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Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAI)

The Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAI) is a cultural institute for architecture and urban development, comprising a museum, an archive plus library, and a platform for lectures and debates.

The NAI was established in 1988 and has been based in Rotterdam since 1993.


Rotterdam - gebouw Nederlands Architectuurinstituut - Netherlands Architecture InstituteThe NAI is a private organisation with a government brief, which is to manage the collection of archives that document the history of Dutch architecture. Moreover, as a sector institute for architecture it is also tasked with supporting the professional field. The building also houses a bookshop and a cafe.

The idea of establishing a national architecture museum came about in 1912 when the Amsterdam architects’ association Architectura et Amicitia was obliged to rent an extra room in Hotel Parkzicht in Amsterdam to store its archive of drawings and models. Architect J.H.W. Leliman was a key advocate of an architecture museum. A committee comprising J. Ingenohl, J.H. de Groot and W.A.E. van der Pluym as members was set up to look into the possibilities of such a museum. In 1915, A et A members suggested storing the collection at the Rijksacademie in Amsterdam, and housing it in an independent museum at a later date. These ideas did not come to fruition, however.

In the 1980s, three cultural institutes collaborated to form the NAI. These were the Netherlands Architecture Documentation Centre (NDB), the Architecture Museum Foundation (SAM) and Stichting Wonen foundation. Following this, a controversy ensued between Amsterdam and Rotterdam as to where an architecture museum/institute would have to be based. Minister Brinkman opted for Rotterdam. Previous plans to set up the NAI in the vacant library at Botersloot were abandoned. The NAI found temporary accommodation in a building at Westersingel before the construction of a new building started.

The building
In 1988, a competition was held among six architects to find an architect for a new building. These were: Jo Coenen, Rem Koolhaas, Benthem Crouwel Architects, Wim Quist, Luigi Snozzi and Ralph Erskine. Koolhaas’s design was the favourite among the specialist press and was also favoured by Riek Bakker, the director of Rotterdam’s Department of Urban Development. However, the NAI awarded Jo Coenen the commission, the decisive factors being the blending of the design into the surroundings and the references to the history of architecture.

After an intensive period of renovation, the NAI opened its doors on 1 July 2011. The most salient part of the renovation was moving the entrance to the pond level. The restaurant was extended. An exhibition room and additional space for educational activities were also added. At the site of the original entrance is now the DoeDek, a hands-on area where visitors can experiment with Lego, large blocks and cut-outs. As the original building’s architect, Jo Coenen was also responsible for its renovation.

Sonneveld House Museum is a house built in the Nieuwe Bouwen styleSonneveld House Museum
Sonneveld House Museum is a house built in the Nieuwe Bouwen style, the Dutch branch of the International School of Modernism. It was furnished with furniture and materials made by W.H. Gispen, B. van der Leck and others. The house was designed in 1933 by architects’ firm Brinkman and Van der Vlugt for the Sonneveld family. Albertus Sonneveld was one of the directors of the Van Nelle factory.

The Rotterdam Stichting Bevordering van Volkskracht (a foundation for the enhancement of popular health, welfare and culture in the city) bought the museum house in 1977. A form of collaboration has existed between Volkskracht and the NAI since February 1999. The house was restored and opened to the public in 2001. The restoration work was done by architects’ firm Molenaar & Van Winden, with the NAI taking on the refurnishing work.

The collection
Private individuals started collecting architectural archives as early as the end of the nineteenth century. One of these was the Architecture Museum Foundation (SAM). In the 1970s, the government became interested in these archives, setting up the Netherlands Architecture Documentation Centre (NDB) as part of the Rijksdienst voor de Monumentenzorg, the Netherlands Department for Conservation. When the archives were transferred to the NDB, they officially became state property. The NAI’s archive collection is still a national collection.

The libraries of the Academie van Bouwkunst Amsterdam (Amsterdam Academy of Architecture), the Bond van Nederlandse Architecten BNA (the Royal Institute of Dutch Architects) and Stichting Wonen, a consumer organisation for information on sustainable living, were added to the NDB’s collection. The collection now houses some 18 kilometres of archive material. It also contains over 500 archives and collections of Dutch architects, organisations and educational institutes in the field of architecture and urban development, and comprises drawings, sketches, models, documentation, correspondence and photos. The internationally focused library contains about 60,000 volumes.

The NAI houses the Stichting BONAS foundation, (Stichting Bibliografieën en Oeuvrelijsten Nederlandse Architecten en Stedebouwkundigen, which translates as Bibliographies and Lists of Works of Dutch Architects and Urban Designers). Working on the basis of archive and literature study, this organisation reconstructs the work of Dutch designers from 1790 to the present and publishes it in book form.

Officiële website NAi