A visit to the Sitterwerk Foundation in St. Gallen, Switzerland

Digital and online libraries and archives are found everywhere these days. The idea of making all content digital presumes, for many institutions, the democratization of information through free access. But what do we do with those vast catalogues of overwhelming information any traces of which we are unable to see? How do we engage in a conversation when access is only possible through a screen?

The Sitterwerk Foundation explores the threshold between having a “regular” library and using technology to the advantage of discovery, creativity and interaction. With RFID technology, they can facilitate an ever-changing arrangement called dynamic order that does not imply any system to follow when picking up or putting back a volume on the shelves. Every night, the RFID scanner goes through the shelves and updates the physical location of each book, magazine or document listed on the website, making it easy to find for future visitors, but also enabling a non-homogenous and inspiring dialogue between the 30,000 volumes on sculpture, architecture, photography, material and casting technology, as well as material science and restoration.

Besides the library, the Sitterwerk Foundation hosts Werkstoffarchiv, a material archive located in the same room as the library, which means that the collections can be used in parallel and linked in unexpected ways. Werkstoffarchiv is a part of the Material Archive Network — a material collection supported jointly by different institutions across Switzerland and Germany. The materials at the Werkstoffarchiv and the Material Archive can also be found online.

In any other library or archive, there are not many ways to contribute or add a layer of one’s presence. At the Sitterwerk, one is encouraged to do so. First of all, I had a great opportunity to spend two nights in the archive, where I was able to explore and expand my ideas in unexpected ways and time — for instance, at 1 am, when I work the best (usually archives are long closed by then). Another way to contribute is to create a Collection (also enabled by the RFID technology) where one can document their findings at the Sitterwerk and get links to other collections.

Staying at the Sitterwerk brought me an opportunity to have meaningful conversations with the people working there about our interests, and to see how we could learn from each other. There are other galleries and workshops for art production at the Foundation: that keeps its spaces active and in constant change. At the archive we could eat, chat or simply wander around. I was able to learn and make many unexpected connections for my research thanks to the dynamic order and access to materials, but most importantly, to the lovely people eager to make a visit to the Sitterwerk a meaningful experience for any visitor, as well as for themselves.

On a walk around the workshops, I thanked Julia Lütolf, the Werkstoffarchiv manager, for the openness and welcoming energy their team were providing. I stressed how much I have learned from the place, from the people and from our conversations, to which she responded, “Oh, we are also learning from you.”

Road to the Sitterwerk in St. Gallen, Switzerland
Kunstbibliothek at the Sitterwerk
Foundry at the Sitterwerk
Workshop at the Sitterwerk
Kesselhaus Josephsohn with artworks by Hans Josephsohn
Kesselhaus Josephsohn with artworks by Hans Josephsohn
View to the library, material archive and guest bedroom.

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Pablo Prado Serrano

Pablo Prado Serrano is an architect and researcher from Mexico City, currently based in Berlin. He has worked on projects that range from exhibition architecture and spatial design, and collaborations with artists and architects. His professional interests focus on a critical approach to categorization, archives and politics on design and architecture.

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