Nurturing Newark: NJIT Preserves the Built Environment of New Jersey’s Largest City
It’s become a familiar sight in the age of Newark’s ongoing redevelopment: photo op-ready public figures and governing officials—clad in hard hats with scissors and spades in hand—breaking ground on multimillion dollar projects and cutting ribbons outside of newly rehabbed storefronts.
Hotels have been erected, Broad and Market Streets—Newark’s busiest thoroughfares—are peppered with popular fast-casual restaurants and noteworthy companies continue to set up shop in long-vacant buildings: A 29,000-square-foot Whole Foods now anchors the revamped Hahne and Company department store, which opened in March after being closed for three decades.
The Central Business District’s emergence as a go-to destination was recently rubberstamped by Vogue, in an article titled “Meet Me in Newark? Why New York City’s Neighbor Is Worth a Visit.”
By all accounts, New Jersey’s largest city is experiencing a renaissance. But as Newark’s skyline continues to morph, who’s documenting the facelift and safeguarding the city’s lustrous architectural history?
The Barbara and Leonard Littman Architecture and Design Library at NJIT created the Digital Archive of Newark Architecture (DANA) to help document Newark’s robust built environment.
“DANA was first conceived to support the curriculum of the New Jersey School of Architecture (NJSOA) at the College of Architecture and Design at NJIT. But we soon realized that it creates a link to our community by preserving the history of Newark architecture,” says Maya Gervits, director of the Littman Library.
DANA brings together resources—hundreds of old, new and renovated buildings, parks, outdoor sculptures, old photographs, digitized maps, articles, monographs, rare books, government documents, reports, city master plans, architectural drawings, videos, postcards, digital images, statistical data and student work— related to various aspects of the city's architecture, urban planning, transportation and public art—“anything of interest to the physical life of the city and its infrastructure,” adds Gervits.
Since its launch in 2008, DANA has become an important and actively used tool for research and teaching, generating interest among scholars across the country and abroad. As the number of webpages grew, along with the volume of digitized materials, it became evident that a database-driven website was needed to provide the organization and functionality necessary to properly store and present a growing archive.
However, due to copyright restrictions, the search capabilities were limited and a large portion of the archive remained inaccessible for the general public.
In 2015, after receiving several seed grants from the Bay & Paul Foundations and the Leavens Foundation, the library was awarded a $13,500 state grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission to help fund the migration of the historic content to an open-source environment, which enables public access to the materials and offers two different logins: one for NJIT students and one for the general public. (The original website is still active: archlib.njit.edu/collections/dana/).
“While we cannot post full text, we’re able to provide a detailed bibliography so that people know where to find the information,” explains Gervits. “Our students have full access to copyrighted material.”
During the migration, Gervits, who was recently honored with the Distinguished Service Award from the Association of Architecture School Librarians, and a team of students, colleagues and NJSOA faculty, continued to add additional records, as well as an interactive map and searchable online exhibition to the undertaking.
“DANA is a continually evolving project,” she says. “We are constantly looking for new ways to improve its functionality, add more content and expand our vision.”
In February, the Investors Foundation awarded the library $5,000 to further develop DANA. The plan is to include a geographic information system to facilitate various research projects, create a mobile version of the database and provide technical options for the public to submit their materials and memorabilia.
“We want DANA to have a crowdsourcing experience,” she says, “and we’re using technology to make it a comprehensive interactive resource.”
For now, the DANA team continues to collaborate with local institutions such as the Newark Public Library, Newark Museum and the city archive to expose a wider audience to the architectural prominence of one of America’s greatest cities.
“Newark’s architecture is closely woven into its rich history,” says Gervits. “DANA allows us to connect the city’s past, present and future.”
If you are interested in contributing materials to the archive, please contact DANA.