Ar­chives of ar­chi­tec­ture-In­ter­view #4 : Deutsches Ar­chi­tek­tur­mu­seum, Frank­furt

English Interview

Containing more than 1600 models and 200,000 documents, the Deutsches Architekturmuseum (DAM) is the first national institution dedicated to the promotion of the culture of the built environment and in particular to a better understanding of German-speaking architectural production. Interview with its director Peter Cachola Schmal.

Date de publication
01-03-2021 What is the origin of the Deutsches Architekturmuseum archives?
The City of Frankfurt decided in 1979 to establish a new museum of architecture. The founding director was the art historian Heinrich Klotz from Marburg. It was decided to name the new museum “Deutsches Architekturmuseum” (German architecture museum), as this was the first purpose-built architecture museum not only in Germany, but worldwide. At the time the new director was given sufficient funds to start a collection. He travelled internationally and acquired the beginning of our collection, concentrating on the 1960s and 1970s plus purpose-designed pieces. The story of his acquisition was published in 2014, for the 30 years anniversary of the inauguration in June 1984. The museum was built by Oswald Mathias Ungers as a seminal work of his rationalistic / post-modern approach.

What are your criteria for acquiring new funds and how have they evolved over time?
We currently do not have any dedicated funds anymore to acquire new pieces for our collection, rather we ask the architects to donate them to us, to which most architects agree. Sometimes we do have to purchase a specific piece, and the “Gesellschaft der Freunde des DAM” (association of the friends of DAM) will then help. The City of Frankfurt is considering of allocating funds for acquiring pieces of art to the various communal museums, including the DAM, again in the future.

What is the role or influence of architectural archives in the contemporary architecture culture?
Architectural archives play an important role for research and the architectural discourse. They provide the basis of scientific work for students and professionals. In recent years the interest in estates of different architects has grown as more and more architects want to show the reference points of their work and see their predecessors as vital inspiration.

Among your archives, we found the “Modellsammlung” (collection of models) featuring works of Frei Otto, Rem Koolhaas, Oswald Mathias Ungers, Peter Zumthor or Aldo Rossi among others. What is the purpose of this collection and how do you expose/store this material?
Our collection of nowadays around 1,600 architectural models is only part of our collections, that comprise also around 200,000 plans and drawings, 35,000 photographs and around 60 estates in total. The architecture models have been put online as digital photographic files for research.

They are stored with the other archival material in our archives in Hedderichstrasse, a few hundred meters south of the museum. We have additional archive space a few kilometers outside the city center of Frankfurt. We use the archival material for our own exhibitions as well as loaning it to partner institutions.

There are many architecture archives all over the world like the CCA in Montreal, the Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam or the GTA Archives here in Switzerland. Do you have any relation with national or international architecture archives?
We are all part of ICAM (international confederation of architectural museums), and meet each other in our biannual conferences to exchange knowledge and information. There are also annual conferences only for the German-speaking archives from Germany, Switzerland and Austria, comprising almost 20 institutions. Thus we do know our colleagues personally. This is important as we all seem to have similar challenges, be they political (currently in Europe there is a tendency to merge institutions, often eliminating the pure architecture museum, such as is the case with the former NAi, now HNI, or the Norwegian National Museum etc.) or technological (no funds for the digitization of archives).

Deutsches Architekturmuseum is more than just an archive. What is/are the mission/s or vision/s of DAM today?
Quote from ICAM : " icam is dedicated to fostering links between all those interested in promoting the better understanding of architecture". 

Therefore, icam and its members aim to:

  • Preserve the architectural record (by our collections)
  • Raise the quality and protection of the built environment (through exhibitions and events)
  • Foster the study of architectural history in the interest of future practice (through exhibitions and our collections)
  • Stimulate the public appreciation of architecture (through exhibitions and events, publications)
  • Promote the exchange of information and professional expertise (through conferences and events, publications)

These are exactly our goals.

We see ourselves as a national museum of architecture dedicated to promoting a better understanding of architecture. We have generally between 80,000 and 110,000 visitors a year, organize around 15 to 20 temporary exhibitions and more than 100 architectural events, such as lectures or conferences. Plus, we organize additional 150 educational events aimed at school children and teachers. 



Peter Cachola Schmal


Born 1960 in Altötting/Germany, Mother from Phillippines / Father from Munich/Germany. Grown up in Multan/Pakistan, Mülheim/Germany, Jakarta/Indonesia, Holzminden and Baden-Baden/Germany. Dipl.Ing. Architekt and architectural publicist, living in Frankfurt. 1981-1989 study of architecture at TU Darmstadt. Professional experience at Behnisch & Partner, Stuttgart and ABE Architects, Zeppelinheim. 1992-1997 assistant professor, TU Darmstadt, building construction / Prof. Johann Eisele, 1997-2000 teaching design, University of Applied Sciences Frankfurt. Since 2000 Curator at Deutsches Architekturmuseum (DAM), since 2006 Director of DAM. General Commissary and with Anna Hesse Curator of German Contribution of VII. International Architecture Biennale Sao Paulo 2007. General Commissary and with Oliver Elser and Anna Scheuermann Curator of German Pavilion at the 15. International Architecture Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia 2016. Numerous books and contributions in architectural books and publications.

Dossier: «Archives of architecture»

On the role of archives and their absence - Editorial by Yony Santos & Cedric van der Poel, November 2020

English / French

Sur ce sujet