Category Archives: architecture

Energizing Museums

Western Science Center, Michael Lehrer Architects

Two years ago the first museum to win a LEEDs platinum rating opened in the town of Hemet in a arid, rural basin just south of Los Angeles.  Owned and operated by the County, and designed by Michael Lehrer Architects, the Western Science Center interprets a trove of fossils that were found when the Diamond Lake Reservoir was created by the Metropolitan Water District. Its mission is to educate the public to appreciate the importance of finite natural resources and our relationship to the environment we live in.  The museum also generates its own power with a massive array of photovoltaic panels. Needless to say this museum fulfills its mission in in its architecture which is strongly influenced by massive public works infrastructure more so than it is by the  iconic museum architecture we have come to expect.

Thousands of new and existing museums across the country are faced with an energy conundrum. While most museums adhere to a basic commitment to principals of conservation in their mission statements, and science museums are even more committed to discussing principals of sustabability, finite resources and stewardship of our environment, museums are also some of the largest energy consumers among building types. The requirements to maintain constant environmental conditons for the preservation of sensitive artifacts and specimens, the dramatic fluctuations in HVAC loads caused by the heat and humidity of daily throngs visitors and intense theatrical exhibit lighting all put a high price tag on building systems and require high energy consumption. Actually a large percentage of any museum’s project budget goes into the museum building’s mechanical systems. Sometimes this represents a higher percentage of budget than is spent on the public experience of the collections through exhibits and programs. So why not make those systems an integral part of the experience? My guess is that that is what Lerher intended with the Western Science Center. But looking at the design I wonder, is it a ‘green’ museum that fulfills its conservation driven mission, or is it a power plant with a museum attached?

This month’s issue of AAM’s Museum News features a great article on museums and energy consumption.

Tim Ventimiglia

Cycles in Exhibition Design

Frederick Kiesler "Art of This Century" Exhibition 1942

In 1942 when Fredrick Kiesler designed Peggy Guggenheim’s gallery “Art of this Century” he incorporated armatures into his design that literally presented the artwork to the viewer by removing the art from the wall and placing it into free space. This ‘active’ exhibition design broke the inherent two-dimensionality aspect of the artwork and placed in within a three dimensional space. As a result, the audience and the art were comfortably within the same environment. As a result of this design, Kiesler’s exhibition was critically acclaimed and in the last few years there has been a Kiesler-revival. I am interested in the fact that today Kiesler’s work  not only remains provocative but is also increasingly relevant. Kiesler recognized not only the role of the surrealist art in his design but he recognized another important ingredient in his design – the viewer. His training as a set designer had prepared him for this role – he created sets but more importantly he created spaces for the actors within his sets. In our discussion in class we speak so often of the curatorial narrative, of the display of information, of the experience of the exhibition, of the expectations of the audience, but in reviewing Kiesler’s exhibition, it seems that we don’t actually think about the physicality of the exhibition and the viewer. We do indeed talk about how the viewer fits into the exhibition – culturally, academically, etc – but physically fits? Sometime the most important move is the simplest move – welcoming the viewer so they can exist in the same of the exhibition… the display, path, experience, etc then become relevant.

HC Smith

The Latest Word: Spaces of Experience

Charlotte Klonk's "Spaces of Experience"

The latest word in display theory was just released by Yale University Press. As in two weeks ago. Charlotte Klonk’s Spaces of Experience: Art Gallery Interiors from 1800 to 2000 locates the development of art gallery interiors in the broader history of experience and perception. It looks like an interesting read, and may be helpful in guessing what comes next!

Jenny F.

Branding: The Museum’s Future

museumA Museum’s brand is a vital part to its future.  Today, when museums exist as multiple personalities—virtual, physical, and then in people’s memories—the brand of a museum acts as a necessary tool for the museum to assert and maintain these diverse personalities.  From the actual look of the logo to the acronym or shortened name—MoMA, The Met, WHITNEY, DIA, etc.—to the location, to the subject matter to the architecture, every aspect of a museum works to establish a brand identity for a museum.  Branding not only to defines and establish identity, but also acts as a mutli-tooled and multi-modal perpetuation of advertisement of that identity.

The development of design firms which design museum identities in entirety—from the exhibition to the logo to the letterhead—reveals how the branding process has changed from a graphic designer creating a logo to a large production team that works to create a full-packaged deal.  Though this format may be appealing—buy everything at once and in one place—I question such a formatting of identity.  When one firm works to develop every detail and feature of a museum, do we risk these places becoming sites of over-design?

And here is another question—how do you brand the Museum of Brands?

kmcaleer

Cocoon

The Darwin Centre at London's Natural History Museum (photo by Tim Lee)

The Darwin Centre at London Natural History Museum (photo by Tim Lee)

One of the newest and most anticipated installations in the world of Natural History is the London Natural History Museum’s Darwin Centre 2. This iconic facility opened a month ago and a few friends have since visited and reported back to me. The Cocoon – a large egg shaped structure inside a glass box and provocatively nestled up against the Victorian-Era museum building – contains 20 million insect and plant specimens as well as 220 working scientists. One of the overarching goals of the project is to make the museum’s collections and research accessible to museum visitors. This is a general trend as museums of all types seek to engage more sophisticated audiences by providing access to previously hidden away: study collections, research, registration and conservation. Darwin Centre 1, which as a sort of modest prototype for this project built a few years ago (and which I did visit), used curators as docents that took you on behind the scenes tours of collections areas as they talked about their work. You felt privileged to have access to their world and though it still had carefully controlled set of windows, you saw a lot of real stuff. I suppose a day long program of tours was a lot to ask of the curator whos’ minds should really be on research and not entertaining the public.  Darwin Centre 2 seems to dispense with the warm, human (albeit scripted) interactions. Here a set of digitized curator avatars introduce the audience to the research and the experience is focused mostly on a series of interactive media experiences that allow visitors to explore both real and digitized versions of collections, interact and provide feedback on a range of current scientific debates. I kind of like the mix of real stuff and high tech interactive interfaces, but word is that the human touch and the awesome spectacle of millions of specimens is missing here. I think this is a great model for existing museums to leverage what they already have going on behind the scenes and deliver a public view into the authentic, mysterious, museological, inner-sanctum. However, the walls of this cocoon may be still too opaque.

Another review with descriptions and images of a few exhibits here and the official video tour here and another video here.

Tim Ventimiglia

Museums,Technology, Life

Technology Based LifeI would like to share with you my response to the first chapter of the book Networked Publics titled “Place: The Networking of Public Space” by Kazys Varnelis and Anne Friedberg, and what I think the role of Museums would be in the future in response to a technology-based life.

How new technologies are affecting human relationships and social structure? As human beings we have always been part of social groups and I wonder how technology is changing this. Is this human disconnection created by technological connection going to turn us into a kind of hermit with no private lives and no personal relationships?  Or are we maybe going to become nomads again?

Cell phones have brought about significant changes at many different levels. As stated in Networked Publicseven working and meeting schedules are more flexible because we have the opportunity to call and tell we are running late. But from my personal experience more relevant changes have occurred in developing countries. Places where rural and poor people never had a telephone because companies wouldn’t go that far away or risk not to get paid, suddenly had the opportunity to connect to the world. The appearance of the cell phone and pay-as-you-go plans gave these people the opportunity to communicate with the rest of the world for first time and in some sense to belong to a society bigger than their small towns or neighborhoods. They finally could be part of the exterior world.

But in the same way cell phones had the capacity to integrate communities into the world, they also have a bigger capacity to disintegrating human physical contact. We have arrived to a point where we don’t even want to hear each other’s voice. We can just text each other. There is no need to create a physical connection. But as human beings we need to touch and we need to be touche. It is part of a healthy life. I can understand now why some movie writers would imagine the future of the world as a place where people won’t even touch each other to have sex.  But I wonder if this isolation is the consequence of technology taking people apart or the reaction of people trying to get back their personal space and get away from a live overload with technology. The question here is: Is technology isolating us from people or is it taking away our personal space and moments?  I think the answer is both. We don’t have more time for ourselves but we are fewer and fewer in direct contact with other people. People expect us to be working, informed and available all the time just because technology has given us the possibility to do it, but it has also taken away our right to rest and have those spaces in live so important to be with ourselves, reflect and even pray. I remember a business man telling me how upset he was because airplanes have internet now and his boss was expecting him to work on the airplane while before he could have this time for himself.  Is this global connection disconnecting us from ourselves?

Another interesting relationship is the way communication can transform architecture. As Victor Hugo stated the book changed the way architecture was used as a communicative surface. Are new technologies and ways of communication going to change the relationship between architecture an humans in more deeply ways?

When internet appeared we were wondering if office spaces, stores and restaurants would become obsolete by the fact that you could do everything from home and send it by internet and also get everything from the net. But now with mobile internet and mobile technologies, I wonder… is our house going to become obsolete?

If telecocoons have given the possibility to create their own worlds completely divorced from a physical architecture, can technology lead us to a divorce from it as a permanent place to live? If we can carry our work, our connections, our communications, our games, and our diversions in a small cell phone inside our pockets all over the world, why would we need a house?  Could it be possible that we go back to the time when men were nomads? Traveling now is easier and more affordable and technologies give us the possibility to stay connected to the world no matter where we are. Maybe the future residential projects will become hospitality projects and hotels would become our virtual homes. Instead of bringing our bags full of stuff we will bring our cell phones full of connections.

Now the question that rises is: What is going to be the role of museums in a so connected and at the same time so detached world?  In a world where people will lose their connection with themselves and where physical connection with other people and spaces will be irrelevant, museums will offer a space for reflection and reconnection with us and also a physical space to promote physical connections between people while learning and amusing ourselves.  In a world where people see themselves just as part of a global network, museums will still be part of the network but will bring people together again and will recreate a sense of society and a sense of belonging to the human race and not only to a technological network. No matter where we are, museums will be the space to escape from virtual life and reconnect with real life.

Maria Antonia Villegas

Virtual Worlds

Virtual WorldVirtual worlds are becoming a major topic when it comes to participating on a local or global scale. There are many programs that are being developed to navigate through ancient architectural civilizations and even in the present, traveling around urban cities. These programs enable people to explore a vast amount of information, as well as pilot through artificial realms to meet people and view objects.

I am currently on a team to redefine how we experience New York City during the day versus the night. This involves a lot of data collection and understanding how these spaces feel in the daylight environment versus the night environment from a lighting stand point. One popular web program that has taken the first steps to this experiential experience is Second Life. They advertise this space as a place to connect, to shop, to work, to explore, to be different and free yourself and mind, and be who you want to be. This is definitely taking this idea of the iPhone as your museum guide to a much different and extreme limit, but this is a potential program that will be developed by many museums in the coming years and the beginning of this investigation have already begun.

The New York Hall of Science has partnered with the Greater Southern Tier BOCES SciCentr program on a project to engage an ethnically and economically diverse group of young people in creating a Virtual Hall of Science (VHOS). This entails designing, building and staffing the virtual science center while working and interacting with science and education professionals throughout the process. VHOS is seen as a long term program that will encourage students to develop and plan the future of their museum as they see fit. This program will further enhance the already strong connects NYSCI has with its community and student science education program.

In either case, the idea of a virtual world that enables people to experience a museum or, for that matter, many different cities from the comfort of their homes is a great start to spark interest, but the fact of the matter is that this will never change how we truly experience something that is tangible.

Stephen Kaye