Preserving the Past, Paving the Way to a Better Future

Clare Sausen August 20, 2020

The Knowledge & Information Management (KIM) team is comprised of Catherine Blake, Samantha Cross and Quen Foster-Patterson (bios below). This piece also features former CRTKL employee Iva Groudkova, research librarian. See their Architecture, Race and Culture Resources Guide and Architecture, Sexuality and Culture Resources Guide for more of their work.

What are the primary functions of the KIM team?

Catherine Bake (CB): Individually, we are archivists, records managers, and librarians– but collectively, we serve as the guardians of knowledge at CallisonRTKL. That means we don’t have a clearly defined mission, but we respond to needs all over the firm and see where we can inject our expertise.

Iva Groudkova (IG): Basically, we get the right information to the right people at the right time. That means we must maintain and manage systemic and deliberate knowledge building, most concerned with knowledge assets and the logistical manifestations of knowledge: intellectual property and reference material for project inspiration, delivery, and innovation.

Samantha Cross (SC): This includes collecting and preserving the firm’s digital and hard copy assets at every project stage, especially documentation of decision making for ongoing and closed projects throughout the project lifecycle.

CB: Nothing can happen without good systems.

How does this past knowledge of our work inform future solutions in the industry?

IG: As a large, multinational firm where people come from a variety of backgrounds, we have the responsibility to inform ourselves and others about global issues in the architecture world and beyond. As a librarian, I could not dodge the opportunity to shed light on the issues we as individuals and citizens grapple within our resource guides related to the Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ+ Pride movements. We are acknowledging that everyone has a part to play and making the resources to educate ourselves on the topic readily available is part of what I do.

CB: We’re emphasizing that everything the firm has done is available for some future use that we may not yet comprehend, which is all the more reason why we need to manage it well, document what we have and maintain it in a ready state to perform data analysis. We move from discrete objects like paper that holds content to the digital realm, with its potential to look at a massive group of data sets and analyze in a new way. We’re positioning the firm to be able to dive deeply into this data lake.

With such a depth of expertise in so many different areas, we can take lessons learned in one sector and apply them in another place in ways not previously apparent—like transforming hotel suites to quarantine rooms during the COVID-19 crisis. Just as buildings can be adaptively reused, so can data.

 SC: We talk about the information lifecycle and the use of information from beginning to end a lot, but every project is a narrative. Even once it is “finished,” things can be reused and created into something new. Nothing is ever “dead.” In that way, we’re sort of like digital necromancers—we bring these things back again and again even when you think it’s done.

Quen Foster-Patterson (QFP): We never want to have to start from zero—you don’t have to recreate the wheel in order to improve it. By maintaining historical data and using it, we can improve. You have a starting point—you can start at 50%, bypass the hard part and go to the most productive stage. When Information no longer sits in silos it can become shared knowledge.

SC: But, wait—I have this idea for a triangular wheel. Hear me out…

Where is there a dearth of information? What are we moving towards?

QFP: I am always thinking about records management. I think it’s vital to proactively collect and document what we already have. We must shift the corporate culture to understand that accurately capturing these records and making them is key. We can do all the research that we want, but if we don’t collect and correlate it in a searchable and usable way, it’s worthless. Without that, it’s just information—not knowledge. We capture what we have so we can use it and then determine the avenues we need to research in. We must anticipate the need before it’s there.

SC: Personally, I work on the back end of projects. We put all this effort into digitizing huge amounts of files, but we need to know how to preserve those files for future use. Contrary to popular belief, digitization alone does not necessarily equal preservation. In a broad way, it lasts forever; but if you can’t find it – or read it – then it’s useless.

CB: We live at the intersection of records management and digital literacy. When the digital transformation was first underway at CRTKL, we saw what happened when people are not digitally literate and are just creating data and leaving it somewhere. We can help users develop fundamental digital literacy skills. You cannot manage data well without also educating users and creators of the data.

CRTKL-designed Guangzhou K11 Art Mall

How do you anticipate the needs of the users before they know it themselves?

IG: As a librarian, we need to stay on top of industry publications and the trends they feature as a basic part of the job. You must know what’s going on, what the issues in the industry are, and always be on top of what’s coming next. That’s the research element. We need to take existing knowledge and what our peers are doing, be knowledgeable about the industry as a whole, and have a complete picture and take that into your own work. A lot of what I provide in terms of reference material are industry publications to assist in doing the research and look toward the future.

CB: I’m personally less of an industry expert, but I look at how institutions of different types manage their intellectual assets and take those practices into consideration. I want to know what our own industry is up to, of course, but who’s to say we can’t find useful models outside of our industry? In design, there is a tendency to rely on the recollections of “old-timers” and get information that way. That’s great, but we must also look beyond our industry to grow as both a design firm and as a business. There is no miracle software. But there are ways to help people better understand their own learning styles and what they need to adapt to change.

SC: At industry events, I am always looking to see how other institutions are tagging things. Sometimes that comes from a design firm, sometimes it comes from a university. We also must keep up with terminology in and outside of the industry—we’re not always coming from the same understanding as the designers. What one person calls one thing, another person calls something else; so, we must be the bridge.

QFP: A lot of understanding comes from observation within the firm as well. When people are not adequately digitally literate, records can be created and housed all over the place—sometimes not so securely. We need our colleagues to understand that every project is a firmwide asset and promote that mentality, so they understand how their work, on an individual level, translates to shared knowledge for us all.

Catherine Blake: Catherine Blake, KIM team lead, currently works in CallisonRTKL’s Seattle, WA office. Beginning as an archivist with the company, her role has evolved significantly over her fifteen-year tenure. Now functioning as a program manager, Catherine works to prepare the firm for future information management needs not yet defined by applying digital preservation processes and best information management practices to the firm’s intellectual assets. Future accessibility is always at front of mind. Catherine holds a BFA in Fine Art Printmaking, a BA in Architecture and Art History and is a graduate of NARA’s Modern Archives Institute. Beginning her career in construction before joining the design world with CallisonRTKL, she has been educating herself about the AEC industry ever since.

Iva Groudkova: As the Research Librarian for CRTKL, Iva provides Information and Knowledge Services through systems, resources and data analysis. In design, we take an existing condition and improve upon it with our design solutions. During this process, we constantly gather and evaluate information from reputable sources and apply it in novel ways to solve our design challenges, thus creating new information, knowledge and project innovation. Iva works to meet the information and knowledge needs of the organization by providing a diverse array of services based on an understanding of human information behavior and a holistic and continuous assessment of the A&E industry.

Samantha Cross: Samantha Cross is an Archivist in CallisonRTKL’s Seattle, WA office. She is skilled in archival research, appraisal, digital curation and deaccessioning via a Master of Arts (M.A.) focused in History/Archives and Records Management from Western Washington University.

Quen Foster-Patterson: Quen Foster-Patterson is the firm’s Records & Information Management Specialist in CallisonRTKL’s Dallas, TX office. A guardian of the firm’s records, she locates, organizes and tirelessly promotes auditing of records in accordance with the firm’s Retention Policy. With a lengthy professional background in document control practice within the engineering sphere, she holds a BS in Business Management with a specialization in Information Systems.

Author Spotlight

Clare Sausen
Clare Sausen is a Content Writer for CallisonRTKL. Based in Washington, D.C., she leverages her personal and professional experience in journalism, radio, and nonprofit communication to serve as a valuable member of the global firmwide team. Since attaining her Bachelor of Arts degree from George Washington University in Communication and American Studies, she has honed her craft of architectural storytelling across multiple platforms.