Design Approaches to Museum Architecture
Zimmerman Architectural Studios – MPM Design
Museum architecture is the social product of a city & society. It is related to the history of a city & should fit into the existing urban fabrics. Museum architecture expresses a level of “monumentality” as part of its public function or social mission. This “monumental value” can be achieved through its symbolic expression of a communal building, a social gathering place, an educational resource, or a research center. Its architectural form serves as its own architectural characters.
Museum architecture’s basic function is to “serve” the artwork it surrounds. It plays a supportive role to “house” other works of art, rather than overpower the art with artistic aspirations of its own. Its interior design, room layout, & architectural form with historical associations should be designed with careful “neutrality.” “Neutrality” seems to satisfy what museum professionals expect of exhibition spaces. In other words, a museum should serve as a “laboratory” for visitors’ sensual perception & critical thinking. Kimbell Art Museum designed by Louis I. Kahn (1972) is a great example of this design approach.
Contemporary architects tend to have the motivation to establish the primacy of architecture over art. What really matters is not the art inside the museum, but the museum architecture itself. The exhibited artwork is thus considered as second-best or as decoration for architecture. This design approach to museum architecture considers a museum as a “public dormitory, entertainment center, or cultural shopping mall.”
Museum architecture has three components, namely exhibited spaces, administration spaces, & catchment spaces (reception, lobby, restaurant, cafeteria, library, gift shop, computer rooms, etc.). In the 19th century, the exhibited space occupied 90% of the museum spaces, while it only occupied 34% of the museums built in the past 55 years.
Too many museum buildings gave cities a new face & life, but little innovation/progress has occurred in the exhibition rooms, the very rooms for which the museum is built in the first place. A museum should present works of art in an environment where Space, Light, & “Emotional” Condition are ideal.
Which design approach do we take? Do we consider museum as (1) sculptural architecture (Guggenheim Museum-Bilbao, Frank Gehry, 1997), (2) the open museum (Center Pompidou, Renzo Piano, 1977; Guggenheim Museum-New York, Frank Wright, 1959), (3) a converted monument (Grand Louvre, I.M. Pei, 1989), or (4) museum with traditional manifesto (State Gallery of Stuttgart, James Stiring, 1984; J Paul Getty Museum, Richard Meier, 1997)?
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