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Architecture of Archivorum: creating space for knowledge and arts.

Archivorum, to open in 2022, adds an important dimension to the discourse of public knowledge and art. As its name suggests, Archivorum’s main aim is to preserve and promote the role of artists’ archives in the cultural and artistic landscape: the foundation is committed to spreading archives as social resources of civil progress, as well as cultural growth.

Yet, Archivorum will also support the artists through the creation and management of their physical and digital archives. With its mission to support research, the Archivorum library will house the publications of more than 100 independent publishers, all specializing in contemporary art and areas relating to the various activities and branches of the foundation’s interest: from the archives themselves, to the history of exhibitions, and even to the very protagonists of art history and criticism.

However, the work on the archives is not the organization’s only focus: it will, as already stated, provide a space for research; there will also be numerous exhibitions, and other events. Archivorum aims to connect the general public to publishers, providing interesting insights into the secrets of creating a book.

In recent years, archives and spaces for knowledge, such as Archivorum, became one of the dominant topics in architecture. In 2019, the Louvre opened its grand centre for conservation, named “the fortress of art”, made by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners. A year earlier, Staab Architected was announced as the builders of an archive for Bauhaus Museum.

Archivorum, opening in 2022, adds an important dimension to the discourse of public knowledge and art. We met with the leading architects of the Archivorum building, Johanna Meyer-Grohbrügge, founder of the MEYER-GROHBRUEGGE architectural office, and her colleague Philipp Burst, who is involved in the project as the on-site architect. With this interview, we are opening a series of materials touching upon different aspects of Archivorum’s mission, expanding each topic just as Archivorum itself expands the idea of an archive.

When asked about the recent visibility of archives, Johanna discovers the roots of the phenomenon in the past.

‘Everyone is very insecure about the future. We used to believe that history is developing in a linear way but now we feel like it`s not true. That`s why people look towards the past and conserving the present, which Archivorum is here for, to rather look deep than forward.’

Dozens of cubic meters of sand were digged out by hand to unravel once buried basement

Looking at the rapid development of technologies and the spread of digitalization, one might wonder if we even need an architecture for archives in the days of the internet, where servers can keep more data than any building can, allowing access for millions of people worldwide. But Johanna disagrees.

‘It’s true that many uses of the architecture can disappear because many things we can just do online. A good example is courthouses which can be now easily replaced with an online environment. But it is even more important to make use of architecture for such buildings as archives. First of all, architecture helps to make them visible. The amount of data we are producing is unimaginable but most are invisible. That’s why it is still worth it to designate time and money; to raise awareness about the existing knowledge in people. And even more important now in the post-covid era, the architecture of the places like Archivorum is about more than just storage. It creates a space for people to meet, to exchange ideas.’

Philipp Burst sees architecture competing with the internet in providing a unique way for people to interact with knowledge and art.

‘One could easily buy cheap storage for the data somewhere in Berlin. But ideas like Archivorum, with the means of the architecture, create an interface between the knowledge and the people. It’s a space where people would gather, touch data, books, or even art pieces.’

Archivorum is an archive and art space more than just by the nature of its function. It is conserving both the past and the future in a sustainable way even during its construction process. Archivorum is being built with the rich history of the building in mind. From the past century, it has hosted stables, an electrician’s office, and has also been an artist’s studio. With Archivorum, the building becomes an archive of itself, as Johanna phrases:

Connection between the old and new walls exposes a long history of Archivorum building.

‘We don’t want to disregard the history of the building but, on the opposite, make it readable. There are layers of time, and we’re just adding another. In the perspective of the whole life of the building, we are adding a little part. As it often happened during restorations in the past, people tried to cover the previous things up. So we tried to rather make all of this visible, and in a way, purify the building.’

In the recount of Philipp Burst, working on the project is similar to working in an archive too: ‘Through the whole building process, we realized how the building was made. There were some insights, the walls that we didn’t expect. The process itself was similar to discovering an archive, and the construction site sometimes seemed more like an archeological site. There were some findings that we didn’t expect, like 300 kg stone around which the walls were bent.’

Once the construction process is finished, the visitors will be able to see how new architecture comes in touch with an old one, embraces it, and recycles old walls.

However, just as Archivorum itself, its building is not solely focused on the past. An important part of the building is a façade that the MEYER-GROHBRUEGGE office developed along with the Amsterdam-based artist Babs Haenen. Johanna recalls the creative process:

‘She is a ceramic artist, and I am honestly a big fan of this material, we even worked with Babs in the same workshop on china which was a funny coincidence. Very soon we understood that we didn’t want a classical composition of a building and an art piece somewhere separate, we wanted to join the building and art in some way, to give art a prominent place. At the same time, we didn’t want to just put tiles on the façade. The idea is to implement into a façade an archive of Babs’, little pieces of her works for the last forty years. In a way, the façade will be in itself the archive of the artist, thus following the theme of Archivorum’.

As Philipp Burst notes, the process is rather unique since the façade will be covered with the material as a whole, not by individual tiles, thus creating an aphoristic canvas. Johanna compares this canvas with the works of Henri Rousseau, finding the similarity in the color palette with the jungles depicted by the French artist.

By the end of the year, the façade will be complete. Yet, the building’s construction is still continuing, and insights into the nature of Archivorum as space, institution, and the interface between art, past, and present, continue to multiply. With this new series of articles, we will continue the exploration of the space and discourses around it, archiving the process for the readers.

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