Relationship between architecture and museum

The association between the museum and architecture is an extremely complex subject. Museum work embraces such a wide variety of purposes, approaches, and achievements that the common factors could only be satisfactorily defined in a very detailed and comprehensive survey. We shall therefore concentrate on a few questions which are central to the problems faced by museums today.

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Centre Pompidou_©AP Photo/Jody Kurash

One crucial feature of a modern museum is an individualistic approach both to the visitors and to the exhibits. The flaws of exhibits becoming mere objects unconnected with the observer, which is built into the Western concept of museum work, must be countered by discovering a connecting link of which architecture forms part. Another attribute of museum work today is the dynamic approach. The exhibits have not been collected so that they can occupy a quiet little niche in the museum for the rest of time but to begin a new life among new companions, whether these be museum visitors or the other exhibits.

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Niterói Contemporary Art Museum_©Marcelo Maragni/Red Bull Content Pool via AP Images

Shortcomings of museum design

Architecture must create conditions that will make it possible to overcome the unfortunate separation of past from present, of the ‘living’ from the ‘dead’. Both problems arise with varying degrees of intensity in all museums and providing material. The considerations which follow have therefore been written with particular reference to the following features of modern museum work. First, the different types of the museum are not examined systematically as this was impossible within such a restricted framework: the museum is examined as a species rather than each museum being taken separately. The unique problems of open-air museums, nature reserves, historic buildings, or the reconstruction of towns were considered too complex and far-ranging to be dealt with in this essay. Problems of detailed nature are discussed only when relevant to the general concept.

Especially, what we are concerned with is the recognition and assessment of the different factors affecting the building’s final appearance rather than individual plans and solutions. The subject matter is, therefore, further confined in the sense that we offer no architectural typology of museums, nor do we enumerate details of construction, interior planning, and furnishing or details unless they form a vital part of the overall plan. On the other hand, we do present relevant materials and analyses concerning the primary decisions of principle that have to be taken before a museum is built. Museology and architecture are highly academic subjects that involve emotional judgments over a wide field: personality, freedom, spontaneity, and numerous other imponderables are essential components of the general picture. But despite the similarity of their fundamental premises, they are substantially different and self-contained systems: the transfer of knowledge from one to the other cannot be ignored. Our treatment will be centred on the fields of sociology, psychology, or physics, for example, striking out from here on either side in the direction of museology and architecture. By briefly defining, for each field, in turn, the main points at issue, the complexity of the museological and architectural factors is made less formidable.

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National Museum of African American History and Culture_© Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA via AP Images

Important factors during museum design

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Guggenheim Museum_©Anthony Behar/Sipa USA via AP Images

As everything is linked together, considerations relating to particular points have to be brouht within an overall view so as not to get out of perspective. The dialectical polarization of attitudes inherent in any purely theoretical discussions is avoided by seeking solutions at a practical level where an additional dimension, the reality of time and space, can be introduced. The study of alternatives and contrasting approaches serves to stimulate discussion and facilitate the solution of problems connected with space. The chapter order leads from a reflection of man as an individual and as a member of society by way of the exhibit with its physical qualities to the building and the practical and scientific laws to which it is subject. The discussion then includes a study of aesthetics relating to buildings. We aim to throw light on the conflicts which arise in the sphere of the museum building and to provide a basis for discussion. The planning and construction of a museum, as with any other building of public importance, is bound to take on political dimensions.

Definition of the sense in which the broad term ‘architect’ is to be used is discussed. It can be used to refer to an individual or a team, to one or more private architects, or to an administrative body. In every case, it designates a feasible organizational unit capable of entering into agreements and responsible for planning and carrying out a specific building project. As building projects have become more complex and wide-ranging, some of the responsibilities of the architect have developed into new, more specialized professions. Certainly, the impact of architects on museums has changed over the years, and their attempt to improve architecture is portrayed in their works.

As the visual often has a more direct impact than the verbal, a few images of buildings have been included.  

Sainsbury Wing, National Gallery_©Richard George/Courtesy Wikipedia

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Sriya Mitra is a student of architecture from Kolkata with a strong interest in journalism. Apart from being a student, she is a fencer which allows her to travel to new places and explore more.