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Virtual CIAM Museum


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.

Alison's Room. An Extended Reality Archive. XR-Installation by Paula Strunden. Photo Johannes Schwartz.

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.

Screenshot the virtual exhibition Habitat.

Exercises with digital media

Earlier exercises with digital media included the Post Box for the Open Society: a web platform to connect contemporary ideas and practices with those of architect Jaap Bakema, who aimed to help build an open, egalitarian society during the aftermath of the Second World War and the advent of the modern welfare state. The Post Box was created on the occasion of the Dutch exhibition at the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2014.

A second exercise was triggered by the Covid pandemic. The research exhibition Habitat: Expanding Architecture was photographed with 3D technology to enable virtual tours. The new technology also allowed for the insertion of films, digitised paper archives, and curated meta-information connecting web dossiers with each other. The exhibition highlighted the 10th CIAM conference in Dubrovnik in 1956, dedicated to the topic of Habitat, which represents a first moment of ecological awareness in architecture and urban planning.

Het Nieuwe Instituut has been experimenting with digital research and presentations ever since its foundation in 2013. Richard Vijgen researched the possible role of AI in opening up digital heritage collections. Artist Rafaël Rozendaal and data designer Jan Willem Tulp share their visions and experiences regarding the digital archive. Jan Willem Tulp also created a visualisation of the metadata of the National Collection.