|Topic of the Month: Museum Design|
There are many factors that go into designing a museum or a public cultural institution, even before an architect is brought in to apply their expertise and unique vision to add character and life to a building. Annie Chu of Chu + Gooding Architects was kind enough to speak with us about the various aspects of museum design.
Chu explains, "For museums and other cultural institutions that have a public face, so much of their building, their grounds, and their program are part of the total image. For example, here in Los Angeles, the design of the Getty Center really represents their image. Sometimes smaller museums don't realize that the whole facility is so much a part of their brand, and that people associate the buildings and the grounds with the museum in their imagery. In museum work, we actually get to work with graphic designers or branding consultants who really study the market and the demographics for the museum and then go from there, and it influences the way that we then design the building."
According to Chu, many of the building materials used in the design of museums and public institutions are those that are more durable, such as stone. "I know that from hearing about the making of the Getty Center, the stones were very carefully selected. Stone is a material that always represents the kind of permanence that people associate with a public institution like a museum. The material itself feels so permanent and it has a more classic and permanent feel to it that seems appropriate for an institution where people put their public trust. Also, the Board or the foundation that made the museum put in a substantial investment to build the museum, so they want it to last. It doesn't seem to go out of fashion, and since stone is a natural material, immediately it comes across as a warm and kind of benevolent material. An architect has to be pretty skillful to make concrete or stainless steel feel warm, but stone has that quality."
The Kentucky Museum of Art & Craft
Annie Chu was the Principal in Charge of the renovation of The Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft in Lousiville, a project that took a year to complete. "That project was a little unique because we were invited to renovate a turn-of-the-century cast iron building in the historic district in Louisville to make it a home for The Museum of Art and Craft. The museum generates a lot of their income from the museum shop which needs to have a presence in the storefront, but they are also an exhibiting institution so they have to be both a museum and a sales venue. We went in there knowing that a lot of the ground floor is being taken up by the sales gallery and that we need to have exhibition galleries that have to go through the second floor as well. And because the footprint is so deep, we decided to make a big hole on the second floor and create a big staircase that leads directly up from the first floor to the second floor, flanked by a very large art glass wall."
The art glass wall was created by Ken vonRoenn, an Architectural Glass Artist in Louisville. Kentucky bluegrass was selected as a common motif or theme to be used in the museum, which vonRoenn incorporated into the design of his glass art wall. "Through the two-story glass wall, it's possible to see silhouettes of the objects in the sales gallery as you're going up the stairs to the other exhibit galleries. It's like a large inviting gesture that takes people up to the second floor where more of the exhibit is going on."
"Since it's a turn-of-the-century building, it has a cast iron fa?ade but it also has mostly heavy timber wood construction. When we opened a hole on the floor we had to re-support that area and decided that we were going to use steel beams which look distinct from the historic materials. This way, you can clearly see that it's a new addition and an intervention to the old fabric of the historic environment. We also decided to leave it with the primer paint on, rather than trying to paint it out."
"The art glass and the wrought iron handle pull for the door were ideas to incorporate local resources because there are a lot of talented craftspeople in the area. The door handles were made by wrought iron artist Craig Kaviar of Kaviar Forge in Louisville. Kaviar's work was very traditional and very well made. He can basically use wrought iron to create anything he can think of. So we went to his forge and we worked with him on fundamental techniques of wrought iron, which is basically heating an iron bar and then using a tool to hit it into different shapes while it's still hot. We wanted to continue with the bluegrass motif, so the door handle is like a bundle of grass or reeds. We decided that it would be more effective to show an original piece of wrought iron that's been deformed just very slightly by this blacksmithing process. So that's what the door handle is, just a bundle of these bars that have been deformed and then bound together."
"There are quite a few wood artists in the area and we incorporated that into the reception desk as well as the big staircase that takes you up from the first to the second floor. Because the theme of the museum is arts and crafts, we wanted to bring local crafts into the building in a more permanent way, rather than just being something on display, so that it's part of the whole architecture and environment."
"The museum is a five story building and there is also a basement. The main floor and the second floor were primarily the display areas, and then the upper floors were for education and programming, so those were done very lightly. We used pieces that were already available and just cleaned it up and organized it because they wanted to spend most of their resources on the two public areas."
One interesting fact that Chu mentions is that because of the Kentucky Derby, The Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft is one of the places where a lot of the locals go to shop for their Derby hats. "It's kind of a tradition."
"For museum designs," Chu explains, "one of the key points of bringing a successful project into being is really the planning process which is typically done with a museum consultant. It's a very specialized area. The museum consultant is someone who is hired from the outside and there are a handful of them, from large firms to single individuals. I work with a museum consultant called M. Goodwin Associates, Inc., and they've done national and international work. It is amazing what a specialized body of knowledge and what value they bring to the museum, before any of the design of the architecture comes forward."
"The museum consultant has knowledge of the way that museums function relative to their mission, their visitorship, and their growth over ten or twenty years. If a museum is doing a certain square footage of galleries, they may find they are under-building for their capacity in five years, or that they don't have enough room for the staff or for the work on display. There's a specific sequence of spaces, from the way that you have to unload art from the crates, then the way you have to store and acclimatize the crates, then handle them in a temperature and humidity controlled environment and eventually install the art in the gallery. All of that, along with how a visitor is received, like a school group versus other groups, and then having enough facilities to take care of them at the lobby and other functions. For example, at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft, there is a large room on the second floor that is rented out for different purposes so that the museum can generate another income to help sustain it. A lot of museums rent out some of their public areas for corporate parties and things like that, and those all have to be taken into account before you even think about designing the museum."
"The most important thing is the survival and the sustainability of the museum over a long period of time. Secondly, if the museum wants to be accredited with the American Museum Association, they actually have to have specific facilities requirements that make sure they are taking good care of all the artwork, and the whole sequence of the care and handling of the artwork is part and parcel of how you design that facility. So a lot of planning goes on before a museum even hires an architect. Some of the smaller museums may not spend the resources to do the initial planning, but then eventually the longevity of the museum suffers. There are museums that have under-built and end up going through renovations upon renovations, and so their resources are spent doing these renovations instead of having a really good plan in the beginning that will sustain them."
"Other than that, I think the people who go to museums usually go to see a specific exhibit and the exhibit design itself is a very distinct discipline. A lot of times, the way that the art work is displayed and how successful the museum is in presenting this work relies a great deal on the exhibit design. We've seen exhibit designs that are very respectful of the subject matter and that really strike a balance by showing all the objects on display in a new way. It often depends on the quality of the leadership in the museum and in the curatorial staff, so they can guide the exhibit designers to do the best work for the public."
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|Architects: Questions About Stone Applications?|
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