Sketches for a National History Museum

by • 1 Feb, 2011 • BuildingsComments (4)68336

What is good museum architecture?

In a couple of days we’ll present a book with sketches for future museums. The book “Sketches for a National Museum of History” explores possibilities for museum architecture. Kenneth Frampton and Hans Ibelings wrote essays, researchers at the Berlage Institute made design sketches, and three young European architecture firms, 51N4E, Baukuh and Monadnock, submitted plans to encourage thinking about a new museum architecture. I had a chance to look at the book and I must say it’s inspiring and the designs are daring and different from what you’d expect.

Yesterday we launched a small website to encourage thinking about good museum architecture. It focuses on six themes – connect, show, sense, open, move and site – and hopefully will spark some new ideas about good museum architecture. You’re free to add your ideas (don’t let the Dutch scare you, it’s a bilingual website!).

So, what is good museum architecture?

That, I’m afraid, is a question without an answer. Or, with many answers. The book explores how architecture can deal with certain characteristics of museums. For instance, how architecture influences the presentation of objects (“show”). The two examples below are from the book and show how a church and a museum built on top of a chapel show their objects. I like them both, but believe they’re very different in their architectonic approach.

Pastoor-van-Ars-Kerk kolumba museum, peter zumthor 1997-2007

Pastor van Ars Church (design Aldo van Eyck, photo and Kolumba (design Peter Zumthor, photo seier+seier).

Good museum architecture for me

The book and project triggered me to think about what I consider good museum architecture. To me, I believe this comes down to a couple of things:

  • The architecture should encourage discovery and learning
    Endless rooms with paintings, to me, are rather dull. Even if they’re great paintings. Recently I wrote about DOK where they have interior architecture that seems to encourage learning. It’s semi-chaotic and open. Similarly, I loved the way stairs in the Hamilton building of the Denver Art Museum (and basically that entire wing) encouraged discovery. Every corner I turned was an adventure. Well done.
  • It should teleport you into another world
    I go to museums to disconnect (if not on business, darned déformation professionnelle that ruins many a good museum experience). So, a museum should help me disconnect. Like the endless escalators taking you into the Ruhrmuseum.
  • A good museum is accessible and appears accessible
    I don’t like the design of museums such as the Guggenheim in Bilbao. To me, it creates a distance between the museum and me. “Look how special I am! Dare to come in.” It might be merely the hype. I love it how the Museum TwentseWelle does it, with a wonderful terrace at the street that makes you want to sit down. Entering the museum, then, is only a small step.
  • The architecture allows for many different uses of the spaces
    A museum is a public building. This means it should allow for many public functions. Debates, workshops, special expositions, lunch, and all the other stuff you should be able to do in a museum. Not in some small room in the back, but in the blood and veins of the museum architecture.

These are just some of the things I immediately think about. Of course a museum should encourage participation, be inclusive, fit with its communities and preferably be beautiful to look at now and in a hundred years… I hope the discussion about museum architecture for the future the book will spark will teach me a lot. Looking forward to your thoughts! (Which, by the way, I will politely copy to the project website if you leave ‘m here. Just so you know!)

Denver Art Museum - Fredrick Hamilton Building Interior Zollverein bei Nacht

Denver Art Museum (design Daniel Libeskind, photo Steve Silverman) and Ruhrmuseum (design Rem Koolhaas, photo die.tine)

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