Public works: landmark museum buildings


Architects are creating new museum buildings that are not only a place to display artefacts, but are landmarks too


Museum piece

Museum have a lot of competition these days, so attracting visitors is harder than ever; especially if the institution needs to rely more on local visitors than on international tourism. ‘I think it is very important for communities to have a sense of pride and ownership in their cultural and civic institutions,’ says Jonathan Kharfen, principal of museum architecture practice Verner Johnson.

Kharfen was responsible for the stunning originality of Museum at Prairiefire, in Overland Park, Kansas, which celebrates in its very construction the rich history of the region, in particular the Kansas tradition of controlled prairie burns. ‘My approach to design has been for a building to tell a story that resonates with the location,’ he explains. ‘Inspiration comes from the land, the history and the people.'

Prairiefire was a new museum, so it has more space devoted to travelling exhibits than to its permanent collection. ‘This museum is unique in many ways,’ says Kharfen. ‘It is part of a mixed-use suburban development, and is a completely new institution. The client was a developer, which in itself was unique, who was taking on this challenge in a very personal and passionate way. Prairiefire was always intended as a community hub, a place for everyone to learn, go on school field trips, do overnight camp, go to lectures and classes, have their weddings, bar mitzvahs or corporate parties, take their prom photos, or just sit, have coffee and chill.’

Ensuring that it gained a place in the collective heart of the community was important from the start. ‘A museum such as Prairiefire will need to rely more on local and regional residents than on national tourism to be sustainable,’ says Kharfen. ‘They are more likely to continue to visit and provide financial support...when they feel that it represents and celebrates them, as well as brings the world to them.’
 


Prairefire


Museum at Prairiefire: Architect Verner Johnson; Local architect Rees Masilionis Turley Architecture; Landscape: Ochsner Hare & Hare; Glazing Goldray Industries. Credit: Michael Robinson

Prairiefire’s stunning exterior dances like flames thanks to an innovative combination of dichroic glass and Light Interference Colour (LIC) stainless steel. Jonathan Kharfen explains: ‘The notion of materials shifting in colour as you moved around them seemed so unique to me. When I came up with the “fire” concept, both of these materials immediately came to mind. To me, fire is alive and constantly changing and moving. These were the only materials that I knew of that had these shifting properties. I wanted to use both materials together, imagining that I could create a painterly and animated tableau of colour and form to conjure up flames. The office did computer renderings of the concept design, but they never really came out as I pictured the actual building would. Honestly, I did not know exactly how it would look, but I was confident it would amazing, something that had not been done before. The client asked me what the overall building would look like. I couldn’t lie to him – I said I couldn’t really describe it, but I was confident that it would be unique and exciting with all the colour-changing properties as I had described. He said, “I guess I’ll just have to trust you then.” What an amazing client!’
 



Donna Clare, architect and principal at DIALOG, was the lead designer of the Royal Alberta Museum, a curvaceous, contemporary replacement for an outgrown building. For her too, rooting the design in the local history was essential: ‘The design of the museum is inspired by both its place in the fabric of Alberta’s capital city and by the character of our province. It could not be anywhere else.’
 


Royal Alberta Museum:  The design reflects the curves of the local river and the grid systems of the historic city. Architect, interior design, landscape: DIALOG; Build contractor: Ledcor Design-Build. Credit: DIALOG
 

The new museum site was where two historic street grid systems connect: the British Cartesian grid that follows true north, south, east and west and the seigneurial grid from early French settlers that aligns with the river, the city’s original main thoroughfare. To reflect these factors, the main museum galleries align with the historic grids that represent the human history of the site, while the feature staircase and children’s spaces are curvilinear, mimicking the shape of the North Saskatchewan River running past the site.
 


Royal Alberta Museum:  The design reflects the curves of the local river and the grid systems of the historic city. Architect, interior design, landscape: DIALOG; Build contractor: Ledcor Design-Build. Credit: Dialog
 

‘The Royal Alberta Museum is about Alberta and Albertans,’ Clare stresses. ‘Albertans have a very powerful connection to the land – the expanse of the prairies, the ever-changing sky, the powerful natural beauty of the Rocky Mountains, the rivers that transform across the seasons – overlaid and intertwined with our communities. An essential aspect of the design of the museum is embedding these Alberta stories into the very fabric and form of the building. I believe that the design of the museum enhances the visitor experience. It heightens their awareness and connects them to this place. The museum and its stories connect us to our past, help us be fully present in the moment and inspire us to imagine the future.’
 


Guangzhou Science Museum: The Chinese museum is designed as a series of nine traditional ceramic vases with a total floor area of 80,000 sq m. Architect: Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos; Local architect: Architectural Design & Research Institute of South China University of Technology; Project architect: Fernando Nasarre; Structural engineer Werner Sobek
 

In the Far East, where new museums are springing up everywhere, the same principles are being applied. Nieto Sobejano architecture practice has just won a design competition to create the new Guangzhou Science Museum in China, coming up with a graceful design based on traditional ceramic vases. Enrique Sobejano explains: ‘The new Science Museum will be, together with the adjoining Guangzhou Museum and the Art Gallery, a landmark in the new urban axis, not only for its ambitious programme for the popularisation of science, but also for its unusual spatial conception, which proposes a dialogue between the memory and historical tradition of the place and a state of the art technological and museographic approach.’
 


Guangzhou Science Museum: The Chinese museum is designed as a series of nine traditional ceramic vases with a total floor area of 80,000 sq m. Architect: Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos; Local architect: Architectural Design & Research Institute of South China University of Technology; Project architect: Fernando Nasarre; Structural engineer Werner Sobek
 


Palace Museum Southern Branch: The outline of the building in Taiwan was designed to resemble traditional calligraphy strokes;  Architect Kris Yao Artech; Structural consultant King-Le Chang & Associates; Landscape and bridge design: T Y Lin Taiwan Consulting Engineers. Credit: Kyle Yu


The newly built Palace Museum Southern Branch in Taiwan, by KRIS YAO | ARTECH, is based on the shape of traditional calligraphy strokes. ‘The Palace Museum Southern Branch will present itself as an ink-dark, sensuous sculptural form sitting within the surrounding green rice and sugar cane fields,’ says Kris Yao. In addition, the exterior is adorned with 36,000 cast aluminium discs that reflect the light to form the shape of a dragon, a muchloved feature of Taiwanese folklore. Meanwhile, the Cultural Centre high up in the mountains at Chengde, China, designed by dEEP Architects, not only follows the shape of the mountains and the nearby Jinshanling Great Wall. The architect says: ‘The process of climbing and excursions, combined with the undulating hyperbolic tile roof, is like the winding path leading to a hidden place in the traditional Chinese gardens.’
 


Palace Museum Southern Branch: The outline of the building in Taiwan was designed to resemble traditional calligraphy strokes;  Architect Kris Yao Artech; Structural consultant King-Le Chang & Associates; Landscape and bridge design: T Y Lin Taiwan Consulting Engineers. Credit: Shawn Liu Studio
 

Closer to home, the new design for BeMA: Beirut Museum of Art by Amale Andraos of WORKac (replacing a previous scheme by Hala Wardé) uses the theme of balconies to link the building into Lebanon’s Mediterranean heritage. The design wraps the building’s facade in a six-storey promenade, with 70 interlocking balconies, turning the museum’s walls into indoor-outdoor spaces for art, as well as for community rooms and urban gardens that invite in local people. WORKac explains: ‘Traditionally, Beirut’s balconies provided shade as well as a mediating space between inside and outside, the street and the private house. For the museum, these reinvented balconies become a series of outdoor galleries in a multitude of scales and shapes, acting independently of the flexible museum floors inside, and creating a new gradient of publicly accessible spaces.’
 


BeMA: Beirut Museum of Art: The new design for the museum, which is due to be completed in 2023, features 70 balconies forming a vertical promenade. Architect: WORKac; Principals: Amale Andraos and Dan Wood; Project architect: Maurizio Bianchi Mattioli.


Iconic buildings attract attention, but welcoming visitors and providing them with an experience they will want to repeat is perhaps more important. Martin Lesjak, CEO and design director at INNOCAD, was responsible for the space planning, interior design, lighting and exhibition design at the refurbished History Museum in Graz, Austria, set in the Palais Herberstein, part of which dates back to the 16th century. Within this historic framework, Lesjak aimed to create very different spaces. The first is a stunning display within the building’s famous Hall of Mirrors, with mirrored and glass installations to present artefacts as if they were on a laid table. ‘Since the interior of the hall is exceptional in itself, our design solution is inspired by the architecture of this time and the historic use of the space in an aim to dematerialise the installation and to reflect history. The mirrored-display composition allows multiple observation perspectives of the objects and acts as an art piece itself,’ explains Lesjak.
 


History Museum Graz Beautifully decorated in places and elegantly simple and functional in others, intended to give a very personal museum experience. Architect: INNOCAD; Lighting design GOL Lichtdesign_guardians of light; Structural engineer: DI Manfred Petschnigg; Contractor Universalmuseum Joanneum. Credit: Paul Ott

 


History Museum Graz Beautifully decorated in places and elegantly simple and functional in others, intended to give a very personal museum experience. Architect: INNOCAD; Lighting design: GOL Lichtdesign_guardians of light; Structural engineer: DI Manfred Petschnigg; Contractor: Universalmuseum Joanneum. Credit: Paul Ott

In sharp contrast, the stark, white ‘Schaudepot’ (a German word that translates roughly as open storage) gives a raw, industrial setting to display a changing selection of historic objects. ‘This is related to our lowthreshold, varied-experience strategy,’ says Lesjak. ‘We wanted to give people the feeling of being in a contemporary warehouse or the private chambers of an 18th-century aristocratic family rather than in a museum, while shrinking the distance between the visitor and the object. The most wonderful part of the project is to help people to participate and perceive the history in an unexpected and unpretentious way.’
 


Royal Alberta Museum:  The design reflects the curves of the local river and the grid systems of the historic city. Architect, interior design, landscape: DIALOG; Build contractor: Ledcor Design-Build. Credit: Dialog

At the Royal Alberta Museum, the entrance tempts visitors inside, especially when lit: ‘Demystifying the museum experience is important both inside and out,’ explains Donna Clare. ‘The design is intentionally open and inviting, accessible to everyone, whether you purchase a ticket or not. We wanted the museum experience to be engaging and dynamic, a changing experience across the seasons and the time of day. When it is dark outside, the museum becomes transparent; in essence, it becomes a display case, revealing the interior to the passer by, inviting them inside.
 


Royal Alberta Museum:  The design reflects the curves of the local river and the grid systems of the historic city. Architect, interior design, landscape: DIALOG; Build contractor: Ledcor Design-Build. Credit: Dialog





Working on something exciting? Submit your project to Design Curial.

Submit project to DesignCurial



Compelo Ltd Registered Office: John Carpenter House, John Carpenter Street, EC4Y 0AN, England. No: 06339167.Copyright 2019 Compelo. All rights reserved.