Summer Dreams at Het Nieuwe Instituut

Archivist Alfred Marks curates the Rotterdam institute's architectural materials to tell the story of how the Dutch spend their leisure time


Having served as an archivist at Rotterdam’s Het Nieuwe Instituut, for the past two decades, Alfred Marks is making a curatorial debut with “Summer Dreams,” an exhibition inspired by the way the Dutch spent their leisure time in the last century. Through his impressive experience with the institute’s 550+ archives—which cover the work of countless Dutch architects and designers from the period 1850-2000—Marks noticed a tendency to depict bright, sunny and even tropical environments, even though such days can be rare in Holland. As Marks puts it, “In architecture, the sun is always shining.” This optimism is documented and now on show, in materials ranging from renderings and drawings to photographs and scale models.


“For me, as an archivist, it was important to show the full potential of the collection,” explains Marks, regarding the decision to include both celebrated and lesser-known designers. For example, work from renowned architectural office Van den Broek and Bakema can be found alongside with that of D. van Woerkom—an architect active in the ’50s and ’60s who did great work, yet never received considerable stature. (Marks hopes further research on such unknown architects may occur as a side effect.) When compiling the collection, Marks found that at times materials from more famous firms were too rigid or specific for this brief, whereas the archives of less-celebrated designers contained more drawings and artist impressions that fit the bill better. In this way, Marks was able to strike a mood through carefully selected materials.


By allowing an archivist to act as curator, the audience gains unique insight into the mind of one of the institute’s most broadly educated employees as well as the extensive reach of the institute’s holdings. “I think that for our public it can come as a surprise that an architect archive can be more than only a collection of project files but also contains all this private and non-project related material,” says Marks. Because of this, “it was also important not only to show project-related material (design drawings) but also more private material [such as] travel sketches, free art work and posters, because this is quite often very nice material.”

“Summer Dreams”—running through 21 September 2014—is the first of a series of changing exhibitions to be curated by Alfred Marks and include objects and documents from the archive and library, which they’ve been collecting for nearly 100 years. Keep an eye on Het Nieuwe Instituut for information on the current program and those to come.

Images courtesy of Het Nieuwe Instituut