Swiss Exhibit Explored What’s Next for Museum Architecture

“New Museums Intentions, Expectations, Challenges” highlighted how the stakes are higher than ever for museums to address the social, cultural, economical, and urban challenges.

Geneva New Museums exhibit
Kurdistan Museum, Erbil, Iraq, Studio Libeskind. Courtesy Paul Clemence

Architectural innovation has been a staple of the museum typology for the last couple decades. From Frank Gehry’s iconic Guggenheim Bilbao to Herzog & de Meuron’s Tate Modern, whether pushing the limit of shape and materials or re-thinking gallery space for the ever-evolving works of contemporary art, museums have been a fertile ground for design experimentation. But what does the future of this typology hold? An exhibit at the Museum of Art & History of Geneva (Musée d’art et D’histoire de Genève) examined 16 new projects (recently built or in development) for glimpses of what is to come. With a focus not just on the design, but also the changing functions and social role of museums, the exhibit was organized in five segments: Cultural Heritage, Urbanism, Private-Public, Commercial Entities, and Cultural Clusters.

Geneva New Museums exhibit
Overall exhibition view. Courtesy Paul Clemence

Through renderings, models, photography, and video, the exhibit presented ingenious proposals by architects David Adjaye, SANAA, David Chipperfield, Barozzi Veiga, estudio Herreros, Daniel Libeskind, MVRDV, Moreau Kusunoki Architectes, Tadao Ando, and others. Commenting on the relevance of the exhibit, Libeskind told Metropolis: “This is a beautifully designed, imaginative exhibition about the important and inspiring work being done in the museum field.”

Geneva New Museums exhibit
MCB-A Cantonal Museum of Fine Art by Barozzi Veiga Courtesy Paul Clemence

Among the projects shown was Plateforme10, a design that sees the museum as an urban catalyst vying to create a cultural hub and bringing urban energy to the city center of Lausanne, Switzerland. The proposal features two buildings (currently being built) that will house three separate museums: The MCB-A (Cantonal Museum of Fine Art, in a building designed by Barozzi Veiga), the Musée de l’Elysée (Cantonal Museum of Photography), and the MUDAC (Museum of Design and Contemporary Applied Arts; these last two museums will go in a building designed Manuel and Francisco Aires Mateus). Both structures have bold volumes and clear geometry (albeit one being cut by an irregular 3-D slice running throughout the whole volume) perfectly scaled in relation to the surroundings. Located close to the city’s main train station, directly next to the train tracks, the project completes the city fabric, creating a new piazza that seems to have always existed.

Geneva New Museums exhibit
MUDAC and Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne, Switzerland by Manuel and Francisco Aires Mateus Courtesy Paul Clemence

Another highlight of the exhibit is the China Comic and Animation Museum proposal by MVRDV to be built in Hangzhou, China (currently in a proposal phase). To be dedicated to the history and cultural significance of Chinese comics and animation, the project draws on cartoon-like depictions of the future to create an imaginative setting in which to showcase these recent cultural archives.

Geneva New Museums exhibit
Kurdistan Museum, Erbil, Iraq, Studio Libeskind Courtesy Paul Clemence

The future was also on architect’s Daniel Libeskind mind when designing the Kurdistan Museum (in design phase) which is dedicated to the culture and art of the Kurdish people. But in this case, it was the future in terms of conceptual base rather than formal exercise: “The design had to navigate between two extreme emotions: sadness and tragedy, through the weight of history, and of joy and hope, as the nation looks to the future,” said the architect of the project. The design’s interlocking geometry represents the four Kurdish regions intersected by a dramatic line serving as a metaphor for the past and future of Kurdistan. To be located in Erbil, capital of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, the project aims to be a unifying element for the struggling Kurdish people.

Geneva New Museums exhibit
Museum Naga, Sudan by David Chipperfield Courtesy Paul Clemence

From their role revitalizing the city fabric to balancing the past and future in the present, all while still fostering the imagination, the projects in the exhibit make clear that the stakes are higher than ever for museum architecture to properly address the social, cultural, economical, and urban aspects of the institutions they house.

Geneva New Museums exhibit
Model of Genesis Museum Beijing, China, by Tadao Ando Courtesy Paul Clemence

You may also enjoy “Revitalized Musée d’arts de Nantes Aims not for Spectacle but for Coherence.”

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