Part of the archive of architecture office MVRDV in HNI

Exploring the archive of architecture office MVRDV

International architectural firm MVRDV, based in Rotterdam, has really put its mark on the city. They are responsible for iconic buildings and designs such as the Markthal, Harbour Experience Centre, The Modernist, and Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen.

In 2015, Het Nieuwe Instituut, the national heritage institution for architecture, design and digital culture, began acquiring the MVRDV archive. Now HNI will present MVRDVHNI: The Living Archive of a Studio. This exhibition displays the archive as a living entity in office spaces, rather than in museum galleries. It gives a glimpse behind the scenes of both MVRDV and HNI. Displaying a wealth of material and information from analogue and digital archives.

Visitors get an insight into the design processes leading up to the realisation of buildings such as Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen and the Markthal in Rotterdam. Material from the MVRDV archives ranges from early sketches and models to correspondence with engineers and contractors. In parallel, Het Nieuwe Instituut illustrates how it manages the MVRDV archive, from metres of shelves containing models, drawings and documents, to the digital infrastructure required to unlock a digital archive. MVRDVHNI invites you to explore the archive and engage with the materials.

Based on three recurring themes – green, human, and dream – the exhibition highlights more than 400 projects from MVRDV’s archive. In addition, HNI offers a glimpse of the renowned firm’s working methods with drawings, sketches, models and other archive materials. The exhibition, on HNI’s sixth floor, overlooks one of the MVRDV’s much-discussed recent designs – the new Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen.

One of the most innovative architecture studios today

Aric Chen, HNI General and Artistic Director says, ‘This exhibition sheds light on the dynamic workings of one of the most innovative architecture studios today, and how a dialogue between the firm, its archive, researchers, and others can further enrich our understanding of the possibilities of architectural practice.’

The exhibition gives a glimpse behind the scenes of both MVRDV and HNI, displaying a wealth of material and information from analogue and digital archives. Visitors get an insight into the design processes leading up to the realisation of buildings such as Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen and the Markthal in Rotterdam. Material from the MVRDV archives ranges from early sketches and models to correspondence with engineers and contractors. In parallel, Het Nieuwe Instituut illustrates how it manages the MVRDV archive, from metres of shelves containing models, drawings and documents, to the digital infrastructure required to unlock a digital archive.

A 2004 visualisation of the Markthal. Image: © MVRDV.
A 2004 visualisation of the Markthal. Image: © MVRDV.

‘This exhibition shows how our first 400 projects influenced later work,’ says MVRDV partner Jan Knikker. ‘We think it’s important that our archive is accessible to everyone. Sharing knowledge makes our profession richer, which is why the HNI curators regularly worked in our offices during the preparations. I also think that this exhibition provides depth to people who visit Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen that we designed. It’s not a coincidence that the exhibition opens on the same day.’

The MVRDV archive is the first extensive collection largely consisting of digital files in the national collection at HNI. The exhibition explores the opportunities and possibilities this offers for the management, accessibility, and use of the archive.

In addition to the exhibition. Het Nieuwe Instituut has invited six designers to develop tools to search, visualise, and utilise the digital archive through specific criteria. It could take months to search through all the documents for a specific item in the physical archive. But this can be done in just a few seconds in the digital archive. A special video game was designed for the exhibition, allowing players to interactively explore the digital archive.

The tools have been developed by Alice Bucknell, MVRDV NEXT, Namelok, Giacomo Nanni & Francesca Morini, Carl Rethmann, Johannes Schwartz, and Eline Wieland / WielandStudio.

Coverphoto: Petra van der Ree

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