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
Darden, Douglas, 1951-1996
Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library
Physical Description:
7 linear feet (7 linear feet); 532 drawings
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

Unique time-based media items have been reformatted and are available onsite via links in the container list. All original copies of audio / moving image media are closed. Email for more information.


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 Building and Laughing Girls. Projects not included in either work are separated into the third series, Other Projects. This series also includes smaller series of drawings by Darden mostly during the 1980s. Darden's professional papers compose their own series, as do the papers of his wife, Allison. Slides are separated out into their own series.

  • Series I: Condemned Building

    This series contains documents pertaining to the ten projects featured in Darden's book 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 from . 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 the first Subseries: Drawings.

  • Series II: Laughing Girls

    This series contains research materials and process work for the project Darden was working on at the time of his death. incorporated 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 and Artworks

    This series is arranged in loose chronological order. The series primarily consists of Darden's artworks in mixed media from the 1980s. These artworks/drawings 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.

    The series also includes materials for identified projects that were not featured in Condemned Building or Laughing Girls. 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 in 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 in Condemned Buildings. The series also includes 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.

  • Series IV: Personal and 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 on . 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 Material contains 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 Building consists 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 the publication.

  • Series VI: 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 book 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.


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

Using the Collection

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

Unique time-based media items have been reformatted and are available onsite via links in the container list. All original copies of audio / moving image media are closed. Email for more information.

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.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Source of acquisition--Allison Darden Collins. Method of acquisition--Donated;; Date of acquisition--1999; 2016. Accession number--1999.014; 2016.003; 2018.001; 2022.005.

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, under the supervision of (Archivist and Collection Manager) Shelley Hayreh. Additions were processed by Shelley Hayreh in 2018 and 2023.

Revision Description

2016-08-18 File created.

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


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 book Condemned 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.

Subject Headings

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

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Video recordings (physical artifacts) CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Darden, Douglas, 1951-1996 CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Architecture -- Designs and plans CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Architecture -- Philosophy CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Architecture -- Psychological aspects CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Architecture and literature CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Architecture and society -- United States -- History -- 20th century CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Conceptual art -- United States CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Symbolism in architecture CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Visionary architecture CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID