Museum architecture: The development of curatorial spaces
Across the globe, museums serve as cultural landmarks – spaces of significance that often become defining symbols of a city’s architectural landscape. Historical examples such as the Museum de Fundatie in the Netherlands and the Louvre Museum in France continue to attract millions of visitors, with modern architectural interventions on them redefining their spatial contribution to their local context.
However, the ongoing pandemic has changed things. The number of visits has decreased, making it necessary to adjust how certain museums are run. Then questions can be asked about how museums around the world will develop in the future, from a spatial perspective in terms of new technologies, and from a political perspective, as debates abound about the return of museum objects to their rightful territories.
One such new technology is Augmented Reality (AR), which is slowly beginning to impose itself in ordinary environments. In short, Augmented Reality is an enhanced, interactive experience of the real world that shows reality with a modified version laid on top of it. A well-known example is Pokémon Go, the game where players would ‘catch’ Pokémon hidden in their immediate surroundings. In the context of a museum, the most obvious use of AR is in the straightforward explanation of museum exhibits, the addition of additional information, or additional context.
Architecture & UNESCO: Innovation of conservation and cultural heritage
As Augmented Reality technology becomes more established, the design of museums at a spatial level will see a shift towards smaller, more “widespread” spaces. Today’s urban areas continue to become more and more crowded, and as the demand for space continues to increase, new museums in the future may have a much smaller footprint. However, this would not necessarily result in a diminished museum experience. In 2021, for example, the National Gallery in London took collections in their various galleries to the busy streets of central London, where people could “activate” the artworks by scanning QR codes on walls. The collections, in fact, moved from the gallery’s boundaries and into the accessible public space, exposing a wider audience to the museum’s collections.
By staying in London, the British Museum is home to a permanent collection of eight million works – one of the largest in existence. How the museum has grasped some of these works, however, makes it difficult to read. Archaeological treasures from places as far apart as Nigeria, Egypt and Greece are found in the museum – after being looted as part of colonial expeditions.
A recent Vice World News multimedia project is a thought-provoking case in how these looted objects can be contextualized appropriately. Instagram filters and immersive audio will allow visitors to scan looted items in British Museum collections such as the Benin Bronzes, Rosetta Stone and the Parthenon Marbles. Interactive, this is a useful way to bypass the boundaries of physical architecture. Artifacts such as The Benin bronzes are exhibited in standard museum layout – impersonally backed up by a white wall.
A 2015 Gensler study concluded that the museum experience will be more self-directed, as visitors will be able to have greater control over what they see and have new methods of engaging with the museum. Projects like Vice World News, which benefit from AR, are useful tools for pushing this self-direction forward and exploring how the role of architects capable of designing museums can continue to evolve – without always resulting in physical architecture. Physical, interactive museum spaces are nevertheless still designed for great success.
The Sonorous Museum in Copenhagen exhibits musical instruments used throughout history. In connection with these exhibited objects, however, there are four sound studios – clad in warm wood veneer and designed to function as interactive classrooms. Subtle design movements push this interactive element, such as a slightly raised floor in the classroom, to act as a stage and built-in furniture that can function at the same time as the stage and performing area.
Museums will continue to be important spaces for gathering and learning well into the future, and their development as technologies improve, and as the wider community becomes more involved in design conversations, will be fascinating to watch.