The Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam is the upshot of 150 years of efforts aimed at establishing a museum of architecture. The breakthrough that occurred in the mid-1980s, when the government also started to back this initiative, can be attributed to increased recognition of the cultural significance of architecture and urban planning. However, the question of where this museum of architecture was to be located had been the subject of much debate.
The NAI is the result of a merger of three relatively small cultural organizations in Amsterdam: the Netherlands Architecture Documentation Centre (NDB), Stichting Wonen foundation and the Architecture Museum Foundation (SAM). A private organization, SAM was established in 1955 as a follow-up on previous initiatives to set up a museum of architecture, dating back to the mid-1800s. The Foundation comprised representatives of the Netherlands Architects Association (BNA) and the Architectura et Amicitia society.
It was the SAM's task to collect archives in order to set up a collection for the future museum. However, the museum itself never got off the ground. When the government showed interest in these archives, it established the NDB in 1970, as a branch of the Netherlands Department for Conservation. The NDB was entrusted with the management of the archives that had been collected by the SAM since 1955 and the archives stored at the Rijksmuseum. The SAM also continued to collect archives, because, as a private foundation, it could tap into different financial sources and because not all architects wanted to leave their archive to the State.
In collaboration with the SAM, the NDB started to organize exhibitions in the NDB's building on Droogbak in Amsterdam. This was the former national administration building, which was no longer suitable for exhibits due to its small rooms. Stichting Wonen did more or less the same on Leidsestraat, aided by government grants. Initially set up as a consumer organization for information on sustainable living, the foundation later mainly represented pressure groups in urban renewal districts. It was from that angle that the history of architecture and urban planning was studied. Stichting Wonen gradually started using the NDB collections more frequently. As of 1982, the three organizations looked for possible ways to join forces.
> Exhibition of the works of Sybold van Ravesteyn in the Droogbak, 1977. Photograph: NAI Collection, NDBK Archives.
> Room and facilities in the Droogbak were insufficient for the storage of archives. Photograph: NAI Collection, NDBK Archives.
Elco Brinkman, the then minister of Welfare, Health and Culture (WVC), investigated how the State could contribute to the establishment of a museum of architecture in which these three organizations could merge. In 1984, a five-party consultative structure was set up, comprising representatives from the building ministry, the cultural ministry and the three intended merger partners.
Consultation resulted in a policy document on the design of the NAI organization. It was to be a private institute receiving structural grants from the State. The initiators preferred their home-base, Amsterdam, as the location for the new institute and the municipal council had already allocated the Beurs van Berlage. Architects' firm Benthem/Crouwel conducted a purpose study for the building.
The Municipality of Rotterdam had previously offered the former library on Botersloot - a 1923 building by architect D.B. Logeman - as a possible accommodation for the museum. The fact that the national government disfavored Rotterdam in the distribution of culture grants was a key reason for the municipal council to argue in favor of establishing the museum in Rotterdam. Until then, Rotterdam did not have any national cultural organizations and it was doing its utmost to create a lively cultural climate. It commissioned Rem Koolhaas to design the refurbishment and extension of the old library building to win over the initiators. Brinkman was receptive to the argument for cultural dispersion and thought it unfair that all government funds went to Amsterdam, leaving the rest of the country's cultural landscape barren. At the end of 1984 he decided to have the institute established in Rotterdam.
> Model of the refurbishment of the former library on Botersloot in Rotterdam, by Rem Koolhaas, 1984. NAI Collection, OMAR Archives.
> Outline design for the museum of architecture in the former library on Botersloot in Rotterdam, by Rem Koolhaas, 1984. NAI Collection, OMAR Archives.
A storm of protests arose against this decision, both in architectural circles and among the three merger partners. Stichting Wonen and SAM dug in their heels and refused to participate in any further merger negotiations. They feared that the rather somber building on Botersloot would attract few visitors compared to the Beurs van Berlage. Moreover, they did not want political intervention in their own backyard, as this did not augur well for the independence of the future institute. There was little the NDB as an official organization could do, but it did support the protests.
> The many declarations of sympathy included one by Berlage's grandchildren, who pleaded in favor of housing the institute in the Beurs in Amsterdam. NAI Collection, NDBK Archives.
> Guests in the auditorium during the NAI's official opening on 29 October 1993. Front row: architect Jo Coenen, NAI director Adri Duivesteijn, mayor Bram Peper and Queen Beatrix. Photograph: Jannes Linders.
But the minister could not be swayed. SAM eventually agreed to Rotterdam, believing as it did that establishment of the NAI was more important than its eventual location. For Stichting Wonen, both the building on Botersloot and Rotterdam were an insurmountable barrier. They did not agree until the minister promised a new building, to be financed by the state. A suitable location was found in Museumpark, an area that was to become Rotterdam's cultural heart.
June 2010 | After the June 9 elections, the Netherlands will have a new
parliament. A new cabinet will be formed, the colour and composition of
which cannot be underestimated in relation to the way urban planning
and architecture will be employed for our country’s design. The NAI collection not only shows how
individual architects have made our country what it is, but it also
reveals the mark that politics has made.
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The Minister of Education, Culture and Science, Mr Ronald Plasterk, presented the State Prize for an inspiring principal in the NAI to the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision in Hilversum.
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Sorting halls are part of the distribution network that the Dutch Mail Services, PTT, established close to a number of principal railway stations in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Together, these distribution centers form the 'Star Network', a network for distributing post by rail. However, the busy railways soon led the Dutch Mail Service to switch to road distribution, and these distribution junctions subsequently became obsolete after fourteen or fifteen years. As a parallel to 'Conversation Pits and Cul-de-Sacs, The Critical 1970s' exhibition, the NAI presents the results of the study into the value of these gigantic sorting halls located throughout the country.
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The New Institute in Rotterdam hosted the annual L'Enfant Lecture. The lecture was organised by the American Planning Association (APA) and was part of a professional study tour in the Netherlands to explore how protection methods can be used and applied to coastal regions throughout the United States. The lecture "Planning Adaption for Climate Change" was presented by Renée Jones-Bos.
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July 2008 | Selection is the key word when it comes to compiling a
balanced architecture collection, a collection that documents and
represents the history of Dutch architecture and urban development as
accurately as possible. How that selection is made is open to
discussion and largely depends on the NAI’s capacity and changing
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