The notion of ‘museum’ as cultural institutions engulfs a varied set of emotions ranging from nostalgia, memory to being reminders of the conflicts, peace, innovations. It involves an experiential narrative of the time inhabited in the past or future that is portrayed in the present. These associations with museums embodied in physical nature translate the framework of experience of the user with the exhibits in its contextual response of architecture. 20th-century museum architecture led to innovations in crafting these experiential narratives to the spatial organizations. From the introverted character of these cultural institutions, it now translates to create flexible interior spaces and meaningful exteriors with the museum’s playful forms as the exhibits itself. 

This article curates a list of a few out of numerous inquisitive cultural institutions as museums around the world that revamped the setting of their urban context by being the landmark for the city’s context. 

1. Guggenheim Museum

Location: Bilbao, Spain

Situated on the edge of the Nervión River in Bilbao, Spain, the Guggenheim Museum designed by Frank Gehry is an amalgamation of complex, curvilinear, free-flowing forms and enticing textures and materiality that responds to an intricate program and an industrial urban context. 

Constructed of titanium, limestone, and glass, the seemingly random curves of the exterior catch the light and react to the sun and the weather. Guggenheim not only changed the way that architects and people think about museums but also boosted Bilbao’s economy. An architectural landmark of monumental configuration and innovative design, it provides a captivating space for the artworks to be exhibited. The Museum remains an iconic structure renowned for its complexity and form.

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2. The Museum of Confluences

Location: Lyon, France

Designed by Coop Himmelb(l)au, the Museum of Confluences in Lyon, France is situated at the confluence point of the rivers Rhône and Saône. This museum of knowledge and science exhibits challenged the existing linearity and Euclidean geometry of the city of Lyon by envisioning a complex non-linear form. The context of varying movement of highway traffic and the flow of two rivers inspired the superposition in the public realm of two complexly linked architectural units of crystal and cloud.

A spatial sequence of black boxes comprising the cloud structure achieves flexibility for exhibition design whereas the crystal functions as a porous entrance. Challenging the status quo, this impending institution with open architecture and new geometries evoke curiosity to think about what architecture has been in the city. 

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3. Museum of Islamic Art

Location: Doha, Qatar

Designed by I.M. Pei, the Museum of Islamic Art is a cultural beacon for the city of Doha that reflects the cultural diversity and complexity of the arts of the Islamic world from the 7th to 19th century. Standing apart on the waters of the Corniche, it draws influence from traditional Islamic architecture and is about 60 meters into the city.

Built of fine materials, such as limestone, granite, stainless steel, as well as concrete the Museum is composed of a five-storey main building and a two-storey Education Wing, connected across a central courtyard and captures hourly changes in light and shade. With amazing views of the park of dunes and oases on the shoreline, the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) is the foundation for Doha’s burgeoning cultural scene. 

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4. Zeitz Museum of Contemporary 

Location: Cape Town, Africa

Heather wick studio reinvented the once prominent grain on Cape Town’s waterfront to a major cultural institution that houses and exhibits the Zeitz Foundation’s collection of contemporary art from Africa. Set on the edge of a natural, historic working harbor, with the Table Mountain as its backdrop, and sweeping views of the ocean, city bowl and mountain peaks, the museum spreads over nine floors. 

The interior spaces are carved out of the monumental structure of the historic Grain Silo Complex. The carved out galleries and a central circulation space from the silos’ cellular concrete structure, creates a cathedral-like central atrium filled with light from a glass roof. The addition of the glazing panels transforms the building into a glowing lantern of the harbor at night and gives a new edge to the city of Cape Town.  

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5. Maxxi Museum

Location: Rome, Italy

Designed by Zaha Hadid Architects the MAXXI is located in the area of the former military barracks in Rome. Envisioned as a multi-disciplinary and multi-purpose campus of the arts and culture, the MAXXI intends to create an urban campus for the city. 

The museum is woven into the city’s fabric with its fluid shapes. The interweaving and flexibility of spaces, the optimal use of daylight constitute a spatial and functional organization that establishes the connectivity from within the building to its outdoor spaces. Taking cues from the context, MAXXI is well inserted as the urban block in the city’s fabric. It challenges the idea of an introverted building by creating indoor and outdoor spaces to become part of the surrounding city. 

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6. Louvre Museum

Location: Abu Dhabi, U.A.E

Designed as a ‘museum-city’ in the sea in Abu-Dhabi by Jean Nouvel, Louvre Museum sought inspiration for its architecture from the traditional Arabic culture. Its series of white buildings take inspiration from the medina and low-lying Arab settlements whereas its vast dome is founded on a major symbol of Arab architecture. 

The dome, 180 meters in diameter, covers the majority of the museum city and is visible from the sea, the surrounding areas, and Abu Dhabi city. A collaboration between traditional design and modern construction techniques becomes the final destination of an urban promenade. Its peaceful environment encourages the public to enjoy the ever-changing relationship between the sun and the dome and between sea, buildings and land, thus redefining the relationship of the institution with the city. 

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7. Royal Ontario

Location: Toronto, Canada

Situated at one of the most prominent intersections in downtown Toronto, the Royal Ontario museum designed by Daniel Libeskind creates a structure of organically interlocking prismatic forms fused to an already existing structure, thus transforming it into a beacon for the city. The program of the Museum provides an opportunity for the creation of a public attraction by its new style of architecture. The site develops the relationship between history and the new, between tradition and innovation.

The historical building, complemented by the bold and new architecture of crystal combines to revitalize the significance of the Museum in the urban context of Toronto. The Crystal further transforms the secretive and fortress-like character of ROM into the resurgence of the Museum as the dynamic center of Toronto.

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8. Danish national Maritime museum

Location: Helsingor, Denmark

Located in the vicinity of Kronborg Castle, which dates back to the fifteenth century, the Danish Maritime Museum by Bjarke Ingles forms part of the Kulturhavn Kronborg initiative to bring cultural attractions to Helsingr’s harbor. The museum had to find its place in a unique historic and spatial context; between one of Denmark’s most important and famous buildings and a new, ambitious cultural center. This is the context in which the museum situated itself as a subterranean museum in a dry dock with an understanding of the character of the region, especially of the Kronborg Castle. 

Rather than filling the empty dock, BIG repurpose it as a public courtyard at the center of the new museum, then added a series of bridges that cut into the 60-year-old walls. The presence of the dock allows the museum to be visible, without impacting views towards the adjacent castle, thus recreating the public realm.

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9. Kolumba Museum

Location: Cologne, Germany

Situated in CologneGermany, the Kolumba museum houses the Roman Catholic Archdiocese’s collection of art which spans more than a thousand years. Designed by Zumthor, the architecture of the museum respects the historical significance of the site by delicately rising from the ruins of a Late-Gothic church.

The facade of grey brick integrates the remnants of the church’s facade into a new face for the contemporary museum. Articulated with perforations, the brickwork allows diffused light to fill specific spaces of the museum. As the seasons change, the light shifts and play across the ruins, to create a tranquil environment. Preserving the essence of the past, Kolumba attempts to bring in the historical narrative of the city of Cologne. 

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10. Kunsthaus Graz

Location: Graz, Austria

Located in the historical center of Graz and overlooking the river Mur, and designed by architects Peter Cook and Colin Fournier, its unique shape and striking color inspire and thrill those who encounter it. 

Kunsthaus is widely acclaimed for its bimorph shape, imposing appearance, and for its peculiar blue-colored external skin of the BIX media facade – which can be used as a gigantic multimedia device, thus becoming a luminous landmark at night. Built as part of the European Capital of Culture celebrations in 2003, Kunsthaus became an architectural landmark and a lively art center in Graz, Austria. Thus, this gigantic building stands out consciously against the surrounding baroque roof landscape with its red clay roofing tiles but nevertheless integrates the façade of the 1847 iron house.

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Richa Surati
Author

An architect by profession but with a passion to narrate, share and communicate stories through her writings and voice, Richa explores the different facets of Architecture and everyday life. Her interests and inquiries lie in history and theory of architecture. Her ideas, thoughts, philosophies and inquisitiveness were moulded by her formal education of Bachelor of Architecture at C.E.P.T. University, Ahmedabad and a semester of learning at E.T.S.A.M, Madrid, Spain.

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