31 Museums, art galleries and temporary exhibition spaces

Geoffrey Matthews

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Uniclass: F754 & F755

Geoffrey Matthews is a museum consultant


• The expansion policy

• The circulation system

• The storage system

• Environmental control

common definitions of a museum. Museums, however, vary considerably in size, organization and purpose. It is important therefore to consider the particular context and features that characterize a museum in the process of developing concepts.


1.01 'A museum is an institution which collects. documents, preserves, exhibits and interprets material evidence and associated information for the public benefit' (Museums Association (UK). 1984).

1.03 Collections in national museums are very large and varied in material and generally of international importance. The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, for example. houses collections of machinery, boats, costumes, medals, ship models, paintings. silver, weapons, and scientific instruments, among many other types of material. Such museums are staffed by a wide range of highly qualified experts in collection management, research, conservation, public relations and marketing.

In some local and private museums collections are small, specific in material content and of specialist or local interest. Many such museums have only one qualified curator to oversee management of the collections and public services, and many of the specialist functions may be provided by outside bodies such as the Area Museum Councils. 31.1 shows a typology of museums based on subject/museological approach, collection characterization, and type of institution.


1 Introduction 2 Area data

3 General planning

4 Exhibition and collection storage spaces

5 Interpretation, communication and display 6 Ancillary accommodation

7 Environment and conservation 8 Security and services

9 Bibliography and references

1.02 The design of museums, art galleries and the temporary exhibition spaces associated with similar organizations involves the housing of a wide range of functions broadly indicated in the


2.0l There is no convenient formula for determining the areas to be devoted to the different functions. The client's intentions in respect of public access to collections, information and staff. and


museumlcollection characterisation

type of institution






al archaeology
istory f-



logy f-


history f-


iva art monolithic institution: international COlle~tions

state museum of national museum

national culture

special national!

international collections


social h


national collections


regional collections

university museum

provincial museum


local interest -----I


historic site ------I

independent trust museum

-{fine art art gallery decorat

private collections

small museum

special interest ----l

private museum

31.1 A museum typology based on: museological approach/interpretive discipline; collection characterization; and institution characterization


31·2 Museums, art galleries and temporary exhibition spaces

of commitment to research and conservation will provide an initial guide.

2.02 Some museums may have only a small proportion of the permanent collections on public exhibition at anyone time, the bulk remaining in storage and accessible for research and conservation purposes only. Well-serviced temporary exhibition space may be a priority in such cases. Other museums may have smaller collections attractive enough to the visiting public to warrant the development of sophisticated exhibitions with a designed life of several years. In such cases storage space may be needed primarily for the expansion of the collections, and considerable effort may be made to develop educational programmes.


3.01 The relationships between functions are common to all museums and art galleries. The flow diagram 31.2 shows collection item movements in the operation of collection services, but note that not every operation necessarily requires a separate space, and some services may be provided by outside agencies. As far as possible, collection movement and public circulation should be kept separate. 31.3 shows one approach to zoning and expansion based on this principle. 31.4 shows a possible layout for a small museum in which interpretive exhibitions and educational

loan out and

disposal acquisition

labelling, marking and

31.2 Flow diagram of collection item movements in the operation of collection services: exhibitions, conservation and collections management

public entrance

lecture! information
activity _ f- lobby - I- - I- store
I sales ~
~ I
~ office _ sehUrity 1-5
- f- orientation ~Iobby '- e
I workroom I

i studio ~
exhibit areas - ,_ - ~ collection
workshop storage taft ntrance

31.4 A possible layout diagram for a small museum

programmes are central to its operation. Where a museum is to be developed around a large-scale permanent installation this should be integrated into the interpretive scheme at an early stage. Examples are Jorvik Viking Centre's archaeological site and the National Railway Museum's turntables.

3.02 Museums are long-term developments: concepts for layout and massing should therefore be capable of expansion in all areas and a degree of internal rearrangement, particularly in work and ancillary areas. 31.5 shows possible massing concepts, and 31.6 illustrates the three methods of expansion.

4 EXHIBITION AND COLLECTION STORAGE SPACES 4.01 The layout of public areas in a museum, 31.7, may be based on a simple concept of free circulation around a single open-plan exhibition space, 31.7a, or on more complex concepts related to generic interpretive structures. It is important to consider the nature of the narratives appropriate to the museum's objects of interest. The storyline of an exhibition may be translated into:

• A linear arrangement of spaces with beginning, middle and end, 31.7b

• A loop where the essentially linear storyline leads naturally back to the beginning, 31.7c

• An arrangement of core and satellites where each theme or detailed treatment of a subject leads back to a central introductory or orientational area, 31.7a

• A more complex scheme combining linear, loop and coresatellite arrangement of spaces which is specifically structured to account for more or less stable relationships between collections and interpretive themes, 31.7d or




_______ ~ ~ 1t ,



I public i I I I areas I

open-access storage



and security

museum process __ layered public access


exhibit area

orientation exhibit

commercial activities


31.3 A layout concept showing a clear relationship between museum functions and an approach to zoning and expansion

staff areas and controlled access

____ J


library, restaurant, theatre, associated activities and office

exhibit areas, public circulation and commercial activities

workshop, collection, storage, security and staff facilities

staff areas

public areas 3l.5 Two basic massing concepts that allow public areas to be organised on one level




3l.6 Three modes of expansion: a Block addition; b Extension; c New building

• A labyrinthine arrangement where the relationships between areas can be varied from exhibition to exhibition by managing the public circulation, 31. 7e.

4.02 In any arrangement of exhibition spaces consider the problem of orientation, at the entrance to the museum and at key decision points in the museum information and visible clues should be provided to enable the visitor to grasp the organization of the collections, the interpretive scheme, and the public services offered by the museum. The aim of orientation is not only easy understanding of the building layout but more crucially to facilitate access to collections, information and museum services.

Many museums carefully control access to all collection storage spaces. However, it is increasingly worth considering the provision of open-access storage areas particularly for collection study. The former requires that storage areas are made secure and that visitors are closely supervised. Open access, on the other hand, requires that secure forms of storage equipment and furniture are arranged in very compact layouts. 31.8 shows a typical layout for a storage area fitted out with ranks of secure display cases. 31.9 shows a secure storage area with open-floor storage for larger collection items.


5.01 At an early stage the communications strategy of the museum should be determined. The relative importance and coordination of exhibition, education, publication, live interpretation and other forms of direct communication with the public are the essential factors that will determine the interface between staff and public. It is not sufficient to consider only the relationship

Museums, art galleries and temporary exhibition spaces 31-3








31.7 Genetic plans for exhibit and open-access storage areas:

a Open plan; b Core + satellites; c Linear procession; d Loop; e Complex; f Labyrinth



31.8 Method of layout in open-access storage areas

1 Entrance from main exhibit areas 2 Orientation point

3 Ranks of cases glazed on all sides 4 Full-height wall cases

5 Fire exit

6 Controlled access to staff areas and secure storage

between visitor and displayed collections, a wide variety of media are now used in museum exhibitions to facilitate communication with the visiting public - graphic display, audio-visual, theatre, video, computer graphics, animatronics, tableau and reconstruction, and working environments. Once beyond the stage of producing a general scheme it is important to consult an exhibition designer and a museum consultant to explore the matrix of interactions between people, information and collections that must be accommodated.

31-4 Museums, art galleries and temporary exhibition spaces

rv1 rv:
~""~ / /{_



• ~
! 31.9 Grid system for open-floor secure storage area 1 Controlled entrance lobby

2 Inspection area

3 Clear aisles

4 Grid marked on floor, eg 1.5 m squares lettered in one direction, numbered in the other

5 Fire exit









31.10 Exhibits may be offour basic types: a,b,c Hanging or wall mounted; d,e Free-standing and open exhibits;

f,g,h Contained exhibits and display cases




= =

• c

31.11 Each of exhibit types in 31.10 may have any combination of the following elements: a Item or items from the collection;

b Fixing mount, support or plinth; c Preservation: protection of vulnerable or removeable parts, lock, alarm, barrier, glazing, thermo-hydrometer (contained exhibits may have buffering material against changes in relative humidity); d Lighting;

e Interpretive material: label, graphic information, sound, audio-visual, kinetic device, interactive device

A wide range of academic expertise may be brought to bear in the interpretation of collections for exhibition purposes. Within the framework that the initial consultations provide, informed decisions may be made regarding the interpretive process and techniques, and the choice of media and types of exhibit to be employed. 31.10 shows a broad typology of exhibit and media installations, and 31.11 indicates the physical elements associated with exhibits. Reference should be made to the anthropometric data in Chapter 2 in determining coordinating dimensions; for example, the range of eye levels represented in the visiting population.


6.01 For guidance on space requirements and design criteria for offices, catering facilities, sanitary installations and cloakrooms, circulation spaces, loading bays, retail areas, auditoria, educational facilities, laboratories, and libraries reference should be made to other chapters in this book.


7.01 Relative humidity and temperature

Special consideration must be given to proper control of relative humidity, temperature and air pollution in all collection areas of a museum or art gallery. This includes: exhibition areas; collection storage; and conservation, display and photographic work areas.


winter human comfort zone

summer human comfort zone

safety zone for paintings safety zone for archives safety zone for

general collections

C' -!?_-

~"' .... c

0;0 <>q,

.... "'





dry bulb temperature (OC)

museums, art galleries and temporary exhibition spaces 31-5

31.12 Psychrometric chart (see Chapter 38) showing safety and comfort zones for museums, art galleries and archives

Passive, low-tech approaches may be considered where climate and the inertia of the building allow. Full air conditioning may be required to cope with climatic extremes, even in this case the building envelope should provide a sufficient buffering effect to prevent sudden changes in relative humidity during periods of repair or maintenance. 31.12 shows suitable conditions in

Table I Recommended temparatures and relative humidities in various climatic zones

Climate Temp ee) RH ('J'cl Notes
Humid tropics 20-22 65 Acceptable for mixed collections.
However, RH too high for iron and
chloride-containing bronzes. Air
circulation very important
Temperate coastal 20-22 55 Widely recommended for paintings.
and other non-arid furniture, wooden sculpture in
regions Europe, satisfactory for mixed
collections. May cause condensation
and frosting difficulties in old
buildings, especially inland Europe
and northern North America
Temperate inland 20-22 45-50 A compromise for mixed collections
regions and where condensation may be a
problem. May be best level for
textiles and paper exposed to light
Arid regions 20-22 40-45 Acceptable for display of local
material. Ideal for metal-only
collections museums, while Table I gives the ranges of museum interior temperature and relative humidity recommended in various climatic zones.

7.02 Air pollution

Information about local air quality should be sought and used to decide on the appropriate approach to controL If air filtration is necessary it should not be of the electrostatic type, as malfunction can result in the generation of highly damaging ozone levels.

7.03 Light and lighting

Museum lighting is a complex subject. It is important, particularly in art museums, to determine a clear policy on the approach to natural and artificial lighting. Direct sunlight should not fall on any collection item and UV radiation must be effectively eliminated from all light reaching a collection item: at the higher energy end of the spectrum light is very effective in initiating chemical change in vulnerable materials, The maximum light dosage recommended for different categories of collection item is summarised in Table II, These dosages are normally achieved by limiting the level of illumination on collection items during visiting hours to 50 lux per annum on the most sensitive material such as paper, textile, watercolour and 200 lux on other sensitive materials such as wood, leather, oil paint.

The eye has a limited ability to adapt to changes in brightness, and as the visitor moves through the museum sudden changes in lighting levels and extreme contrasts of brightness in the field of

31-6 Museums, art galleries and temporary exhibition spaces

Table II Recommended maximum light dosages

Type of collection


Dosage (kilolux-h)

Objects specially sensitive to light, e.g. textiles, costumes, watercolours, tapestries, prints and drawings, manuscripts, miniatures, paintings in distemper media, wallpapers, gouache, dyed leather. Most natural history items, including botanical specimens, fur and feathers

Oil and tempera paintings, undyed leather, hom, bone and ivory, oriental lacquer

Usually only possible to achieve with artificial lighting



If a daylight component is used great reduction of UV is necessary

Higher dosage is possible but usually unnecessary

Objects insensitive to light, e.g. metal, stone, glass, ceramics, jewellery, enamel, and objects in which colour change is not of high importance


view should be avoided. However, a reasonable range of contrast should be maintained in conditions of low illumination to prevent a dull effect and possible problems of visual accommodation.

7_04 Acoustics and zoning

The transport of sound through structure should be controlled. Functional zones should be provided with surface or sub-surface materials that dampen impact sounds and isolating cavities to interrupt the structural transmission of sound. Noise levels should be controlled within zones by appropriate choices of material finishes on floors, walls and ceilings, and the shaping of interior spaces to prevent flutter and unwanted amplifying effects. To generalise and simplify, the penetration of low-frequency sound is lessened by structural mass, of middle frequencies by diffusing and absorbing surfaces, and of high-frequency sound by the elimination of small-scale air gaps in doors, windows and partition walls.


8.01 Security

Many security problems can be avoided by keeping the number of access points to the site and to the building to a minimum. The ideal is one public entrance monitored by information staff and/or attendants, and one staff entrance controlled by the security staff responsible for key control and the checking of deliveries and outside contractors.

8.02 Secure areas

The health and safety of the public and the staff and collection security are the prime considerations in determining the zoning of the museum into secure areas. During open hours it may be sufficient to separate public and staff areas. When the museum is closed to the public it is normal to secure more specific zones, for example:

Entrance, orientation/information, shop, cafe and toilets/ cloakrooms

2 Temporary and permanent exhibitions - in larger museums sub-

divided into several secure exhibit areas

3 Educational facilities, lecture theatre, study collections

4 Offices: administration, curatorial, conservation, design, etc. 5 Conservation workshops, laboratories, photographic facilities

6 Collection storage, security staff areas, collection packing and inspection areas

7 Exhibition and maintenance workshops.

8.03 Security staffing is also considerably more effective and economic if all exhibition and open storage areas are on one level.

8.04 Services

For general guidance see appropriate chapters in this book. In addition, special consideration should be given to minimising the risk to the collections when locating service installations and routing service ducts. For example, water and waste pipes should not be routed near collection storage and exhibition areas.

8.05 Risk management is also greatly enhanced if a separate heating/air conditioning system or independent control system is provided in collection areas.


Edward P. Alexander, Museums in Motion, American Association for State and Local History, Nashville, 1979

Timothy Ambrose, New Museums: A Start-up Guide, HMSO, London, 1987

Timothy Ambrose, and Sue Runyard (eds), Forward Planning: a handbook of business, corporate and development planning for museums and galleries, Routledge, London, 1991

Michael Belcher, Exhibitions in Museums, Leicester University Press, 1991

Patrick Boylan, (ed.), Museums 2000: Politics, People, Professionals and Profit, Museums Association/Routledge, London, 1992

Douglas Davis, The Museum Transformed, Abbeville Press, New York 1990

Margaret Hall, On Display, Lund Humphries, London, 1987 Kenneth Hudson, Museums of Influence, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1987

Lighting, A Conference on lighting in Museums, Galleries and Historic Houses (Bristol University, 9-10 April 1987) Museums Association/United Kingdon Institute for Conservation/Group of Designers and Interpreters in Museums, 1987

Gail Dexter Lord, and Barry Lord (eds), The Manual of Museum Planning, HMSO, London, 1991

Robert Lumley, (ed.), The Museum Time-Machine, Routledge, London, 1988

Geoff Matthews, Museums and Art Galleries: A Design and Development Guide, Butterworth Architecture, Oxford, 1991

R. S. Miles, et al., The Design of Educational Exhibits, Unwin Hyman, London, 1982

Susan M. Pearce, Museums, Objects and Collections: A Cultural Study, Leicester University Press, 1992

David R. Prince, and Bernadette Higgins-Mcloughlin, Museums UK: The Findings of the Museums Data-Base Project, Museums Association, 1987

Royal Ontario Museum, Communicating with the Museum Visitor: Guidelines for Planning, ROM, 1976

Nathan Stolow, Conservation and Exhibitions, Butterworth, London, 1987

John. M. A. Thompson, (ed.), Manual of Curatorship, 2nd edn, Butterworth/Museums Association, London, 1992

Gary Thomson, The Museum Environment, 2nd end, Butterworth, London, 1986

David Uzzell, (ed.), Heritage Interpretation (Vol. 2.): The Visitor Experience, Belhaven Press, London, 1989

Giles Velarde, Designing Exhibitions, Design Council, London, 1988

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