7 Best Architectural Museums

It’s no easy feat creating a museum about architecture. After all, how can you possibly fit a discipline that brokers in buildings into one single building? It turns out there are quite a few ways, actually, each seemingly more inventive than the next. Whether devoted to the often unseen and hugely underappreciated art of model-building or serving as a nexus for conversations about architecture and the world, these institutions are each essential in pushing the discipline forward while taking care to preserve its rich past. Here are six of our favorites.

Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal

Founded in 1979 by architect-philanthropist Phyllis Lambert (best known for bringing Mies van der Rohe on to design her family’s Seagram building in New York), the Canadian Centre for Architecture bills itself as a nontraditional museum that encourages the public to think about the intersection of architecture and society. The 164,000-square-foot building was designed by architect Peter Rose and features several exhibition halls, a conservation studio, and a sculpture garden.

National Building Museum, Washington, D.C.

Founded in 1985 and housed in D.C.’s late-19th-century Pension Building, the National Building Museum has a mission to enhance public understanding of the built environment, from early designs to physical construction. Recently, the museum has gained national attention through its diverse programming, including The Beach, in which design firm Snarkitecture transformed the institution’s Great Hall into a larger-than-life ball pit.

Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine, Paris

Situated on the Place du Trocadéro in Paris’s 16th arrondissement, the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine opened in 2007 as an homage to its home country’s rich architectural past. Containing a sizable architectural library in addition to its exhibition spaces, the museum’s most frequented attraction, however, is its Musée des Monuments Français, a plaster-cast collection of Gothic and Medieval architectural elements.

The Skyscraper Museum, New York City

A little-known gem located in Manhattan’s Battery Park City, the Skyscraper Museum was founded in 1996 by Columbia University professor and architectural historian Carol Wills to celebrate the history and personalities behind the towers that define New York’s skyline. Following 9/11, the museum was forced out of its original home for three years, reopening in 2004 in a newly designed building by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s Roger Duffy.

Richard Meier’s Architectural Model Museum, Jersey City, New Jersey

Opening to much fanfare in the spring of 2014, Richard Meier’s model museum is an appointment-only institution tucked away on the campus of Mana Contemporary in Jersey City. Housed in a 15,000-square-foot warehouse, the collection is composed of over 400 intricately crafted models, 200 drawings, and 50 sculptures, all relics of the architect’s 50-plus years (and counting) in practice.

The Maxxi National Musem in Italy

Rome’s Maxxi National Museum is dedicated to modern art and architecture. First announced in 2000, the project took over 10 years to complete, but it was worth the wait; in 2010 the Maxxi won the Stirling Prize for architecture awarded by the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Museum aan de Stroom in Belgium

Known as the MAS, Antwerp’s largest museum offers views of the city and more than 500,000 pieces of art that trace stories about the city, the Scheldt River, and the port.

The building’s design reflects Antwerp’s important relationship with water, using multiple levels of ripping glass. The building is also a huge, contemporary storehouse inspired by the 19th-century depots that were typical of the neighborhood.

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