The National Archives at The Hague is a collection of 125 kilometres of documents, 300,000 maps and drawings and 15 million photographs. After being completely remodeled, the new visitors’ centre was opened in 2013 with a new exhibition – The Memory Palace. The idea was to present the archives in a new and innovative way.

Eleven long and short stories take the visitor on a journey through more than a thousand years of Netherlands history from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century. Whilst you learn about each of these stories, you not only see unique records, but eleven people, from a landscape architect to a singer-songwriter, present a modern-day interpretation of the stories. These interpretations range from a modern song based on an old sea-shanty (which illustrates the story of the Dutch East India Company) to a graphic novel which tells the story of Peking’s Legation Quarter at the outbreak of WWI. An interactive quiz is also provided on a tablet for students.

The exhibition is aimed at a broad audience – some 30-50,000 visitors come to the archives each year – including both primary and secondary schools. The objective of the project is to present the wealthy and diversity of the collection in a playful and surprising manner. The entire set has been designed from archive boxes. This hints at the collection and the stories hidden within and is also a pun on ‘reconstructing’ history with the help of building blocks such as archival documents.

Eleven artists, game developers and producers from other creative sectors were asked to give their take on the stories brought to the surface from the depths of the archive collection. This has revived the archives in a completely new way. Whilst the artists’ interpretations are on show in the exhibition they can also be seen as standalone productions; some have been performed in theatres or at festivals, others can be viewed online after your visit.

Every room is a unique experience and a unique interpretation of the material, but it is all tied into the history and the utility of the Archive itself. The cardboard design solution is not just sustainable, it looks remarkable too. The cardboard carries one of the central tropes of the exhibition: a memory palace created of stacked archival boxes. By stacking hundreds of boxes in an oblique bond, patterns are created that catch the coloured light in continuously changing waves. The graphic material is all printed on layered honeycomb panels. The effect is controlled and subdued, in spite of the enormous amount of information and a variety of lighting effects. It’s all tied together by that one core element: the archival box.

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