of these graphic experiments and sources, notably those from his travel souvenirs.

For this project, Darden worked with audio recordings of girls laughing, and four folders entitled "Laugh Graphics" contain FFT (Fast Fourier Transform) print outs that visually represent frequencies from these recordings, and were used as graphic elements.

Two folders encompass Darden's notes for the project (including notes on two airsick bags), and Darden's outlines of the girls' characters. The folder "Negatives & Prints" notably includes x-rays of the esophagus and repairs to broken bones made with internal fixation. The series also contains drawings, drafts, and storyboarding for the graphic novel.

Series III: Other Projects

This series encompasses two projects that were not featured inCondemned BuildingorLaughing Girls,and also includes documents pertaining to some unidentified projects.

The folder, "Misanthropy Hall," contains notes and research materials, as well as a print of the drawing, "H.M.M. House for a Mad Misanthrope," currently held at the Bass Museum in Miami. [Note: this project was originally to be featured inCondemned Building,but was ultimately left out.]

The folder "I-Club" contains research materials and process work concerning Japanese culture, armor, samurai, opium, military technology, mechanical machines, and the Rape of Nanking. The process work includes the manipulation of line drawings using transparencies, the same process Darden used to create his "Dis/continuous Genealogies" for the projects inCondemned Building.

Series IV: Professional Papers

This series contains Darden's professional papers, including information on Darden, his correspondence, teachings, exhibitions, publications, and reference material.

Darden's correspondence is arranged chronologically; most regard submissions for publications and the organization of exhibitions and lectures. It also contains many postcards, both to and from Darden, many of which he drew on or added pieces in collage.

In the early 1990's Robert Miller worked in conjunction with Darden on a documentary about Darden, entitled "Douglas Darden: Looking After the Underbelly." This series includes promotional material and two copies of the documentary, as well as correspondence between Miller and Darden concerning the documentary, and Darden's progress onLaughing Girls. Also included is "Dardenalia," consisting of articles on or by Darden that Miller had saved or that Darden had sent to Miller, a photograph of Darden, and a collage Darden made for Miller.

Darden's exhibitions encompass eleven folders arranged chronologically from 1984 to 1995, which include correspondence, promotional material, prints of artwork displayed and views of shows.

One folder contains publications about Darden and is arranged chronologically from 1985 to 1998. Seven folders contain publications by Darden from 1986 to 1991, including correspondence and drafts associated with each work. These folders also include drafts of works that were never published widely or were unpublished. In addition, they include two of Darden's lectures, three cassettes with audio of Darden's lectures, and a self-printed book of Darden's haiku, called "Bright Moments: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter." Darden's reference material also includes several books of Haiku to which Darden submitted poems.

Series V: Slides

Comprised of three subseries:

Subseries 1: Reference Materialcontains slides Darden collected as reference for projects or for use in lectures. It includes historical images and images from his explorations, depicting architecture, art, infrastructure, transportation, and technology. This series also includes images of projects by his students, arranged chronologically where dated.

Subseries 2: Condemned Buildingconsists of images of Darden's drawings and models for these projects. Some projects also include research images. The folder for Sex Shop contains images of a model not featured in theCondemned Buildingpublication.

Subseries 3: Other Projectscontains slides with images of work forLaughing Girls,early drawings and paintings, two exhibitions, and slides used for a lecture in Japan. It also includes a set of unidentified slides.

Series VI: Drawings

This series is arranged according to size:

Subseries 1: Early Worksconsists of Darden's works in mixed media from the 1980s. These works are executed in charcoal, paint, pastel, graphite, pen, and collage. They feature expressive abstract forms, industrial scenes, and allegorical projects, and range from the size of a postcard to 4ft by 6ft.

Subseries 2: Condemned Buildingcontains drawings for the ten projects featured in the homonymous publication, with the exception of "Sex Shop" and "Oxygen House." The bulk of the material in this subseries is made up of sketches/studies on trace and finished drawings on paper, mainly executed in graphite and colored pencil. It also includes a set of prints of the drawings from five projects offered for sale in 1991 and a set of transparencies used in the "Dis/continuous Genealogies" featured inCondemned Building. Notably, the material for "Saloon for Jesse James" includes drawings on the gatehouse and "Kitty's Four Poster Bed" which are not included inCondemned Building,and one of the drawings for "Museum of Impostors" continues Darden's use of collage, featuring the use of lace to depict a lattice structure.

Subseries 3: Other Projectsincludes sketches and studies on trace for "Displaced Suburb," a project that used the same site as "Night School," the McMillan Water Filtration Plant in Washington D.C. One folder includes two drawings on trace (one of each aforementioned project) which overlay the third drawing of a site plan. This subseries also includes oversize posters from exhibitions of Darden's works, a mounted copy from Laughing Girls, unidentified sketches and drawings, and an untitled work in charcoal by Fred Soffa.

Series VII: Allison Rosen Darden Papers

This series contains Allison Rosen Darden's papers and is arranged chronologically from 1996 to 2000. Topics include Douglas Darden's death, the possibility of reprinting his bookCondemned Building,and the acquisition of his works. The series also contains an article on Allison's early career as a ballet dancer, and a letter to Douglas Darden's parents Joe and Nancy Darden.

Publication Date


Using the Collection

Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library

Restrictions on Access

This collection is available for use by appointment in the Department of Drawings & Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University. For further information and to make an appointment, please email avery-drawings@library.columbia.edu.

Restrictions on Use

Columbia University is providing access to the materials in the Library's collections solely for noncommercial educational and research purposes. The unauthorized use, including, but not limited to, publication of the materials without the prior written permission of Columbia University is strictly prohibited. All inquiries regarding permission to publish should be submitted in writing to the Director, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University. In addition to permission from Columbia University, permission of the copyright owner (if not Columbia University) and/or any holder of other rights (such as publicity and/or privacy rights) may also be required for reproduction, publication, distributions, and other uses. Responsibility for making an independent legal assessment of any item and securing any necessary permissions rests with the persons desiring to publish the item. Columbia University makes no warranties as to the accuracy of the materials or their fitness for a particular purpose.

Preferred Citation

Douglas Darden papers and drawings, 1979-1996, Department of Drawings and Archives, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Sara McGillivray (Graduate Intern) in 2016.

Revision Description

2016-08-18 File created.

2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Architecture -- Designs and plans Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Architecture -- Philosophy Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Architecture -- Psychological aspects Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Architecture and literature Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Architecture and society -- United States -- History -- 20th century Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Conceptual art -- United States Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Darden, Douglas, 1951- Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Symbolism in architecture Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Visionary architecture Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note


Douglas Darden was born in 1951 in Denver, Colorado. He studied ballet, and graduated with a Bachelors of English and Psychology from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1974. His background in literature and dance are evident in his use of narrative and in the expressiveness of his works.

Darden went on to study Industrial Design at Parsons School of Design, before receiving a Masters of Architecture from the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 1983. While at Harvard under the tutelage of Stanley Tigerman, Darden began work on "A Saloon for Jesse James," which was the first in a series of projects he would later publish in his bookCondemned Building. Darden began teaching at Harvard, serving as a studio professor. He would continue his teaching career throughout the 1980s starting at the Catholic University of America, then Columbia University, and later at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. During his time in New Jersey, Darden explored his industrial surroundings, which became the subjects of many of his artworks and influenced his architectural projects. He served as a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome from 1988-9, and his time spent in the city influenced works like "Temple Forgetful" and "Confessional."

In 1990 he began teaching at the University of Colorado at Denver; it was at this time he was also diagnosed with leukemia. Darden continued to work through his illness, teaching and designing. He collaborated with Robert Miller as the subject of his documentary "Douglas Darden: Looking After the Underbelly" (released 1992), and was named one of the top 50 contemporary architects by Japan's Institute of Architecture in 1993. Also in 1993, Darden released his most well-known work,Condemned Building,a collection of ten of his allegorical architectural projects.

Darden met Allison Jo Rosen, a former professional ballet dancer, in ballet class in 1993 and the two were married in 1995. Darden went into remission in June 1994, but his leukemia returned in September of 1995, and he passed away in April 1996, at the age of 44.

Darden exhibited his works and lectured internationally, across the U.S., Rome, Japan, Austria, and Taiwan. He was a prolific writer, and published many articles on architectural theory in a myriad of publications. He utilized narrative not only in his written work, but also in his architectural projects. Influenced by the likes of Duchamp, Lequeu, and Piranesi, his works were bursting with allegory and allusion, and his meta-fictions revealed his mischievous sense of humor. While Darden often focused on human themes and emotions, human figures were noticeably absent from his drawings. His second book,Laughing Girls,departed from this characteristic, and also took on a more lighthearted tone. The project was to have been a graphic architectural novel, combining Darden's interests in narrative and architecture, and was left unfinished at his death.