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International Design Conference in Aspen Records
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Biographical/Historical Note
  • Administrative Information
  • Related Archival Materials
  • Separated Materials
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: International Design Conference in Aspen records
    Date (inclusive): 1949-2006
    Number: 2007.M.7
    Creator/Collector: International Design Conference in Aspen
    Physical Description: 139 Linear Feet (276 boxes, 6 flat file folders. Computer media: 0.33 GB [1,619 files])
    The Getty Research Institute
    Special Collections
    1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
    Los Angeles 90049-1688
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10020/askref
    (310) 440-7390
    Abstract: Founded in 1951, the International Design Conference in Aspen (IDCA) emulated the Bauhaus philosophy by promoting a close collaboration between modern art, design, and commerce. For more than 50 years the conference served as a forum for designers to discuss and disseminate current developments in the related fields of graphic arts, industrial design, and architecture. The records of the IDCA include office files and correspondence, printed conference materials, photographs, posters, and audio and video recordings.
    Request Materials: Request access to the physical materials described in this inventory through the catalog record  for this collection. Click here for the access policy .
    Language: Collection material is in English.

    Biographical/Historical Note

    The International Design Conference in Aspen (IDCA) was the brainchild of a Chicago businessman, Walter Paepcke, president of the Container Corporation of America. Having discovered through his work that modern design could make business more profitable, Paepcke set up the conference to promote interaction between artists, manufacturers, and businessmen. The concept behind IDCA was a direct continuation of the basic philosophy of the Bauhaus, which also strove to improve relations between the worlds of art and commerce by designing otherwise banal household objects, such as lamps, tea pots or weavings, which could be industrially mass-produced.
    Founded in 1951 together with its sister organizations, the Aspen Institute and the Aspen Music Festival, IDCA was a direct outgrowth of the Goethe Festival held in Aspen in 1949 and organized by Paepcke and Robert Hutchins, president of the University of Chicago. While the festival's immediate purpose was to celebrate the bicentennial of Goethe's birth, the larger goal was twofold: on the one hand it was supposed to draw positive attention to German culture, the status of which in the immediate post-war period was at an all-time low; and on the other hand, Paepcke hoped to attract audiences interested in culture to the small town in the mountains of Colorado and thereby bring new business to the area. The Goethe Festival was an enormous success and even before it had come to a conclusion, there was talk of sustaining such a gathering more permanently by convening on an annual basis. After some searching for a topic that could tie these annual conferences together, Paepcke decided to devote them to issues involving the relationship between design and commerce.
    For the first conference convened in 1951, Paepcke enlisted the help of the renowned designer and former Bauhaus master teacher Herbert Bayer, who attracted to that first meeting an important group of businessmen, including Frank Stanton, president of CBS, William Connally of Johnson Wax, Stanley Marcus of Nieman Marcus, Burton G. Tremaine of the Miller Company, and Charles Zadok of Gimbel's department store. The design world was represented at the first conference by such luminaries as Josef Albers, Charles Eames, Louis I. Kahn, the architectural historian Edgar Kaufmann, Jr., Leo Lionni, who was then art director of Fortune magazine, the architect and furniture designer George Nelson, and Don Wallance, an industrial designer. The high standing and ambitious character of this group of speakers and attendees set the tone for all future conferences.
    Over the course of more than 50 years of conferences, the IDCA gradually moved from an audience primarily representing the business and design worlds to a largely design-oriented group of speakers and attendees. Nonetheless, as late as 1996, when the conference theme was "GESTALT: Visions of German Design," the president of Mercedes-Benz North America was one of the speakers, as was the director of marketing for Bulthaup (kitchens). Similarly important representatives were present, for example, at the 1998 conference on sport design. And as the names of sponsors listed in the programs testify, throughout the history of IDCA leading corporations in the business world were consistently interested in the ideas explored at the conferences.
    As for the design world, many of the most celebrated architects and designers (and historians working in these fields) of the post-World War II era have spoken at IDCA, along with a number of influential artists and theorists. Among these are Vito Acconci, Ron Arad, Reyner Banham, Saul Bass, Max Bill, Daniel Boorstin, John Cage, Giancarlo de Carlo, Ivan Chermayeff, Jay Chiat, Elizabeth Diller, Arthur Drexler, Peter Eisenman, Craig Elwood, John D. Entenza, R. Buckminster Fuller, David Gebhard, Frank Gehry, April Greiman, Rene d'Harnoncourt, Henry Russell Hitchcock, Ricky Jay, Sylvia Lavin, Greg Lynn, Richard Meier, Richard Neutra, Elliott Noyes, Nikolaus Pevsner, Robert Rauschenberg, Bernard Rudofsky, Paul Rudolph, Jonas Salk, Susan Sontag, Gloria Steinem, Robert A.M. Stern, Walter Dorwin Teague, Bill Viola, Wim Wenders, and Lorraine Wild. A chronological overview of the conference themes and speakers provides an excellent insight into the issues and major players at the forefront of graphic, industrial, and architectural design over a period of almost 55 years. The impact of computerization on modern design is also well documented in the conferences of the last twenty years.
    The last IDCA conference was held in 2004. In the following year, under the aegis of the American Institute of Graphic Arts, the conference evolved into the much smaller, more focused Aspen Design Summit.

    Administrative Information


    Open for use by qualified researchers, with the exception of unreformatted audio-visual and computer materials.

    Publication Rights

    Preferred Citation

    International Design Conference in Aspen records, 1949-2006, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, Accession no. 2007.M.7

    Acquisition Information

    Gift of The Board of the International Design Conference in Aspen. Acquired in 2007.

    Processing History

    International Design Conference of Aspen records were initially processed by Sheila Prospero, who rehoused materials and made a preliminary inventory in 2008-2009. Suzanne Noruschat in the summer of 2010 and Natalie Snoyman in the spring of 2011 further processed the collection as internship projects under the supervision of Ann Harrison. Emmabeth Nanol completed the project in 2012. The descriptive notes were derived from curatorial records.
    Digital materials were processed by Jacob Zaborowski in 2017-18 under the supervision of Laura Schroffel. Quark, Encapsulated PostScript, and Adobe Illustrator files were normalized to .pdf and .jpeg for access. Original filenames were retained as labels in the viewer.

    Digitized Material

    Selected audio and video recordings from Series I have been digitized. Access is available on-site only: http://hdl.handle.net/10020/2007m7s1_av 
    Born digital materials from Series I have been digitized. Access is available on-site only: http://hdl.handle.net/10020/2007m7bd 
    Selected audio recordings from Series II have been digitized. Access is available on-site only: http://hdl.handle.net/10020/2007m7s2_av 

    Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

    Born digital content is made available through the digital preservation repository. Material will be available on-site only. Access files from D29 are unavailable due to lack of required hardware and software.

    Related Archival Materials

    Series VI of the Reyner Banham papers in the Getty Research Institute (Acc. no. 910009) is comprised of material collected by Banham during his long association with IDCA and which served as research material for Banham's publication The Aspen Papers.
    University Library Special Collections, University of Illinois at Chicago also holds a collection of IDCA records, probably acquired through Herbert Pinzke.

    Separated Materials

    A small number of monographs and serials were transferred to the library.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The International Design Conference in Aspen (IDCA) records document the activities of the annual conference that, from 1951 until 2004, served as a forum for designers and business leaders to discuss and disseminate current developments in the related fields of graphic arts, industrial design, and architecture. Consisting of office files and correspondence, printed conference materials, photographs, posters, and audio and video recordings, the archive illustrates the governing ideas and themes addressed each year and provides information about the individuals who participated in and planned each conference. While the majority of documentation pertains to the IDCA itself, the archive also includes materials about other organizations with which the IDCA was affiliated such as the Aspen Institute of Humanistic Studies.
    Records of the individual annual conferences comprise Series I. Documentation is present for each conference, but the amount and type of material preserved varies from year to year. Overall, there is abundant documentation of the planning and execution of each conference, including materials relating to administration and finances, matters relating to the board, correspondence, the development of the program and the attendees and speakers. The archive also contains the annual press releases and press coverage for the conference. The development of graphic design is documented in the printed material produced for the conference (posters, programs, flyers, abstracts), which each year featured work by a well-known designer. Most significant, however, is the documentation of the actual conference sessions. Over the life of the conference, the initially printed conference papers develop into audio recordings of sessions, first with sporadic reel-to-reel recordings in the 1950s and early 1960s and then more consistently with audiocassettes starting in 1974, and videotapes starting in 1986. Films, photographs, slides and digital files further document the conferences.
    Series II is comprised of cumulative files and miscellaneous material. These files are cumulative in that they do not pertain to one annual conference. They range from office files, predominantly vendor billing and receipt files, to attempts by IDCA to collect and preserve its history. The material in many respects mirrors Series I, with groupings of administrative and financial records, lists of attendees and speakers, board records, programs and graphics. Of particular interest are the interviews with board members and the inventory project.


    Arranged in two series: .Series I. Annual conference records, 1951-2004; Series II. Cumulative files and miscellaneous material, 1949-2006

    Indexing Terms

    Subjects - Topics

    Architectural design
    Industrial design
    Graphic design
    Design -- Congresses

    Genres and Forms of Material

    Video recordings
    Magnetic disks
    Motion pictures (visual works)
    Slides (photographs)
    Sound recordings
    Photographic prints


    International Design Conference in Aspen