A collection does not arise out of nowhere. The collection of the VAi goes back to the late 1980s, when the Province of Antwerp established the Architectural Archives of the Province of Antwerp (APA). Find out more about its origins and further development here.
Most of the collection of the Flanders Architecture Institute comes from the collection of the Architectural Archives of the Province of Antwerp (APA), which was created in 1988. The establishment of the APA stems from the increased awareness in Flanders in the 1980s that, without a policy, the fragile heritage of the private architectural archives was in danger of being lost. It was the Royal Commission for Monuments and Sites that mobilized the Flemish provincial authorities in 1987 for the preservation of these archives. In practice, however, only the Antwerp provincial authorities developed primary care.
From the start, the guiding criteria for the collection policy were a focus on the province of Antwerp, emphasis on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and attention for the practice of designing and building. The first archive, acquired in 1988, was the important archive of architect Léon Stynen. It was followed in the early years by archives such as those of Eduard Van Steenbergen, Jos Smolderen and Joseph-Louis Stynen.
Over the years, the collection has grown substantially. From 15 archives in 1995 it went up to 28 in 2000, 71 in 2005, 97 in 2010 and 135 in 2015. On the basis of the archives, a library was launched and a collection of product catalogues and models was set up. In 2000 the collection profile was thoroughly revised. Not only canonical architecture was discussed (the ‘big names’), but architectural practice and the built environment in all their diversity also had to be considered. Upon acquisition, APA looked beyond the classical historical canon and the description ‘architectural activity’ was given a broader interpretation. With acquisitions like that of the archive of architect Christian Kieckens, whose relevance exceeded that of the province of Antwerp, the scope of APA’s work increasingly shifted to the whole of Flanders.
The collection was initially housed in several rooms at the Provincial Institute for Hygiene. In 2009, after four removals, the collection finally ended up in the Archiefhuis in the Parochiaanstraat.
In 2003 the Flemish Community established the Centre for Flemish Architectural Archives (CVAa). This centre of expertise was housed at the Flanders Architecture Institute (VAi) and was intended to deepen and disseminate knowledge about architectural archives at the Flemish level and to stimulate their proper management and accessibility. The CVAa helped to gradually eliminate the ‘Flemish’ backlog in terms of architectural archive policy. It focused on the registration of the ‘cultural heritage of the design of the environment’ and better coordinated existing conservation institutions through concrete projects.
In the wake of the downsizing of the provinces, the VAi and APA merged on 1 January 2018. However, the intention to work more closely together dates back several years, due to the operation of the Centre for Flemish Architectural Archives within the VAi. The fusion of the two organizations offers opportunities to further develop the existing dynamics and to connect the present, past and future of spatial issues. The development of the collection of architectural archives is being continued, this time with the explicit objective of building up a reference collection for architecture in Flanders that can also compete with international collections.