Museums have always been a space to curate the most significant experiences and artistic endeavors of a community under a roof. Until the 21st century, museums were also elite institutions catering only to a refined and well-educated audience with an appetite for intellectual pursuits. Though, this trend dramatically changed as the digital era rolled in. Art and culture have a widespread reach now. Desire for knowledge, traveling, and new experiences is now not just limited to the upper crust of society, but is a common pursuit.  There has been a 14% increase in museum-goers in minority groups in the USA but the number of museum-goers between the ages of 18-24 dropped by 23%. This demographic analysis presents unique opportunities and untapped potential for the museums of the future. The museums of the future are experiential, diverse and digital.

The younger generation desires the museums to be something more than just a visual display of the artwork as that can be accessed from a screen anywhere in the world. Museums must reinvent themselves as spaces that provide an immersive and stimulating experience that goes beyond what eyes can see. For example, an exhibit in the TATE sensorium in the UK merged four of its famous artworks with relevant sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile stimulation to evoke a distinct atmosphere. This sort of multi-sensory approach creates a deeper connection in the brain as it stimulates memory and imagination both. Here the viewer is more than a passive observer; he’s part of an environment, and involving different senses leaves a lasting impression on our mind. The sensorium also recorded how various people reacted to this by recording their bodily responses with sophisticated technology. Such experiments can open a new vista for art and museums of the future.

Rethinking the architecture of Museums- Sheet1
Architecture of Museums-Tasting a painting at TATE sensorium ©

The museums can also have a participatory approach, learning the quirks of their audience and involving them as part of the process. Children’s Museum of Art, New York features colorful displays uniquely appealing to the imagination of children, exciting features in the gallery, combined with a clay bar that serves your preferred color of clay to make your own sea monsters. There is a sound booth to learn how to make a podcast and a fine arts studio where children can create art inspired by the exhibitions the museum is holding.

Rethinking the architecture of Museums- Sheet2
Claybar: A sculpting station for children ©

This approach also involves museums becoming informal learning spaces for the community by creating spaces for social objects and artifacts that involve active participation. Achieving this means flexible displays, sturdy materials, and small interventions on the architectural level but can go a long way in making museums as community spaces. Sonorous Museum, Copenhagen features acoustically regulated studios, each designed for a variety of musical instruments. These studios hold interactive classes for people to try out the range of musical instruments. Apart from the open gallery, these rooms transform music into social objects and increase community participation.

Creating flexible displays can work if the museum wants to sustain augmented reality to become places where one can explore the world through mobile apps. For example, the National Museum of Singapore uses a glass rotunda structure to run a virtual ‘Story of the Forest’ display, where people have to collect trees and can, later on, learn more about it through the app. These family-friendly games increase collaborative learning and help people control their experience. The displays can be changed often to engage the users.

Rethinking the architecture of Museums- Sheet3
Architecture of Museums-Augmented Reality at National Museum of Singapore ©

Another approach is to treat the museum as an artwork itself, a space which, through its attributes, not only showcases the art in a better way but also attracts the museum-goers. Corning Museum of Glass uses thin sections of concrete as a pergola and monochrome walls with ambient natural lighting to create a perfect and memorable backdrop for its contemporary glass installations. The museum is eye-catching but doesn’t overwhelm the art.

Rethinking the architecture of Museums- Sheet4
Architecture of Museums-Glass installations at Corning Museum of Glass 

Messner Mountain Museum in Corones takes advantage of its topography. With its structure cast-in-situ; it gives a unique experience of a mountain peak to the visitor relaying the experience of mountaineering, it’s history, techniques, and traditions. The structure complements the topography consisting of limestone and anthracite by manipulating the look of the material. The viewers descend into caverns of the mountain to emerge later to panoramic view of the Alps, signifying the struggle of mountaineers against the natural odds. The design makes the whole experience unparalleled and thus attracts the visitors from all over the world.

Messner Mountain Museum by Zaha Hadid ©
Rethinking the architecture of Museums- Sheet6
Architecture of Museums-Section of Messner Mountain Museum ©

Thus, museums of the 21st century have to be more than a collection of curated objects. It is now about curated experiences. Being the flag bearers of the collective memory of the community, museums also need to adapt to the digital world that has become the source of knowledge for the majority of the population. The era of the dusty, old museums with do-not-touch artworks has gone. Now, visitors want a memory they can cherish for a lifetime, as they paint with Pollock, sing to Bach, and taste the poems of Bacon.


Pragya Shukla, a young architect, is currently practicing in city of Lucknow. Her interests include reading, hanging out with dogs and cruising the city for a good cup of tea. She aspires to write extensively on socio-cultural aspects of architecture and have a practice based on reasearch and social advocacy.