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What would a museum without walls look like? Three prototypes, developed for a new virtual museum, explore the possibilities - using the National Collection's CIAM archives as source material.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, architecture institutions acquired massive design production collections. All over the world, they accumulated a plethora of documents, objects, drawings, correspondence, films, photos, slides and complete work dossiers. As a result, museums, archives and depots today contain a boundless wealth of design and construction knowledge and experience. So how to open up these vast repositories beyond the reading room?

What if we could connect those scattered archives around the world using newly available digital technologies? What if we could unlock historical experience and knowledge for the benefit of audiences today and tomorrow? And what if we were able to recount the stories – known and untold – in full, by creating a new kind of public space?

Familiar histories could be presented afresh to new audiences, while at the same time marginalised and forgotten voices, lost experiments, and overlooked adventures and exchanges might come into focus once more, to be recaptured and studied. Such ambitions are among the motivations driving the development of prototypes for a new virtual museum, to test possibilities and start imagining what such a museum without walls could look like.

CIAM archives

For these prototypes, the CIAM archives in the national collection of Het Nieuwe Instituut are providing a first testing ground. CIAM was the international organisation of modern architects founded by a group of avant-garde practitioners in 1928. It included Le Corbusier, Berlage, Gerrit Rietveld, Mart Stam and many more, and it would become the leading platform for reconceptualising architecture, housing and urban planning in the most radical ways. Between 1928 and 1959, CIAM organised various conferences – hence its full name, Congrès Internationaux des Architecture Moderne – at which architects from around the world presented their designs and research. Due to its international network, the archives of its members were scattered around the world. A Virtual CIAM Museum will make it possible to reconnect these voices, while probing their histories and their relevance for today and for future planning.

Three test-cases

In the framework of the Prototypes for a Virtual CIAM Museum three test-cases have been developed:

  • An XR installation in which you can virtually visit the lost workroom and archive of British architect Alison Smithson.
  • An interactive visualisation of the correspondence network of Jaap Bakema, based on his newsletter for the Post Box of the Development of the Habitat.
  • An exercise in remote fieldwork to connect the archival dossiers in the national collection of the 1953 Lijnbaan shopping centre designed by Van den Broek & Bakema, with the actual built space in Rotterdam. In addition, a comparison is made with a similar modernist shopping street in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The prototypes have been developed together with PhD researchers Paula Strunden, Claudia Mainardi and Jhono Bennett, who are all participants in the EU sponsored project TACK: Communities of Tacit Knowledge in Architecture. More information about this project, and the involvement of Het Nieuwe Instituut and its partners, can be found here.

Alison's Room: An Extended Reality Archive

Paula Strunden

The prototype installation Alison’s Room explores the possibilities of virtual and augmented reality technologies in relation to archival studies and design research. Paula Strunden has recreated the original workroom of British architect and author Alison Smithson to experiment with new narratives, offering a fresh combination of immersive experience and the communication of history-based design knowledge.

Remote Field Work: Between the Lijnbaan and Small Street

Jhono Bennett

The remote fieldwork exercise seeks to connect the architectural projects kept in the national collection of Het Nieuwe Instituut with a field survey of the actual built spaces. Behind this is the wish to reconnect the archive with the city, so to speak, connecting the spaces of ideas with those of lived reality. It then becomes possible to tell a story about the original design intentions, architectural design and its media, as well as the afterlives of the built projects.

Interactive Visualisation: The Correspondence Network of Jaap Bakema

Claudia Mainardi and Giacomo Nanni

The CIAM organisation of modern architects, like its successor Team 10, operated internationally and can be analysed in network terms. To visualise this network and explore its connections, an interactive visualisation prototype was developed on the basis of the correspondence of Jaap Bakema (1914-1981). It enables the visitor to navigate between people, places and archival documents.