The first attemts to archive architectural documents (drawings, models, sketches, et cetera) were already made in the 19th century by private collectors. The archived materials primarily concerned information about monumental and representative buildings, like palaces of the aristocracy, properties of the bourgeois elites as well as important religious and public buildings. Apart from a few exceptions, the documents were not accessible to the public.
Architecture museums as we know them today, publicly accessible institutions dedicated to educating visitors about various topics of architecture and urbanism, came into existence in the 20th century. At the time subjects as the design of buildings and cities, hygiene conditions of living environments, the segregation of functions and public housing became highly relevant. Consequently, the debate about the qualities of the modern society contained – besides space related – also societal subjects like social rights, economic emancipation, individual freedom and equality for all. As a result of this shift, the planning of proper living conditions for ‘ordinary people’ and their ‘everyday’ physical habitat became important subjects of discussion within the fields of architecture and urban design.
Some well-known architecture museums are the German Architecture Museum / DAM, founded in 1984 and The Netherlands Architecture Institute / NAI, founded in 1998. The Museums reflect especially on complex themes of contemporary architecture and urbanism like the emancipatory meaning of modern architecture and the role of history in the process of modernization. More recently, they address also societal subjects like the significance of non-spectacular everyday architecture and relations between spatial regulations, political power and real estate production.
However, the architectural design of these institutions are far from neutral, but represent a very specific spatial and cultural perspective on architecture and urbanism. In case of the German Architecture Museum – designed by Oswald Mathias Ungers – the composition of the building reflects an important paradigm change in the fields of culture, literature and humanities, which is also known as the rise of postmodern thinking. The architecture of the ‘Dutch Architecture Institute’ represents some key aspects of contemporary Dutch design like spatial innovation, transparency and the subtle integration between building and city landscape. Furthermore, the founding of the DAM and the NAI are not only visualizing particular debates about architectural styles or cultural and societal transitions. They also form important keystones in the ongoing processes of city renewal and city branding concerning the spatial and social upgrading (gentrification) of urban environments.