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Reference: André Desvallées and François Mairesse (Eds.). Key Concepts of Museology. 2010. Available in 9 languages from http://icom.museum/professional-standards/key-concepts-of-museology/


n.–Equivalent in French: architecture; Spanish:arquitectura; German: Architektur; Ita- lian: architettura; Portuguese: arquitectura (Brazil: arquitetura).

(Museum) architecture is defined as the art of designing and installing or building a space that will be used to house specific museum functions, more particularly the functions of exhibition and display, preventive and remedial active conservation, study, management, and receiving visitors.

ph_museum_free_fernando-romero-2Image: Fernando Romero Architects

Since the invention of the modern museum, from the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th, while old heritage buildings were also being reconverted for museum use, a specific architecture evolved that was linked to the requirements of preserving, researching and communicating collections through perma- nent or temporary exhibitions. This architecture is evident in the earliest museum buildings as much as in the most contemporary ones. The architectural vocabulary has itself influen- ced the development of the idea of the museum. Thus the form of the temple with a cupola and columned portico became established along with the gallery, conceived as one of the main models for fine arts museums, and by extension gave rise to the names gallery, galerie, galleria, and Galerie in France, Italy and Germany and in Anglo-American countries.

New-Guggenheim-Hermitage-Museum-ArchitectureNew Guggenheim Hermitage Museum

Although the form of museum buildings was often focused on safeguarding collections, it evolved as new functions in museum work were developed. So it was that after seeking solutions for better lighting of the exhibits (Soufflot, Brébion, 1778; J.-B. Le Brun, 1787), for distributing the collections better throughout the museum building (Mechel, 1778- 1784), and for structuring the exhibition space better (Leo von Klenze, 1816-1830), at the beginning of the 20th century museum people realised that the permanent exhibitions must be reduced. To this end they created storage areas, either by sacrificing exhibition rooms or by creating space in the basement, or by building new structures. In addition, every effort was made to make the setting for the exhibits as neutral as possible even if this meant sacrificing all or part of the existing historical décor. The invention of electricity greatly facilitated these improvements and allowed the lighting systems to be completely revised.

53d655fa69204da9933178fc0ab56af9Museum of Ordos, Mongolia

New functions that emerged in the second half of the 20th century led to major architectural changes: the increase in the number of temporary exhibitions led to a different distribution of collections between the permanent exhibition and sto- rage spaces; the development of visitor facilities, educational workshops and rest areas, in particular the creation of large multipurpose spaces; the development of bookshops, res- taurants and shops for selling items relating to the exhibitions. But at the same time, the decentralisation by regrouping and by subcontracting some museum operations required the building or installation of specialized autonomous buildings: firstly, restoration workshops and laborato- ries which could specialise while serving several museums, then storage areas located away from the exhibition spaces.

Dali-Museum-ExteriorDali Museum

The architect is the person who designs and draws the plans for the building and who directs its construction. More broadly speaking, the person who designs the envelope around the collections, the staff and the public. Seen from this perspective, architecture affects all the elements connected with the space and light within the museum, aspects which might seem to be of secondary importance but which prove to be determining factors for the meaning of the display (arrangement in chronological order, visibility from all angles, neutral background, etc.). Museum buildings are thus designed and built according to an architectural programme drawn up by the scientific and administrative heads of the establishment. However, the decisions about definition of the programme and the limits of the architect’s intervention are not always distributed in this way. Architecture, as art or the method for building and installing a museum, can be seen as a complete oeuvre, one that integrates the entire museum mechanism. This approach, sometimes advocated by architects, can only be envisaged when the architectural programme encompasses all the museographical issues, which is often far from being the case.

international_school-museum_of_flamenco_proposal_by_mus_architects_01_1Museum of the Flamingo Dance

It can happen that the programmes given to the architects include the interior design, allowing the latter – if no distinction is made between the areas for general use and those for museographical use – to give free rein to their ‘creativity’, sometimes to the detriment of the museum. Some architects have specialised in staging exhibitions and have become stage designers or exhibition designers. Those who can call themselves ‘museographers’, or specialists in museum practice are rare, unless their practices include this specific type of competence.

National-Art-Museum-of-China-MAD-architects-2National Art Museum of China (project)

The present difficulties of museum architecture lie in the conflict which logically exists between, on the one hand, the ambitions of the architect (who will find himself in the spotlight due to the international visibility of this type of building today), and on the other hand, the people connected with the preservation and displaying of the collections; finally, the comfort of the different visitors must be taken into account. This issue has already been highlighted by the architect Auguste Perret: “For a ship to float, should it not be designed quite differently from a locomotive? The specifixity of the museum building falls to the architect, who will be inspired by its function to create the organism.”

Tianjin-Ecology-and-Planning-Museum-Steven-Holl-Architects-02Tianjing Ecological Museum

A look at present day architectural creations shows that, even if most architects take the requirements of the museum programme into consideration, many continue to favour the beautiful object over the excellent tool.

Resource: ICOM / Key Concepts in Museology / Edited by André Desvallées and François Mairesse


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