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Museums: Interactive knowledge and innovation platforms

Dec 08,2019 - Last updated at Dec 08,2019

The idea of creating museums as we know today goes back to the 15th century in the city of Florence, when a museum was established to exhibit the collection of Lorenzo de Medici. Since that time, museums were established until we started to see enormous museum institutions in space and in functions variety. That was elaborated and led to the establishment of support institutions with different functions and goals, like institutions that aim to establish museums’ standards and ethics, and other associations that aim to provide different support ideas and means for the sake of maintaining museum work current and developing.

When it comes to the concept of the museum as a place to keep heritage and maintain it, this concept is as old as human being existence. Since the very beginning, humans developed an interest to keep their tools used in their daily life, that turned later to be part of their cultural heritage. This is due to the importance of these tools in their daily life, and the difficulty of re-producing similar tools in case they get damaged. This idea had increased the material value of those tools, and eventually this value had turned to become a moral value and often a source of pride.

Museums are considered as cultural and educational platforms and tourism gateways, presenting and showcasing different types of knowledge in the form of stories and narratives with a certain purpose. These are told and narrated through employing different means, ranging between museum objects as a start to interactive technologies finally. This is all flourishing with the support presented by internal design of the exhibition spaces and how it encounters the utilisation of the lighting factor in an effective way upon the resulted experience. Museums vary according to the subject of the story and the narrative they exhibit; some exhibiting a story of a historical site, some narrate a specific story like coins’ museums or automotive museums. Some of these museums are national museums that entail the story of the nation through exhibiting objects that speak for the creative interaction of humans with environment throughout ages.

Museums should be considered and looked at from different angles when proposing a definition for the word “museum”. All should fall into the architectural/artistic definition. the International Council of Museums defines museum as a nonprofit institution that acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment. In this context, the process of exhibiting heritage and explaining it is considered as the backbone to the storyline of museums, as this process encounters a unique experience that puts the visitor at the desired atmosphere, where stories are delivered either through chronological narrative of social history or through thematic narrative that presents a group of values by the exhibition of its objects, labels, explanations and interpretations. In both ways, museum objects are utilised as a part of the narrative process and it is strengthened by visual and audio means as panels, screens and interactive audio and light sources. As a conclusion, the museum definition can be summarised as “a museum is a storyteller”!

On the other hand, museums are also seen as educational platforms that enable cultural interaction and engagement and make it possible in its positive manner through asking indirect questions with the exhibition story then deliver them directly to the receiver (the visitor), thus motivating visitors to interact on many levels, starting from the sensational interaction with the story itself and finally with the audience and visitors at the museums exhibitions and galleries.

What gives museums a unique identity is the symbolism concealed at the architecture setting of the building, the components of its architecture, the architectural formation processes, the functional and structural components also, the entry statement design, the ways the visitors use to wander through the museum different spaces and the way leading to the museum building itself. All of these elements encourage the visitor to develop consecutive impressions that form finally a unique experience.

For a museum to be able to tell its story in the very best and most successful and engaging means, the museum should have different support functions in tracks of operation that include, in addition to the narrative and museum exhibitions, restoration, documentation, scientific research and museum education. These fields count significantly on advanced technologies, as they require employing archaeology, geology and anthropology, with their scientific approaches and techniques. This is in addition to advanced maintenance, restoration, documentation and interpretation techniques that started to count significantly on cyber physical systems.

When it comes to the urban context of the museum, the architecture design in this case should respond to architectural and environmental context, as museums are considered as interactive cultural platforms which affect the surrounding and get affected by it. The response here does not mean the necessity of similarity to the context and content, in all its layers and factors, to the museum surrounding, but it means the architecture of the museum with its masses should form a kind of expression that might take opposition with the surrounding as a style of its own. For instance, some architects intentionally design their museum to be seen as neutral and mysterious from the outside, which is within a historical context, others design their museums in a way that the building is seen as logical continuity with what is already there when it comes to the used materials and the employed architecture language... etc.

Museums are considered as lasting projects that probably will not complete, accordingly these museums should have a room for growth, development and expansion in its different tracks of work, like exhibition, or technical tracks like maintenance, restoration and documentation... etc. This puts an additional responsibility on the designer, as most existing museums would require the development of the exhibition storyline because new information or discoveries have been made that will impact greatly the chronological narrative, the timeline, or the thematic narrative. On the other hand, and as museum exhibitions are connected to technology, museums should be flexible enough to have advanced systems that are linked to the development of artificial intelligence systems, and especially at the museum exhibitions and interpretation. 

This leads to the following important questions: How would the museum of the future look? How it will present and narrate its story? And what will be its way to interact with its visitors? 

The answers to these questions are left open, especially that the architecture process is a creative process that reflects its own environment, and context, and the idea of a museum is an interactive idea in the first place.


The writer is director general of The Jordan Museum. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times

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