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Museums Keep Architecture In Hand
New acquisitions are potent reminders of the power of drawings
Rasch Brothers' Suspended Freight Station Housing, 1927.
Courtesy MoMA

There are probably less than a handful of museums worldwide that actively collect architectural drawings, models, and theoretical projects. There are libraries and archives that take entire collections of a single architect or practice; for example, the Getty holds the complete work of photographer Julius Shulman and the letters of Reyner Banham. But of the museums that strategically collect architectural work to display as a part of a public collection, perhaps, the best known are the Centre Pompidou and the FRAC Centre, both in France; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) in Montreal; and, of course, the Museum of Modern Art, which started the first architecture collection under Philip Johnson’s patronage.

The CCA, which began as a collection of historical architecture photographs when it was once housed in the Seagram Building in New York, has evolved to become a broad collection of architectural drawings and models. The Centre has just announced its acquisition of the papers of Swiss-born architect Pierre Jeanneret—cousin of Le Corbusier—including eight linear meters of documents, drawings, and other ephemera concerned with the design and construction of Chandigarh, India. This archive, as both Chief Curator Mirko Zardini and CCA founder Phyllis Lambert point out, add immensely to the important contribution that the design and construction of the Punjab capital has made to modern architecture, and urban and landscape design.

Administration Building in Chandigarh
Administration building, Punjab University, Chandigarh, 1958-60.
Pierre Jeanneret/Courtesy CCA

The MoMA architecture and design collection is arguably the greatest one in the world, and it has deepened and widened since Barry Bergdoll became its chief curator. Bergdoll is a scholar with an appreciation for the diverse worlds of professional and theoretical practice, and has mounted an exhibition, Building Collections: Recent Acquisitions of Architecture, that highlights the museum’s additions since 2005. The show sometimes juxtaposes newly acquired material with works long held in the collection in order “to underscore the rationale and motives behind collecting architecture at MoMA.” It features work from Louis Sullivan, Ant Farm, and UN Studio, as well as a brilliant poster for a 1923 Vienna Trade Fair. There is much to admire and study in this exhibition—most on view for the first time—but of special interest are the 1932 Jean Tschumi drawings for his Stockholm masterplan and the spectacular Suspension Houses Project (1927–1928) by Heinz and Bodo Rasch. The exhibition not only highlights MoMA’s deep collection, but reminds us that bricks and mortar displays still offer the best way to study where architecture comes from.

William Menking