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Inspiration Explorer - Digital Archives

With many cultural institutions closed due to COVID-19, production designers are unable to frequent the various art museums, galleries and archives that inform and enrich our work. With that in mind, PDC member Laura King-Pazuchowski put together a list of online archives with extensive digital and interactive tools, which we can explore from the safety of our homes.


Vitra Design Museum (Weil am Rhein, Germany)

The Marshmallow Sofa was designed in 1956 by George Nelson and Irving Harper (photo by Jurgen Hans).

The Marshmallow Sofa was designed in 1956 by George Nelson and Irving Harper (photo by Jurgen Hans).

Vitra Design Museum is dedicated to historical and contemporary research in architecture, interior design, and the art of creative furnishings. Its extensive collection of design objects focuses on industrial furniture design and lighting. The online collection includes details about many of their objects including biographies of important designers and significant manufacturers. The collection can be sorted by designer, material, manufacturer, attributes, and more.

Van Alen Institute (Brooklyn, New York)

Ian Grant designed this entry for the 1998 competition for design ideas for the East River in New York.

Van Alen Institute is an independent nonprofit architectural organization dedicated to improving design in the public realm. It collaborates with communities, scholars, policymakers, and professionals to develop cross disciplinary research, public programs, and design competitions to improve people’s environments. Van Alen’s archive highlights over a century of innovative thinking about design and architecture through submissions to their ongoing architectural design competitions, which have been staged since their founding in 1894.


Institute of Making (London, England)

This 3D printed Lidinoid models a shape with a ‘minimal surface’ that was discovered by scientist Sven Lidin.

The Institute of Making is a multidisciplinary research club interested in exploring the relationship between materials and processes. Central to the Institute is the Materials Library, a collection of “some of the most extraordinary materials on earth” gathered together to inspire makers and advance conceptualization.


Europeana (Online, Europe)

Painted in 1779 by Hendrik Pothoven, this image depicts the main hall of the Binnenhof, the political heart of Holland.

​​Europeana is a web portal that combines the collections of over 3,000 European archives, libraries, and museums to provide digital access to books, music, artworks, and more. The completely searchable collection was created by the European Union and includes access to online exhibitions.


Science Museum Group (England)

This painting is a perspective view of everyday activity in the 1960s at Waterloo Station in London.

The Science Museum Group is a web portal sharing historical objects and archives spanning science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine. It combines digital collections from England’s Science Museum, The Science and Industry Museum, Science and Media Museum, Railway Museum, and Locomotion. The over 200,000 objects in the online database can be sorted by category, object type, maker, and date and feature curated topics tracing select objects through history.


New York Public Library (New York)

This map was a visitor’s guide to the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, the first official World’s Fair to be held in the United States.

The New York Public Library Digital Collections contains over 800,000 digitized items including photographs, prints and maps, and more. Over 100,000 of those images in the public domain with new materials added daily. The archive contains materials on a range of topics that are sorted into subcategories including collections about pre-victorian ornament and pattern, acclaimed theatrical photographers, turn of the century posters, and children’s book illustrations.


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