Architectural proteins have an important role in shaping the genome and act as global regulators of gene expression. How these proteins jointly modulate genome plasticity is largely unknown. In archaea, one of the most abundant proteins, Alba, is considered to have a key role in organizing the genome. Here we characterize the multimodal architectural properties and interplay of the Alba1 and Alba2 proteins using single-molecule imaging and manipulation techniques. We demonstrate that the two paralogues can bridge and rigidify DNA and that the interplay between the two proteins influences the balance between these effects. Our data yield a structural model that explains the multimodal behaviour of Alba proteins and its impact on genome folding. © 2012 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved.