Category Archives: design

Bill Moggridge wrote a book… and he’s giving it away for free.

A scenario from Dunne and Raby shows children growing meat to provide energy to operate a TV. <em>Photo</em> Jason Evans

A couple weeks ago, I attended  a lecture by Mr. Bill Moggridge, Director of the National Design Museum. It was an interesting albeit short lecture on what he finds interesting about curatorial design, as well as how the Design Museum looks to keep up with the trends of participatory and accessible exhibits. He currently has a new media committee trying to make the museum more available online. He has also written a book titled ” Designing Interactions” which highlights the different ways that artists and designers have been creating interactive and participatory technology. There are interview videos and biographies for each of the interviewed artists  both online and on a DVD included in the book.  Better still, he has offered this book FREE for download, either by chapter or in its entirety.

There’s some pretty great stuff here, and  I thought it would be of some interest to the class. http://www.designinginteractions.com/book

Jess Peterson

Participatory Museum or Playground? Or Both?

After our trip to the Met’s Luce Center to try out their technology prototypes, I was struck by one of the comments made– namely, that a young child using the computers in the period rooms was able to exit the program in order to use Paint to draw her name on the desktop.  It’s sort of a delightful anecdote and a commentary on the best laid plans of adults often going awry,  but it got me thinking about my experiences with museums as a child.  My first memory of visiting a museum is pretty hazy, but it was definitely to visit the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia (now housed in the fabulous Memorial Hall from the 1875 Centennial International Exhibition), and I was excited because I was allowed to dress up in “pilgrim” clothes and play pretend Thanksgiving with my siblings and other random kids.

It didn’t dawn on me until years later what the museum’s mission actually was, because it seemed light on traditional objects and heavy on being a child’s dream playground.  They have constantly changing exhibits which are interactive for both children and adults, and currently they  have something to do with literature (Alice in Wonderland), physics (a flight exhibit), and nature (a river exhibit).  The emphasis, as cued by the institution’s name, is of course placed on touch and learning by doing– something that seems to be a popular trend in science centers too, like we’ve discussed in class.  The point I want to make here is, that visiting the Please Touch (which my 5-year-old self called “Policetudge”–all one word), was memorable not because of what I might have learned about the Pilgrims, but because I could touch literally everything there.  To an extent I still hold that obsession of wanting to touch museum objects– there’s something about feeling the surface nuances and the weight and solidity of an object  that makes me feel as though I understand it more fully.

That said, I’m wondering how to classify the Please Touch Museum… now it feels more like a learning center or discovery center than my traditional concept of a museum (another bias leftover from childhood: my points of comparison were the more traditional style PMA and the Barnes Foundation where touching is, obviously, prohibited).  As we see with the Luce Center’s more intuitive study computers, there is definitely a rise in more entertaining and accessible technology or interactive features in museum exhibition design.  The Please Touch concept is just a simpler version of this type of interaction. I guess the answer to Steven Conn’s question “Do museums still need objects?” could start to get its answer here.  Apparently, they need more toys.

Michelle Jackson

Corning Museum of Glass

I actually meant to post this a while ago after attending a glass conference at CMoG in mid October and talking about that in class today reminded me.  I went in knowing the renovations were done by RAA in 2001, and was pretty curious to see what kind of innovations would await.  One of the sections of the exhibition space is actually called the ” glass innovation center” if I recall correctly.  Anyway, the architecture and exhibition designs for the educational areas and the glass studio were striking, as expected, especially given the level of audience participation in the glass making shows (which are really cool!)

I had to spend pretty much all of my time in lectures and in the glass galleries though, and was really intrigued by the layout of the exposed study collection.  The vitrine case-exhibition style is essentially the same as the regular gallery, just more packed (and sometimes equally packed!) with objects.  Sure, there are only accession numbers for this segment of the museum (with unfortunately no visible console or book for looking them up), but other than that there was sometimes very little difference between the study collection and the displayed collection.  The shelves for the display collection itself often went up over my head in the 20th century modern section (and I’m not really short, so this was a weird problem to be having). I had to resort to taking wobbly pictures, arms fully outstretched over my head and just hope it would get the right angle since I couldn’t see it.  This is kind of a disaster when your formal analysis topic is on the top shelf, but I imagine it’s not the best for the casual visitor either.

All that aside, Corning has an impressive, large collection, and even with the presence of the study collection, most of their objects are still stored in an offsite facility near the airport.  I’m not sure if the study collection rotates different objects, but given the breadth of the collection (and it grows every year!), it makes me wonder: how feasible is it for large and growing institutions like the Corning Museum to incorporate these aspects of back of house fully into the front of house?

michelle jackson

National Baseball Hall of Fame – Then and Now

After last week’s class discussion hearing the mixed sentiments about the move toward interactive displays and less objects in the Museum, I remembered my experience of visiting the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown a year and a half ago and my great disappointment in the renovations, “modernization” and restructuring of all their exhibition halls.  I first visited the Hall of Fame in high school, about 10 or 11 years ago and remember walking in and feeling like I was in my grandparents’ attic, seeing old relics and photos displayed with pride, but also crowded and cluttered. It felt as if I was discovering something, as you tend to feel when going through old family photo albums or clothes and jewelry boxes of past relatives.  Old lockers, some actual and some re-fabricated, were stuffed with the jerseys, gloves, cleats, baseball cards, and correspondence of famous players.  The museum really captured the essence of baseball and how it became “America’s Pastime.”

When I went to the Hall of Fame most recently, I was with a friend who had never visited and gushed over how personal and intimate the Hall of Fame was, the warm lighting, the display boxes made to feel like lockers and dug outs really indulged a baseball fan’s nostalgia.  Upon entry, everything was re-done, what used to be rows of cluttered lockers were now modern display cases with gallery lighting.  Objects, much fewer and isolated, seemed detached and inaccessible behind glass panes framed by dry wall painted in deep solid hues.  The warmth, accessibility, and feeling of discovery were gone and I felt that kids passing through the halls were really missing out on a connection that I made when I first had visited.

I’m curious to know why the Hall of Fame made the move from the dusty charm of its old displays to the sterile and impersonal.  I was surprised to see that even the Statistics Room, which used to have old score board-style listings of players’ names and stat numbers on removable hand painted wooden planks was replaced with boring white Arial font on a black background.

As I had mentioned in class, I don’t think technology and streamlining the display of objects is necessarily the right move for all Museums.  Careful attention needs to be paid to the visitor experience.  Some mediums don’t necessarily benefit from a minimalist and/or technological approach.

Megan Elevado

Simplicity is Key

After Monday’s lecture on technology within the museum, I saw this on a walk and it made me stop and think about the simplicity I seek within museum walls.  Everyday I walk (as I know everyone else in the class does too) past the light store- Filaments.  The store, located near Parson’s on 13th Street, is filled to capacity with light bulbs, stands, and shades. I know this is a stretch, but every time I walk past the store, I always think of the Hall of Biodiversity located in the American Museum of Natural History.  The Hall of Biodiversity is laid out in a similar manner, it is crowded, colorful, and completely attention-grabbing.  There is a very small presence of technology, making the visitor rely almost solely on the presentation of the plants and animals.

If I said I adored this area of the museum, it would be an understatement.  Every visit I am pleasantly overwhelmed by the information and models presented, and I always learn something new.  I really appreciate the simplicity of this Hall, and I find it refreshing that I find myself thinking of the museum when I see things as simple as a store front.

This is something museums must strive for-  a seamless transition between spaces.  Museum learning cannot stop once a visitor leaves the confines of the institution.  I applaud the Hall for it’s simplicity.  If it was only technological displays, instead of the appropriate combination that it does have, I doubt it would make as strong as impact on its viewers.

Ryan Massey

Brooklyn Gets Participatory

Last night in the Greenpoint area of Brooklyn, the first ever Nuit Blanche “White Night” was held in New York City. This festival of lights, which has been held in areas around the world such as Atlanta, GA and Paris, France, allows artists and designers to display their light creations on sides of buildings, in warehouses, and throughout sidewalks, playgrounds, and street corners.  The festival combined artistic expression with technological outputs and showed the potential creativity that could be reached with the blending of the two.

The most interesting (and relevant to our class) option they had at the event was a participatory project.  Visitors to the celebration could download an application, similar to most museum styles we see today, and create their own designs that would then be projected onto the buildings.  It was a great way to allow the visitor to feel creative, important, and instrumental in the success of Nuit Blanche.  The picture below shows the steps required for participation.  It was a great event, and an even better way to get people involved in both art and the community!

Ryan Massey

Mixing Gallery Space + Everyday

Königsplatz Ubahn

An interesting aspect of the changing face of the museum is the re-purposing of spaces outside of the museum to increase visitor interest. In particular, I’m thinking of a really unique permanent installation in one of Munich’s subway stations on the U2 line. The Königsplatz station is located in the Kunstareal (museum quarter) of the city and situated directly in the vicinity of two of the world’s most important antiquity collections, the Glyptothek and Antikensammlung. The installation within the station includes large-scale glass vitrines which display selected Greek and Roman sculptures in the round, all chosen from the two museums’ collections. These displays serve as a sort of tantalizing appetizer to the incredible museums which lie directly above ground.

I had the privilege of walking through and using this station every day for a year while attending university classes. At the time, my reaction was somewhat nonchalant. (Munich is famous for its innovative and dazzling subway station designs. For example, the newly renovated Münchener Freiheit station which incorporates displays of contemporary art work into its walls.) But in comparison to many a dingy and dilapidated subway station in Philly and New York, the uniqueness of Königsplatz is really something noticeable. It is at once an advertisement for the Kunstareal museums, an entertainment piece for commuters, and an integral part of the fabric of the station’s architecture.

Munich Kunstbau

In the same vein, this subway station also hosts the Kunstbau, which is an art gallery suspended underground and above the subway station itself. Train riders can see into the gallery as they descend the escalators to the platform, providing another sort of “real time” advertisement for the gallery’s current exhibition. Associated with the Lenbachhaus Gallery, it was designed by Uwe Kiessler, built in 1994, and is also equipped with auditorium facilities for films and presentations. A huge 2009 exhibition of Wassily Kandinsky’s work was especially successful for the gallery, and often the clear glass windows revealed an absolutely packed gallery floor to the subway passers by.

These clever incorporations of museum collections into the everyday world can make even the numbing mundanity of a subway ride both a learning and cultural experience. Not to mention, they are quite successful ways to pique a prospective visitor’s interest. For more on the Kunstbau.

michelle jackson

Back of House

In the Fall 2010 semester the Lab will explore the essential functions of the museum with the aim of inverting the traditional museum program and identifying new ways of making its internal processes of collection, conservation and interpretation more accessible and socially engaging. As evident in a range of recent projects, museums are increasingly interested in making their internal processes transparent –even participatory– for their visitors through on-the-floor staff interactions, visible study collections, interfaces to digital resources and the use of social media. These techniques and technologies allow museums to explore and even to blur the boundaries between ‘front of house’ and ‘back of house’ functions and afford new ways for the museum to connect with its audience.

The American Association of Museums (AAM) defines the museum as being comprised as a set of specific activities that are conducted under a guiding mission. These include: collection, conservation, interpretation, education, and exhibition. Unless we are museum professionals working within an active museum, most of our attention as members of the public is traditionally focused on exhibitions, and perhaps occasionally on an educational event or program.  The first three activities listed represent for most of us that mysterious hidden world behind the gallery walls and are often misunderstood, or at the very least under-appreciated while the activities of collection, conservation and scholarship are essential to any museum. Some might even suggest that there is a subtle institutional progression implied in this list of activities that places them in a linear hierarchy with the first – collection – being somehow the most essential and the last – exhibition – being almost an operational burden.

It goes something like this: if you do not collect there is nothing to conserve. Scholarship and interpretation requires an object of study. If you do not have scholarship then you cannot teach and if finally you do not have anything unique to say then what will your exhibition hope to communicate to its visitors? That may be a bit rash but you get the point.

Historically the systems of collecting and interpreting natural, cultural and artistic heritage have indeed informed the development of a museum’s architecture, its exhibitions and public programs. As systems of collecting and the construction of knowledge have changed over the last two centuries, we have seen corresponding changes in museum architecture, exhibition and programming.  We will explore how these changes played out in the museum, what societal forces drove the changes, and how design and museum practices have responded. We will identify emergent approaches in a range of new and existing museums. We will look at architecture, exhibition, technology, media, and the role of the curator and designer in shaping museum experience.

I am in interested in weaving together a number of disparate threads that I believe are catalyzing in this shift toward making the museum’s ‘back of house’ increasingly visible and essential to connecting with their visitors. After a decade characterized by iconic museum buildings and expensive permanent exhibitions and the subsequent decline of philanthropic support due to the downturn in the economy, museums are now looking hard at ways of making more value out of their existing assets. Back of House aims to explore this trend across at least three modes of implementation: the physical, the personal and the digital.

Themes and Threads

Architecture Inside Out
Over the last 50 years there has been a dramatic change in museum architecture. Long gone are the vaulted, naturally lit galleries of the early 20th Century and the ideals of symmetry, solid masonry walls, steep stairs and pillared portico entries. Modernism brought a disciplined rationality to buildings that were optimized for flexibility, flow and operational performance. Postmodernism was marked by what we might be called narrative architecture. These are buildings that are purpose-designed to a specific text and meant to convey a specific story. Now, at the culmination of a  museum building boom that lasted almost 20 years, there is a new trend emerging. In museums both recent and currently underway we are seeing an opening up of buildings, deconstructing the formality of the gallery, extensive use of glass and day-lighting, dramatic views both inside and beyond the walls of the museum, views into research areas, visible storage, study centers and high density collections displays, and a hybridization of traditional museum program or ‘nested’ programs where learning laboratories and other facilities are literally embedded within the gallery.  The Luce Foundation sponsored study centers at the Smithsonian, Metropolitan Museum or the Brooklyn Museum are examples of this approach. Another example might be the London Museum of Natural History’s new Darwin Centre­—a multistory, light-filled building attached to the original neo-gothic structure of this venerable museum, like a cocoon that opens to reveal the scientific research and collections functions of the museum to the visiting public.

Status of the Object
The second theme we will explore is the status of the physical object in museums.  While this will not be a class on materiality or material culture, we will explore the role of the museum collection as it relates to the function of the museum, conservation, interpretation, and exhibition. Recent publications such as Sherry Turkle’s Evocative Objects or historian Stephen Conn’s Do Museums Still Need Objects? explore the status of the analog object in the age that appears to favor the digital medium. The title of Conn’s book is striking. In fact it is almost alarming. Conn is a scholar and has spent a career rigorously mapping the changing topography of the museum as it responds to nuanced changes in society. The title is very direct and implies that an urgently needed, practical discussion will follow. The fact is that there are many, and perhaps even an increasing number of museums without objects. What is at stake in this trend?

Social Networks
The third theme concerns the advent of social networking applications and the integration of technology into the museum experience and the consequent “decline of the expert.” The ubiquity of social networking applications may be a symptom of society’s constant search for order and empathy that has been enabled and made visible by new technologies. At the very least, it reinforces the increasing importance we place in the definition of the Self as we seek to clarify and document our unique worldview, while at the same time atomizing into online micro-communities of like-minded individuals. We define ourselves by the connections we make in social space and the things we collect and give preference to. Museums have also traditionally facilitated this. The boundaries between traditional roles, responsibilities and authorities have shifted. We are now simultaneously content producers, curators and consumers. Museums are exploring ways to incorporate user-generated content and participatory experiences where the visitor becomes integral to the production of the experience. The scholar’s voice is just a starting point. In some cases it does not exist at all. The visitor’s voice joins a cacophony of others to form an infinite number of meanings where the project of interpretation is never finished. Nina Simon’s new book The Participatory Museum explores these ideas in depth and is sure to become a staple for museum professionals for the years to come. Other projects like steve.museum explores ways that social tagging can enhance the public assess and use of museum resources. What do these new social networking tools and digital assets provide to museums as they seek to communicate with our public? What does this mean for the role of the curator, scholarship and education in the museum?

Museum as Muse
Lastly, and more so than any architect or museum design professional, I am deeply motivated by a number of artists who actively use museum architecture, collections and processes as a site for their art. David Wilson’s LA-based Museum of Jurassic Technology; Ilya Kabakov’s immersive, and sometimes intentionally unfinished art gallery installations; Sophie Calle’s documentary approach utilizing photography and objects as evidence of a grand narrative; Andrea Fraser’s unauthorized, although seemingly ‘official’ museum tours; Mark Dion’s use of traditional archeological and forensic sciences and mock expeditions in unexpected places; filmmaker Peter Greenaway’s “100 Objects to Represent the World” and interactive room-sized talking painting “Wedding at Cana” at the last Venice Biennale; are just a few that come to mind. We will explore these works of art and see what they might teach us and ways of visually expressing the essential activities of the museum.

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.