The Archivio dello Spazio (“Archive of Space”) was the first collection of photographs to enter the museum: symbolically, it represents the origin of the museum itself, for the idea of creating an institution devoted to contemporary photography emerged in 1996 within this major project of interpretation of the territory of the province of Milan. The Archivio dello Spazio was created as part of the Architectural and Environmental Heritage Project of the Province of Milan, which set out to survey and catalogue the assets present in the province with the aim of promoting the understanding and exploitation of the historical and environmental heritage and guiding initiatives for the preservation and restoration of those assets, under the coordination of the architect Achille Sacconi.
Owing to its duration (ten years), the number of photographers involved (fifty-eight) and its methodological rigor, educational impact and broad range of collateral initiatives (around sixty meetings, debates and conferences with Italian and European operators, dozens of solo exhibitions and four major joint exhibitions), the program marked a historic watershed in the development of Italian photography.
The Archivio dello Spazio is a vast research laboratory covering many different themes: the attention paid to the architectural and environmental heritage, confronted photographically with the reality of the industrial and postindustrial landscape in which they are dramatically located; a freedom of approach left to the photographers within the framework of a project that adhered closely to the theme of the cultural heritage; the commitment to taking on board and rendering productive an interest in the changes in the contemporary landscape that was felt very keenly in Italy and the rest of Europe from the early 1980s onward (we cite, in this connection, just three examples: Luigi Ghirri’s famous project Viaggio in Italia, 1984, which laid the foundations for new ways of approaching the complex Italian landscape that dispensed with the stereotypes of the Bel Paese, or “Beautiful Country”; the exhibition Ciutat Fantasma, Barcelona, 1985; and the Mission Photographique de la D.A.T.A.R., a major project of commission undertaken by the French state in 1984); the intention of establishing an ideal historical continuity with the experience of photographic documentation of historic centers carried out in the seventies by Paolo Monti for the Institute of the Cultural Heritage of the Region of Emilia-Romagna; the task of forming a large ‘archive’ capable of analyzing the architectural heritage and at the same time showing the different languages used by photographers; and the responsibility of coordinating a very large number of photographers and keeping them ideally united by proposing a common ground of work and comparison, an extremely rare experience in Italian culture, which has always had an episodic and fragmentary character. In this sense, the Archivio dello Spazio has also been a school, not just for the large section of the public, especially the young, that followed its development over the course of ten years, but also for the photographers themselves.
The Archivio dello Spazio has been discussed and documented in various publications, of which the most important is: 1987-1997 Archivio dello Spazio. Dieci anni di fotografia italiana sul territorio della provincia di Milano, edited by Achille Sacconi and Roberta Valtorta (Udine: Art&, 1997).