Accessibility, inclusion, interaction, participation – these are just a few of the ideas being spoken about in preparation for the reopening of museums after lockdown. The challenge for museums and galleries is now to convince people to switch from virtual tours back to the real experience. This is a mission in which architecture and interior design will play a pivotal role in the way they define the physical spaces to which people are being asked to return. After so much initial enthusiasm about the possibilities offered by digital technology, museums soon realized how the virtual experience can, in the long term, be as alienating as it is powerful if it’s the only channel of communication open.
This spring, museums and other cultural institutions are finally opening their doors again in Italy. With museums and libraries closed during the first lockdown and then again since November, the lack of culture has been sorely felt. This lack of nourishment for the soul has been unprecedented! And the situation is pretty much the same all over the world. In a 2020 report on the state of museums, UNESCO noted a 70% drop in attendance and a decline in revenue of 40–60 % against 2019. The 104 thousand museums assessed by the report were closed for an average of 155 days. Museums now have an opportunity, however, to relaunch themselves by taking advantage of the increased attention they’ve attracted in recent months and reopen under the banner of innovation.
Architect and exhibition designer Lorenzo Greppi says it will be useful in the post-Covid world to equip ourselves with an integrated set of innovative good practices, beginning with focusing more on museums’ relationship with their local area. Through hospitality and loyalty programs, museums need to build community, transforming social networks into networks of people. This transition from the virtual to the real world not only involves the spatial dimension but also the social one: museums need to offer an increasingly engaging and immersive experience to turn visitors into museum dwellers.
While this approach represents the new, the old issue of designing museum spaces will always need addressing, from the organization of galleries to communication strategies, from interactivity to lighting design. Museum design must also be directed at making museums cultural hubs for communities, not just places for keeping and exhibiting objects but multidisciplinary workshops. While exhibits were once tucked away in museums, the time has come for them to come out into the streets! This was the message of the performance staged a few days ago at Bologna’s MAMBo museum of modern art, when a man cut out a section of plasterboard wall with a chainsaw, removing a drawing by Aldo Giannotti. (It was the artist’s idea, by the way!)
Professionals involved in the design of museums, libraries, and exhibition centers are eligible to enter the Culture category of The Plan Award. This annual award, open to both completed and future projects, was established to promote awareness, as well as the quality of the work, of designers, academics, and students in the fields of architecture, design, and urban planning, and to broaden the discussion of topical issues affecting the sector. The Plan Award 2021 is divided into different categories, for each of which the Jury will decide one winner and, if appropriate, honorable mentions. The registration deadline is May 31.
The idea of museums being integrated into their local area brings to mind the concept of natureculture, which plays a central role in the creative process of architects. This can be seen in several projects entered in the 2020 edition of The Plan Award.
The Dongtan Nature Reserve is a wetlands area on Chongming Island, located at the mouth of the Yangtze River, just outside Shanghai. A few years ago, the Dongtan Wetland Park implemented a number of management strategies to control the spread of cordgrass and improve the habitat for birds. The plans included the building of the Wetland Research and Education Center.
Atelier Z + drew its inspiration for the project from the huts scattered between the mountains and waters depicted by Chinese landscape artist Wang Meng in the 14th century. To minimize the impact on the local ecosystem, the center itself is scattered, with several buildings on pile platforms, hidden among the reeds and connected to each other by a zigzagging bridge. Essentially a series of large reinforced concrete Ys that emerge from the water, the complex appears as a series of continuous roofs penetrated by light.
Time and place, music and architecture – these contrasting ideas are at the heart of Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos’ design of the Arvo Pärt Center in Laulasmaa, Estonia. The cultural center, dedicated to the eponymous composer, is set in a dense pine forest with which the building achieves a complete perceptual continuity.
The project centers on a system of polygonal courtyards, whose variations in size and position generate different spatial sequences. The relationship between interior and exterior is perceived via a series of thin circular columns, which bring to mind the rhythms of some of Pärt’s compositions as well as the image of the surrounding pines. The zinc roof folds across the contours of the site, enveloping the interior spaces, while a spiral tower rises above the pines, offering views towards the Baltic Sea.
The Qiantang River Museum in Hangzhou, the capital of the Chinese province of Zhejiang, eschews symbolism to create open places that encourage participation, while adding another dimension to its urban location and public life.
An issue with limited space was resolved by creating a spiral design that intersects with the volume of an upside-down truncated cone. Walkways inside and outside the museum are organized around this shape like swirling whirlpools that visually intertwine, creating the impression of a building born from the river. This impression is strengthened by the curtain walls with their concave, convex, and flat titanium zinc cladding panels, which sparkle like light on the water.
The new Statue of Liberty Museum was created to expand the museum space dedicated to one of the most recognizable symbols of America, which previously occupied the pedestal of the statue itself. Located at the opposite end of Liberty Island from Lady Liberty, the museum is distinguished by an understated design in keeping with the site itself.
The glazed façade, which showcases the original torch, is broken up by a wide staircase that leads up to the roof garden, from where visitors can enjoy views of the Upper Bay. FXCollaborative’s design merges building with landscape, creating a new environment full of open spaces that dialogue with the internal ones, including the exhibition galleries, visitor services, and theater.
If you’ve designed a museum or cultural facility – built after January 1, 2018 or yet to be completed – you have until May 31 to register for the Culture category of The Plan Award 2021. Submit your project via the registration page.
All other credits relating to photos and render refer to individual articles.