Space: interconnecting museology and architecture

Kali Tzortzi


The starting point of this paper is a key issue raised by the opening of the Acropolis Museum in Athens (2009): the gap between the museological discourse and its spatialization in the new museum, designed by Bernard Tschumi. The design was criticized for failing to give clear spatial expression to the museological intentions and guide visitors in their reading of the displays. But is this the only role for space in mapping curatorial ideas into display layout? Can spatial design add more than it takes away? The context of these questions is the much broader issue, central to this paper, of how the layout of space in museums and galleries interacts with the layout of objects to express intended messages or realise specific effects. This is set against a background of museum literature that has increasingly drawn attention to the importance of space in creating the experience of visiting and linked spatial design to the constructivist theory that sees museum learning as 'meaningful experience' rather than 'defined content outcome' (Hein 1998, 2006). This theoretical background is amplified by the current museum reality with its high degree of experimentation in display arrangements (as in the Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart, 2010) and the conscious use of space in relation to an innovative curatorial approach (as in the new Ashmolean, Oxford, 2009). The paper focuses first, on developing a wider understanding of the relation between the spatial design of museum and gallery buildings and the conceptual and spatial organisation of their displays; and second, on how the way in which they combine creates different kinds of visitor experience and give a museum its distinctive spatial, intellectual and social character. This argument will be made through the analysis of two pairs of museums, all preeminent: the National Museum of Modern Art in the Pompidou Centre, Paris, Tate Modern, London, the National Archeological Museum and the new Acropolis Museum in Athens. The paper will use syntactic methods of spatial analysis and visitor observation, set into the context of museum visitor studies. It interprets the results drawing on the work of the educational sociologist Basil Bernstein. Specifically, it will use the concepts of classification and framing (Bernstein 1975), which are common to the museological and architectural literatures, and applies them to both the curatorial and the spatial discourses, also adding the concept of invisible pedagogies (Bernstein 1975) as being useful to the understanding of museum space. These concepts will suggest an interpretation of the different ways in which space can contribute meanings to museum exhibitions, and how they are expressed in observable and quantifiable aspects of visitors' spatial behaviour and experience as they explore space and displays. Returning to the initial question, Bernstein's ideas will also enable us to propose how the design of the Acropolis Museum adds to the museological narrative a spatial experience that acts as an invisible pedagogy.


Spatial design; museology; pedadogy; visitor spatial behaviour

Full Text: JOSS_2011_p26-53.pdf