The Architecture Museum of Ljubljana was established in 1972 by the Municipality of Ljubljana. In April 2010, the management of the museum was transferred from the city to the state. With the move of management came a new name, the Museum of Architecture and Design (Muzej za arhitekturo in oblikovanje (MAO)), and a central role as the main repository for documents and materials pertaining to architecture, town planning, industrial and graphic design, and photography in Slovenia. MAO has been located at Fužine Castle since 1992.
Since 1972, the administration of the Biennial of Design (BIO) (formerly known as the Biennial of Industrial Design) has operated under the aegis of the museum. Since 2017, MAO has additionally provided the operational framework for the Centre for Creativity, a broadly-oriented project intended to provide support to Slovenia’s cultural and creative sector (CCS).
The activities of the Museum of Architecture and Design have expanded since the move to Fužine Castle. The museum now incorporates 4 departments: the Architecture Department, the Design Department, the Photography Department, and the Events Department. The museum also houses a specialised library.
The departments systematically collect, store, study, and present materials pertaining to their fields. The Architecture Department collects sketches, models, blueprints, photographs and films documenting the extensive history of architecture in Slovenia; the Design Department houses a range of industrial design objects in a wide range of materials that trace the history of industrial design in Slovenia, with an emphasis on consumer goods manufactured by Slovenian firms; the Photography Department contains over 12,000 photographs from over 400 authors, some dating as far back as 1850.
A special collection curated by the museum is the Plečnik Collection. Housed separately at the Plečnik House, the exhaustive collection features over 17,000 drafts, sketches, models and letters from both Plečnik himself and the great architect’s students.
Materials and documents collected and studied at the Museum of Architecture and Design are displayed in the framework of various themed exhibitions. The exhibition The Architect Jože Plečnik 1872–1957 was based on a major exhibition with the same title at the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris in 1986. Special themed historical exhibitions focus on specific time periods and spaces: 18th-Century Architecture in Slovenia (2007) and 19th-Century Architecture in Slovenia (2013). Beside periodical exhibitions of Slovene architecture, the museum also hosts regular exhibitions of international architecture.
MAO is also active in calling attention to the surprisingly rich history of industrial and consumer design in Slovenia. The exhibition Niko Kralj: The Unknown Famous Designer set a new standard for exhibitions of this kind: it showcased the archives, sketches, photographs, prototypes and final products of world-renowned Slovenian industrial designer Niko Kralj (1921–2013), including the famous Rex armchair, Lupina series, 4455 and modular system furniture Futura, Savinja, Javor, Konstrukta, as well as the Mosquito chair, which was designed as early as 1953, but due to the complexity of its manufacture, only entered into regular production in 2012.
Educational activities, including creative workshops, take place regularly at the museum. Pedagogical events for groups of various ages are available throughout the week with a prior appointment, while the Sunday at MAO event series opens the museum’s doors twice a month to children of all ages, presenting them with a range of fun, interactive activities through which they can learn about how architecture and design are made and the huge role they have in shaping our day-to-day lives.
The museum also organises a number of different walking tours that provide interested guests with in-depth overviews of Ljubljana’s rich architectural past and present. Tours are available by appointment and in Slovene, German, and English languages.
In line with its central role in documenting, presenting and promoting historical and current architecture and design in Slovenia, the Museum of Architecture and Design is very active in its cooperation with other institutions, both in Slovenia and abroad. To take just one example, in 2009, the museum, together with the ARK – Institute for Architecture and Culture, organised the Architectural Epicentres lecture series, in the framework of which it hosted some of the world’s most prominent architectural thinkers. MAO is also in charge of planning and curating Slovenia’s pavilion and general presence at the prestigious Venice Biennale event.
Since 2015, it has played a central role in the Future Architecture Platform, with museum head Matevž Čelik leading the organisation. This trans-European platform seeks to connect emerging architects with key players in the field, such as museums, galleries, publishing houses, and festivals. Through its multi-faceted approach, which involves both tenders, conferences, and hybrid digital/analogue publishing activities, it actively seeks out the most groundbreaking, progressive thinkers in architecture and related fields and offers them an opportunity to have their voices heard at some of the most important institutions on the continent.
In 2019, the museum’s active involvement with the Centre for Creativity led to cooperation with Ljubljana Fashion Week. The museum hosted the runway and showroom portions of the fashion industry event, and also co-organised the two-day Fashion System Conference, which brought together a number of experts for a series of panel discussions and round tables on the particular problems and opportunities facing creatives in the field of fashion.
In 2020, alongside the celebration of MAO’s first decade since becoming a national museum, its director, Matevž Čelik, received the Plečnik Medal for his contribution to enriching the field of architecture and bringing the museum to international importance, namely, through the Future Architecture Platform. The same year, the Biennial of Design (BIO) garnered a single achievement Valvasor Award, the highest national award in the field of museum activities, for its 26th edition entitled Common Knowledge and its conceptual leap in the understanding of contemporary museums as well as for its promotion of and care for the Slovenian design heritage.