Museum Design

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“Architecture is understood as a representation of deconstruction, the material representation of an abstract idea”.[1] Architecture is the art of space: its visual form, its dimensions and scale, the quality of its light- all of these qualities depend on our perception of the spatial boundaries defined by elements of form. As space begins to be captured, enclosed, molded and organized by the elements of mass, architecture comes into being.[2]

In 1995, the Victoria and Albert Museum has announced plans for an expansion of their exhibition spaces. After a massive competition, the design that featured a six-story structure dubbed “The Spiral” by an architect, Daniel Libeskind has chosen by the museum. But the Victoria and Albert Museum has discarded the plan for the expansion, because of the harsh criticism from the press and scholars, as well as lack of funding. When the Victoria and Albert Museum declined the deconstruction style, other museums around the world have come to grasp it.[3] I have found that buildings and museums which with the existence of Deconstructivism both as development and completely new architectures. In this paper, I focus my studies on how philosophical theory of Deconstruction by Jacques Derrida applies to architecture design, specifically in museum settings. I have focused how deconstructivism theory has entered into the realm of architecture as well. Within this paper, I demonstrated how the style of deconstructivism works within a defined and systematic space for exhibition and the impact of this philosophical theory.

Before finding the definition of deconstruction in the field of architecture, Jacques Derrida has been philosophical movement with Deconstruction as its foremost philosopher and Martin Heidegger’s writing as the roots. Deconstruction is a school of philosophy that originated in France in the late 1960s. Jacques Derrida was born in El Bair, Algeria in 1930 to Spanish immigrant parents. In 1948 he began his studies of philosophy in France after completed his baccalaureate. He presented his paper at Johns Hopkins University in 1966, where his work became eminence.[4] In the 20th century, Deconstruction symbolizes a complicated response to a range of theoretical and philosophical movements, most particularly Husserlian phenomenology, Saussurean and French structuralism, and Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis. German philosopher Martin Heidegger’s Destruktion and Abbau is where the term “deconstruction” acquires. Heidegger has developed the major foundation became major theory of post-structuralist thinkers, such as Jacques Derrida. Derrida asserts those terms is literally a “translation’ and what is interpreted is architectural. He describes that Destruktion means “not a destruction but precisely a destructuring that dismantles the structural layers in the system” and Abbau means “to take apart an edifice in order to see how it is constituted or deconstituted”.[5]

“Within architectural circles much confusion surrounds the term ‘deconstruction’”.[6] Architectural deconstruction can be expressed as a trend to design with the outcome of chaos, even though the translation of Deconstruction philosophical theory into architectural fundamental has never state clearly. The outcomes are geometrically abstract, apparently unplanned architectural forms. The architects who grasp this philosophy like try to plan architectural details that seem to be output of dismantling, displacement, deformation or partial demolition of pre-existing edifices’.[7] In 1998, the exhibition titled “Deconstructivist Architecture” presented by Philip Johnson and Mark Wigley, has marked a turning point in the very essence of architecture. The event held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York has presented the work of seven architects to the public and have been summarized with the generic brand of “Deconstructivist Architecture”.[8] The results are geometrically abstract, seemingly random architectural forms. The architects who embrace this theory thus try to design architectural elements that seem to be products of ‘dismantling, displacement, deformation, or partial demolition of pre-existing edifices'.[9] Deconstruction provides a related way to architecture when its objective in philosophy asserts the need to comment current thought. The design is a clear deviation from earlier conventions and esthetics of architecture when first identified.[10] Nevertheless, the theory is I want to relate the previous assertion that deconstruction introduces initially with the existence of a formed object. The characteristics of Deconstructivism architecture essentially use fractured forms that deviate from the previous model of architectural construction.[11] Architect use these forms of acts as a way to deconstruct the concept and guidance to access a building. They are capable to use the philosophical and dramatic structures combined with Deconstructivism, in order to deconstruct the former ethic in architecture designs.

Nevertheless the philosophy of deconstruction can be used to clarity the architecture design, it can also remark the inquiry about the museum as a concept and how it affects the architecture design. I have discovered that there was a direct shift in the function of museum and its attitude in the cultural landscape in my research. I would like to analyze the shift as not origin, but the changes which reflected in museum design. I will also analyze the stylistic changes with the issues of a new objective of museum. This shift in relation to the objective of museum is regarding the practice of deconstructing the model in order to further the structure towards different speculation and function.

Another essential shift in this research is the purpose of museum itself, while research about the analysis of the shift approaching design museum with deconstruction. Nowadays, in most of the capital cities, museums are recognized as cultural academy. Museums are playing a role of showing the value of culture in our society and mostly the visits are for educational and tourism purposes.[12] In those years, first museum in Western Europe was initially to assemble private collections, which museums nowadays are diverging the authentic use and status of museums. In past, the private collections were belonging to aristocracy and the royal families, their status and knowledge of the museum’s owners were determined by the quantity of collection.[13] The use of a museum as an academy completely to the exclusive is in direct opposition with how nearly all museums are seen nowadays. Most of them have moved from the cabinet paradigm into the new perspective of museum as entertainment. Nowadays, museum visits have become the significant part of the tourism trips as well as promoted as cultural academy.[14] This has assembled as a turning point in the design and layout of museums nowadays. This turning point in the proposed purpose of the museum has turned from an exclusive academy to cultural playground. The influence of turning the concept of museum is bigger than the visitor of museum. In this research, I want to figure out will changing designs of museums with deconstruction affect the purpose of museums.

In this research, I have focused on few museums which designed with deconstruction. The museums are the Militarhistorisches Museum (translated “Military History Museum”) in Dresden, Germany; Jewish Museum in Berlin, Germany; Phaeno Science Center in Wolfsburg, Germany and Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany situated outside of Basel, Switzerland. These museums are designed by three outstanding architects, who are Frank Gehry, Daniel Libeskind and Zaha Hadid.

Frank Gehry and his architecture design is important in deconstructivism, his influence over Deconstructivism in architecture is great. He also acknowledged as the most significant architect and his design is presented across worldwide. For this research, I have chosen one of his architecture design as one of my research topics, which is the Vitra Design Museum which is a museum for design that located at Weil am Rhein,Germany. In addition, the other reason I have chosen Vitra Design Museum is this museum was one of the examples of fractal architecture[15] in museum composition. Vitra Design Museum was Gehry’s first persuasive architecture designed with Deconstruction style and acknowledged an aspect of Deconstructivism in a smaller scale. The location of this museum is within the campus of Vitra furniture manufacturing company outside of Basel, Switzerland and completed in 1989. Vitra Design Museum is conspicuous since it is Gehry’s first architecture design in Europe.[16] Regardless of the scale of this design is modest, the architecture turned up as a practical work of deconstructivism with a combination of towers, ramps and cubes. The exhibition area is in 700 square metres over two floors. Throughout the façade, the design has promoted Gehry’s specific angular shapes and component. At the same time, it also showed that the starting point of his using curves in his architecture design.[17] The vault is built in cement material and designed upward to maximum the capacity of area for this comparatively small museum. Since there is no window on the façade, the scattered skylights are where the natural light entering. These skylights can be open or close depends on exhibit’s requirement. Furthermore, another museum which also designed by Frank Gehry in deconstruction style is the MARTa Museum in Herford, Germany. This museum is completed in 2005, a smaller architecture of Gehry’s committed to present contemporary works. Similarly, Gehry has applied the similar elements of Vitra Design Museum to MARTa Museum, which are the waving forms that involve the façade and roof. The façade is built by brick, and then the stark metal plating is using on the roof and entrance area. Besides, another similar feature is the skylights which allow the flow of natural lighting and adjustable are placed in the exhibition space as well as the lecture hall. The notable use of fractal and angular forms which influenced by Gehry has left major impact on Deconstructivism architecture and dominates the style.

Besides, Daniel Libeskind is another noteworthy Deconstructivist, his design of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s expansion project, “Spiral”. In that design, “Spiral” consists of various fractal structures, which has develop into his trademark style in most of his designs. These can be seen in his designs of museums which located in Dresden and Berlin. The signature fractal forms of Libeskind have featured on the Militarhistorisches Museum (translated “Military History Museum”). In 2011, the museum was extended and reopened afterwards. The architectural expansion is a triangular wedge in dark grey metal, literally popped outward from the original building, which is in in ivory coloured structure built during the early twentieth century. The five-storey pointed steel and glass shard of triangular wedge has made the Militarhistorisches Museum as the largest museum in Germany. The sharp tip of the triangular wedge is pointed towards east, which is the point of firebombs dropped during the war. Besides, the city skyline in the west can be view from the rooftop viewing platform which is 30 metre-height.[18] Moreover, the Jewish Museum Berlin has made his eminence in Deconstructivism architecture, while the Militarhistorisches Museum is one of the latest designs added into his portfolio. The project of Jewish Museum Berlin is highlighting on Jewish history.[19] The design has known as “Between the Lines” and the title of design is named for various reasons, also it has selected in the design competition. The main building is characterized by two broad line-shaped.[20] The first line is a fragmented-linear outline of the main exhibition building; the second line is a theoretical straight line that cut across the building in conjunction with its thematically placed voids. The voids are used for indicting the presence of line by fitting in accordance with this line. There is also a garden of columns in this architecture, where the cube forms rectangular model in the complete structure.[21] Hence, the architecture is designed with fragmented shapes and angles. Similarly with Frank Gehry and Daniel Libeskind, Zaha Hadid is another architect who used forms and shapes with deconstruction style in her architectural design. Hadid is an Iraqi-born architect based in London, United Kingdom, her design style is more to large fractal forms. Nonetheless, she is renowned for dramatic and organic style which is visible in her architectural design. One of her designs which designed with organic forms is the Phaeno Science Center in Wolfsburg, Germany that completed in 2005. The form of architecture is like a platform standing with angular forms. The architecture is built with stark concrete walls in smooth finishes, its façade beautify with speckled outlined pattern windows. The shaped windows are mirrored throughout the interior of structure, which consist of platforms, stairwells, and doorways. Hence, the Phaeno Science Center is diverged from the other architecture and designed as the whole structure which enclosed within one organic and solid model.

I have studied at several particular elements of the design between these museums as well as their exhibition spaces. In this research, I have identified the way deconstructivist designed museums and how deconstructivism affects the museum designs. Firstly, interior design of deconstructivism museum has affected the exterior design. This can be seen in most of the museums which I have researched. The design has movement effects from the exhibition areas to the benches along walls towards the interior of museum. I have noticed that the architectural trends of deconstructivism museums, the style how the deconstructivist designed the elements, such as doorways, benches, windows, mostly related to the background of museum. So, analyzing the interior of deconstructivism museum is essential, as a museum which designed in deconstruction style will affects the visitors’ perspective view of artworks which displayed in the space.


[1] Wigley, M. (1993) The Architecture of Deconstruction: Derrida’s Haunt. Cambridge: MIT Press.

[2] Ching, F. D. K. (2007) Architecture: Form, Space, and Order. New York: John Wiley & Sons

[3] Mandry, S. (2013) ‘Ordered Chaos: the Negotiation of Space in Deconstructivist Museum Buildings’, University of Puget Sound. [ONLINE] Available at: http://soundideas.pugetsound.edu/summer_research/202/. [Accessed 14 March 2014].

[4] Norris, C. (1987) Derrida. Cambridge : Harvard University Press.

[5] Wigley, M. (1993) The Architecture of Deconstruction: Derrida’s Haunt. Cambridge: MIT Press.

[6] Leach, N. (2005) Rethinking Architecture: A reader in Cultural Theory. London: Routledge.

[7] Sallingaros, N. A. (2004) Anti-Architecture and Deconstruction. Germany: Umbau-Verlag.

[8] Johnson P. and Wigley, M. (1988) Deconstructivist Architecture. New York: The Museum of Modern Art.

[9] Sallingaros, N. A. (2004) Anti-Architecture and Deconstruction. Germany: Umbau-Verlag.

[10] Newhouse, V. (1998) Towards a New Museum. New York: The Monacelli Press.

[11] Norris, C. (1987) Derrida. Cambridge : Harvard University Press.

[12] Newhouse, V. (1998) Towards a New Museum. New York: The Monacelli Press.

[13] Giebelhauseun, M. (2006) “Museum Architecture: A Brief History,” A Companion to Museum Studies. Ed. Sharon Macdonald. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

[14] Newhouse, V. (1998) Towards a New Museum. New York: The Monacelli Press.

[15] “Fractal architecture model represents a hierarchical structure built from elements of a single basic design.”

Tirpak, T. M., Daniel, S. M. LaLonde, J. D. and Davis, W. J. (1992) A Note on a Fractal Architecture for Modelling and Controlling Flexible Manufacturing Systems.IEEE Transactions on Systems, Man, and Cybernetics. [ONLINE]. Vol. 22, May/June, pp. 564. Available at:

http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?tp=&arnumber=155958[Accessed 08 April 2014].

[16] Newhouse, V. (1998) Towards a New Museum. New York: The Monacelli Press.

[17] Cohen, J. L., Colomina, B., Friedman, M., Mitchell, W. J. and Ragheb, J. F. (2001) Frank Gehry, Architect. New York, NY: Guggenheim Museum Publications.

[18] Dezeen Magazine. (2011)Dresden Museum of Military History by Daniel Libeskind. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.dezeen.com/2011/09/29/dresden-museum-of-military-history-by-daniel-libeskind/. [Accessed 02 April 2014].

[19] Schneider, B. (2004) Daniel Libeskind: Jewish Museum Berlin. Munich, Germany: Prestel Books.

[20] Jencks, C. (2002) The New Paradigms in Architecture. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

[21] Schneider, B. (2004) Daniel Libeskind: Jewish Museum Berlin. Munich, Germany: Prestel Books.

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