A large part of the archive of interior architect Cora Nicolaï-Chaillet has recently been digitised as part of the Disclosing Architecture programme. Almost seven metres of archival materials have been translated into 9490 digital files. The digitisation of this archive, one of the few archives in the National Collection created by a woman, fits with our ambition to reveal non-dominant perspectives in architectural practice, thereby linking the collection to socially relevant themes such as gender issues and women in design.
Coralie (Cora) Nicolaï-Chaillet (1919-1975) was an interior designer and teacher. She left behind a multifaceted archive that attests to her great commitment to architecture, social housing, and informing the public about home furnishings. The materials include design drawings, texts of lectures and presentations, haikus, travelogues and illustrated children’s books. The digitisation of the photographic materials in the archive is still in progress.
The Good Living Foundation
From 1952, Stichting Goed Wonen (the Good Living Foundation) played an important role in Nicolaï-Chaillet’s professional life. The foundation, established in 1946, aimed to improve people’s quality of life by liberating the Netherlands from stuffy interiors and heavy furniture by providing information about the “right” home furnishings and the ideal living environment. It considered “taste” to be a matter of education. The foundation’s advice was in line with the minimalist and utilitarian aesthetics of Functionalist architecture: rattan instead of oak, and white walls instead of floral wallpaper. Nicolaï-Chaillet’s archive contains course materials, lectures and slide presentations that she gave for Goed Wonen, as well as texts and articles that she wrote for the foundation’s magazine. She also designed model homes that were intended to set a good example.
Women’s Advisory Committees
In addition to her work for Goed Wonen, Cora Nicolaï-Chaillet had her own office and provided consultation to individuals and companies. Between 1950 and 1975 she also taught at a number of educational institutions in the field of interior decoration and design, including the Architecture Academies in Amsterdam and Groningen. She also had contact with various municipal Women’s Advisory Committees (VACs). The VACs were established to incorporate women’s wishes into housing design.
The practical and efficient furnishing of homes was also central to her own design practice. Nicolaï-Chaillet always started from the needs and habits of the residents, whose daily schedules, hobbies and leisure activities played an important role in the function that a space was given. Her advice was: first write down what you do in the home and when, and only then make plans for the interior.
Stichting Goed Wonen was a platform that enabled women designers to develop their network and practice interior design and architecture on a more equal footing with their male colleagues. Women as designers and clients gradually gained more influence after the foundation of Goed Wonen and during the post-war mass production of housing, ultimately contributing to the women’s liberation movements of the 1970s. This development led to a strengthened resolve among feminists to claim a more prominent place in architecture and (interior) design.
Although Cora Nicolaï-Chaillet did not always take an explicit stance on the position of women, she made statements that relate to the emerging second wave of feminism. For example, she wrote in an issue of Goed Wonen magazine: “We cannot give a woman an education, emancipation, the right to vote and a more or less equal social commitment to her desires and then, from the moment she becomes the mother of a family, allow her to play the stereotypical 19th-century role without intellectual stimulation.” (Goed Wonen 1968, 11, 6.)
Disclosing Architecture is a six-year programme designed to improve the visibility and accessibility of the architecture collection, made possible by a one-off investment from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. Disclosing Architecture looks at the collection of archives from new perspectives in order to reformulate the collections policy and arrive at new concepts regarding the valuation of historical sources.
Seen/Unseen, the first manifestation of the Collecting Otherwise project, investigates the influence of women and gender fluidity within architectural practice. By viewing archives from a distinctly feminist, queer and decolonial perspective, Collecting Otherwise highlights those perspectives that generally remain hidden in current architectural and archival practices.
The part of the archive that has already been digitised contains mostly drawings and documentation. The photographs in the archive have been digitised by a company that specialises in digitising museum collections. The slide collection will be digitised inhouse over the course of this year as part of a project in which 20,000 slides from various archives will be digitised.
The inventory of Cora Nicolaï-Chaillet’s archive is accessible via the search portal. Through this, you can access the drawings and documents linked to the archival descriptions. The photographs will follow later this year and the slides next year. Cora Nicolaï-Chaillet’s archive also forms part of the multi-year Wikimedia project, which is also part of Disclosing Architecture.
Feminisms in Architecture
On 6 April 2017 Thursday Night Live! was about feminisms in architecture and a manifestation of work by women that is included in the State Archive for Dutch Architecture and Urban Planning. With the TU Delft Feminists, architect Afaina de Jong and urban planner Riek Bakker.
Collecting Otherwise is one of the research projects currently being developed by Het Nieuwe Instituut as part of the Rethinking the Collection initiative, and under the umbrella of Disclosing Architecture. This background of this initiative is the decision of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW) to invest 11 million euros over the next six years in the visibility – and thus the restoration and digitisation – of the National Collection of Dutch Architecture and Urban Planning, which is hosted and cared for by Het Nieuwe Instituut. In this context, Het Nieuwe Instituut considers it imperative to ask fundamental questions about the value and significance of the documents contained in the collection. In turn, these questions could contribute to the reorientation of notions of what could, or should, constitute heritage and archiving in specific moments in time.