Definition from Oxford dictionary: the dimensions of height, depth, and width within which all things exist and move. Space is a three-dimensional place where objects and people exist and move and where events take place. In psychology, space is defined as the recognition of objects' appearance and how it's perceived.
In architecture, space is a special form of free space which the architect creates by giving it form, shape and scale. "Space is prime material is the designer's palette and an essential element in interior design" (Ching D. K. 1943, page 10). The function of space is first defined in two dimensions, breadth and width, but the manipulation of space bring out the third dimension, the height, giving the opportunity for the inhabitants to develop yet further dimensions. In reality, architects don't make or create a space, they just cut off a part of the continuum and design recognizable sub-spaces. Each space has special function and represents a special entity expressing the relationship between humans and things besides creating architectural boundaries. Space is a fundamental element in architecture, since architecture is about spatial creation and depends on the disposition of space and form relating to human behavior.
[Dimensions - Charles Moore page 7]
Museums are special buildings designed around a set of characterizing attributes. The main concerns in designing a museum are its interiors and spatial organization. The kind of interior space differs according to the function of the building. Interior spaces in museums are expressive in many ways, not only because they provide information but also because they reflect different concepts. So, space can be seen as a medium of communication and interpretation in museums. It can provide a division in zones, each with its own activities and uses. This paper is mainly concerned with the importance and effect of space in public places, mainly in museums. The relationship between space defined and space defining elements as well as the relationship between objects and the observers are studied.
Relationship between space defining elements and space defined:
Space itself has no definition or meaning unless visual objects or elements are placed inside it, establishing a relationship between space and the elements and between the elements themselves. Narrowing it down to architectural scale, the main elements defining a space are walls, roofs, floors, coloumns and beams. Interior design considers a deeper definition of space concerned with its layout, furnishing and planning. In design philosophies, the space and form are always regarded as the negative and positive, where the solid is the elements filling the big void, which is the space. "Architecture can be considered as a creative expression of the coexistence of space and form on a human scale but its understanding together with all other concepts, is rooted in psychological space of our thoughts."(Tom Porter, 1997: page 26).
The display layout depends on some main configurational properties such as control, connectivity and integration, as well as some spatial qualities like hierarchy, symmetry and perspective. Different combinations of these properties result in three different spatial-display relationship strategies: objects enhancing space, space enhancing objects and fully autonomous independent space-display relation. In the first setting, the qualities of the objects are used and exploited to emphasize the qualities of architectural space instead of bringing out the qualities of the exhibits themselves. In the second setting, the architectural space maximizes the impact of the objects while keeping the space in the background.
Curators might emphasize certain exhibits by displaying them in high hierarchy areas. These galleries are privileged with respect to others by being directly accessible, visible from far distances and have many connections to and entrances from other parts of the building.
To conclude, the link between design choices and display goes far beyond the visual and aesthetic aspects. The spatial aspects and the proximity of spaces combined with the exhibited objects in a certain layout form a correspondence relationship. This helps the observer to identify the relation between the exhibited objects and become a part of their history.
Relationship between observers and space:
People perceive the interior and exterior spaces in a sensual way, involving movements. Movement can be described as a transition between spaces and different spatial impressions. Each movement in space causes a variety of experiences to the visitor which affect their senses. This causes a huge number of stimulations inside the human brain resulting in different responses and feelings. For example, being in a theme park gives a different response as being in a cathedral.
Nature as well as man-made environments are rich in spatial diversity. Wherever you go, you experience different types of spaces. Unlimited spaces could be experienced standing on tall buildings, on high grounds or from vantage points. You can also experience partially defined spaces while moving in canyons or through streets and totally enclosed spaces from inside caves or windowless rooms like elevators. The movement from one type of space to another, such as from restricted to a more free space or vice versa, makes the experience more impressive. Psychologically, the volume taken by one's body is related to the one's perception of the space. Animals and humans share similarities in that each creature has his personal space bubble of a certain size, which fluctuates according to the psychological spatial relation. For example, the size of this personal bubble grows in small spaces like elevators and oppositely diminishes in enormous spaces such as cathedrals and auditoriums. That means that humans feel their body larger in small spaces.
In museums, space is of huge importance, since users don't only read the information on the exhibits and look at them, they also take in the space and become a part of it. The experience of the visitor is more inclusive, unlike reading the information in a book or in the internet, which is spatially unequal. Space is formed by the relationship between the observers and the elements defining the space.
In order to enhance the observers' experience in taking in the exhibits, space must be interactive. This means that there should be a physical response from the visitors or receivers. Visitors can be guided by the designs of the space to move in a particular way. Observers can be guided by the designs to an exploratory movement in the space, where they are introduced to an unknown environment with prominent and strange surroundings where the architecture of the space is a foreground element. People move more slowly and whisper. On the other hand, visitors can be guided to a more habitual movement, where the architecture is a hardly noticeable background and people move without awareness of the surroundings, only thinking of their goal.
The Psychology behind designing a museum space:
The architectural design of a museum can be very difficult and varies with the purpose of the building. The exhibits of the museum must be preserved and yet visible and exposable for the visitors. When designing a museum space, one must understand the psychology of the visitors in crowded rooms. For example, it has been proved that people prefer making right turns than left turns as well as sitting or standing at the edges of a room instead of in the middle feeling more secure and giving themselves the chance to observe others without being observed and without their privacy being endangered.
In a museum, the objects must be arranges so as to encourage exploratory movement of the visitors. The structure of space and organization of exhibits should work together to enhance local exploration and decrease the speed of movement of the visitors and slow down the rhythm of perception in order to make them take in all the information conveyed by the displayed objects. For example, a statue placed in the far distance and displayed from the back encourages the visitor to come closer and move around it to fully explore it.
What defines a museum space is the existence of two types of spatial organization: the visit-able sequence as well as the gathering space which observers repeatedly visit during the tour. These two types of spaces help create two kinds of interfaces: the informational and the social dimension. The former (informational) is due to the arrangements of the exhibits inside the museum as determined by the curators, while the latter (social) is between the visitors themselves.
There are different geometrical layouts for museums which help us to draw a fundamental difference between museums, some give choice of routes, others give a choice of galleries. The former layouts give the visitor the freedom to choose the route from one part of the building to another which creates a probabilistic distribution of visitors, causing less crowding in central gathering spaces. The latter layouts give the visitors only a restricted choice between chambers or galleries and drives him / her back to the overall defined route.
In some cases the geometrical layout of a museum causes conflicts between the social and informational functions. This is especially the case when the layout separates the galleries for informational reasons, cutting off the social functions. In other cases, enhancement of the informational function strengthens the social function as well. This happens when the geometrical structure enforces proximity of the visiting areas and galleries. In this case, the randomness of encounter is maximized, causing social interaction. These geometrical layout strategies suggest that visitors don't only experience the objects (informational) and other people (social), another critical dimension is introduced, which is the experience of space itself.
While designing a museum space, we should consider the different patterns of exhibitions such as object-based exhibitions, demonstration-type exhibition and topical exhibitions. Object-based exhibitions concentrates on the exhibited object itself, its background and its social, cultural, historical and religious values. Demonstration-type exhibition is used to demonstrate the existence of non-visible natural phenomena such as heat, electricity, light, sound and wind. Topical exhibitions on the other hand use movies, scripts, articles, collages and stage performances to tell stories and present whole pictures about a certain field.
To conclude, a museum's space should be designed to be informative, interactive and enforce the discovery and exploration spirit of the visitor. A museum's architecture must connect, sense, move, show and site. Not only must a museum's design encourage the visitor to learn and discover, but it must also must teleport the observer into another world. Besides, a museum's space must be easily accessible and should allow for many public functions including workshops, informative lectures and social events.
Case study of two different museums:
Griffith observatory (LA - USA) vs. Alexandria Museum (Alexandria - Egypt)
Alexandria National Museum is located in an Italian style palace in downtown Alexandria on the main street of Alexandria (Tariq el Hurreya). The building was first built in 1928 and owned by one of the wealthiest wood merchants in Alexandria. It was turned into a museum in 2003. Nowadays, it contains more than 1800 artifacts, revealing the history of Alexandria. The historical building consists of 3 stories, each floor exhibits a different era of the Egyptian history starting from the oldest in the ground floor and exhibiting more modern pieces as the visitors move upstairs. While the ground floor is concerned with the Pharaonic era, the 1st floor exhibits Greco Roman antiques and the 2nd floor demonstrates the more modern Coptic and Islamic eras. The museum is considered as one of the most important in Egypt.
The museum is considered an object-based exhibition, where the observer enjoys walking around the objects and focusing on them, understanding their history and the era where they come from.
The building consists of a central gathering space, from which the visitors can decide which exhibition room to enter first on the same floor. Its layout can be considered a partly guiding layout, since the visitors are forced to move from the older eras in the lower floor to the more modern eras upstairs in a sequential way. However, it still gives the observer the freedom to choose which gallery to visit first on the same floor when standing in the central area. The interior design of the museum separates each era by exhibiting it in a different floor, but connects the objects from each era together by displaying them on the same floor in adjacent galleries. This partly guiding layout minimizes the control that the layout enforces on the visitors and increases the randomness in the movement, which causes exploratory behaviour of the observer. However, the layout may cause the visitor to miss some of the objects and the fact that the central area is entered every time the visitor goes from one gallery to another may cause local crowding.