Unlike most archives held by Het Nieuwe Instituut, that of MVRDV documents the architecture of one of the most prolific studios active today. From the Expo 2000 pavilion in Hannover to Rotterdam's Markthal, MVRDV's vast body of work continues to grow. Drawn from this 'living archive', this exhibition is not a retrospective about MVRDV, but rather a conversation with the firm's members.
Evoking an architecture office where work is always in progress, the exhibition begins by introducing MVRDV through the lens of selected objects and a multiplicity of voices, from clients to the studio’s founders and former interns. In the following space, MVRDV narrates its own history, expanding on the core themes of green, human, and dream. Het Nieuwe Instituut then responds with five cross-sections that reveal additional stories and insights about the firm's past and present.
Overlooking the studio's most recent work – Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen – the exhibition's final section presents six digital tools, newly commissioned from as many designers, for navigating the archive's mostly digital contents. Together, these tools give us a first glimpse into how archives can be activated so that we might imagine new scenarios for the future.
Comprising their first 400 projects, the MVRDV archive was acquired in 2015 by the National Collection for Dutch Architecture and Urban Planning at Het Nieuwe Instituut. It stretches across 76 metres of shelves and includes drawings, sketches, models, correspondence, photographs, and magazines – but also 3.62 TB of digital data. All have stories to tell. For this exhibition, Het Nieuwe Instituut invited some of MVRDV's less visible collaborators to share their recollections. From clients and engineers to former employees and interns, these recorded oral histories will contribute to the archive and so to the writing of the firm's history.
Blue Foam Models
The archive includes hundreds of models in blue foam, a material commonly used by architects to cut, stack and arrange simple shapes into complex volumes. For WoZoCos, MVRDV's first housing commission, the architects arrived at the client's office in 1994 with a shoebox filled with possible configurations for the project's 100 residential care units in Amsterdam. Among them was a grid of little towers that the client mistakenly placed horizontally on the table, becoming the origin of the cantilevered apartments that were built instead.
Data & Diagrams
MVRDV's buildings can often be read as data and diagrams turned into architectural gestures. Under a wave of deregulation and privatisation in the 1990s, architects increasingly addressed complex social, economic and political conditions that were previously government remits. In response, MVRDV introduced simple diagrams and extensive 'datascapes' that used data, whether drawn from programmatic requirements and building codes or local demographics, generating a multiplicity of designs. For the Silodam housing project in Amsterdam, for example, a software script produced 157 unique apartments stacked into a 10-story multicoloured block.
Lush green trees, a bright blue sky, and fashionable people: for MVRDV, commissions are won with a so-called 'happiness filter' on photorealistic renderings. This selection highlights the human figures, objects and activities that the studio uses in its visualisations to entice clients, media and the public. Early on, these images were literally cut from lifestyle magazines and, now copied and digitised, they have continued to reappear in MVRDV's latest projects.