Essay: Museum space design

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The museum as an institution tells the story of man the world over and how humanity has survived in its environment over the years. It houses things created by nature and by man and in our modern society it houses the cultural soul of the nation. They mirror events in society and become witness of human spiritual development as well as the place of cultural popularization and exchange.

With constantly updated architectural design conception, museum space design has entered a new phase of human-centred, taking people’s perception and experience as the fundamental starting point, to guarantee people’s comfort and pleasure during the visit. The transitional space plays an important role in the transforms of spatial sequence, and connected to all the functional spaces, is the key that influence visitors’ experience. The transitional space plays an important role in the transforms of spatial sequence, and connected to all the functional spaces, is the key that influence visitors’ experience. People can walk through or stay in transitional spaces; the situations in it connect all the developments of space plot. Transitional space is the prelude and background, and also continuity and transition of functional spaces, in which people get a good physical and psychological transition, and a complete and coherent visit.

1.2 AIM

To bring attention to the importance of transitional space in museum architecture, and to provide a useful reference for future museum design, to create a more rational and humane transitional space and better reflect the value of architecture.


To identify various parameters defining transitional space and elements used to enhance them.

To analyze how these elements have been utilized in various cases of museums through comparative analysis method


The research had two courses: Literature Study and Case Study. Through literature study, definitions and types of transition spaces and museums were identified. Certain parameters were quoted that made and enhanced such spaces in a building.

Through case studies, these parameters were analyzed


The study broadly focuses on architectural attributes of transition spaces in museum architecture. The relation between space and museum concept influence each other and meaning is formed in their relationship. With case studies to support the study, the analysis shows how much in- between spatial layouts contribute to better perception of spaces, especially in museums.


The research was carried out within a specific period and limited resources. The subjects covered in this study are very broad and can cover many areas. For the timely completion of study, only certain aspects of the topic have been focused. The parameters identified are general and maybe subjected to change with respect to change in cases taken. The study done and conclusions drawn are purely contextual and has its own limitations.




A museum is a building, place or institution devoted to objects having scientific, historical or artistic value. Its core function includes ‘the presentation of public exhibits for the public good’. The word Museum is derived from the Latin muses, meaning ‘a source of inspiration’, or ‘to be absorbed in one’s thoughts’.

Museums collect and care for objects of scientific, artistic or historical importance and make them available for public viewing – through exhibits that may be part of the permanent collection or through temporary exhibits. It is the role of the curator to look after the objects and explain their history to visitors. A building that is a museum can often be part of the collection itself. Museums can be said to ‘bring the past to life’ and are fantastic representations of the different periods of our cultural history. They enable visitors to touch, feel, see, hear experience and smell the past.


With their diverse origins, varying philosophies, and differing roles in society, museums do not lend themselves to rigid classification.

Certain museums provide for a specialist audience—for example, children, societies, universities, or schools. Some have particular responsibilities for a defined geographic area, such as a city or region. Others may offer unusual perspectives, resulting in alternative interpretations of artistic, historical, or scientific collections (museums where the primary ethos is nationalistic, religious, or political).

Sometimes museums are classified according to the source of their funding (e.g., state, municipal, private), particularly in statistical work. Classifying by source of funding, however, fails to indicate the true character of the museums’ collections. For example, institutions funded by the national government—national museums—may hold outstanding international collections, as do the British Museum, the Hermitage, and the Louvre; may hold specialized collections, as do a number of the national museums of antiquities on the European continent; or may have an essentially local character, as does the Smithsonian Institution’s Anacostia Neighbourhood Museum in Washington, D.C.

An analysis of museums based on the nature of their collections, although it fails to indicate disparities of scale and quality, does have the merit of distinguishing between general and specialized museums. The prime objective of a museum is to do exhibits, though whatever may come next. Exhibits are the defining feature of a museum and by emphasizing it, the method focuses on the very raison d’être of museums.

In this article, museums are classified into five basic types:


They hold collections in more than one subject and are therefore sometimes known as multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary museums. Many were founded in the 18th, 19th, or early 20th century.

Most common are those which serve a region or a locality. Their prime responsibility is to reflect the natural and human history, traditions, and creative spirit of the area. In many cases the community thus served is culturally homogeneous; where it is not, the museum may develop specific programs to foster mutual understanding among the diverse peoples. Other general museums have maintained their more traditional roles but have concentrated their efforts on public services, as at the Kanazawa Bunko Museum, Yokohama, Japan, where a multidisciplinary approach is apparent in its exhibitions.


Concerned with the natural world; their collections may contain specimens of birds, mammals, insects, plants, rocks, minerals, and fossils – objects of physical and social anthropology as well as the natural sciences. More recently, natural science museums have responded to new trends of nature conservation and broader environmental matters. Some have established programs for recordin
g biological data for the area they serve, to facilitate environmental planning (often in conjunction with local planning authorities), and to provide information to assist in the interpretation of ecological displays.

Major museums such as the Natural History Museum in London, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City hold enormous comparative collections from the natural world, including the type specimens from which species have been named. Such museums are international centres of taxonomic work and sustain considerable research programs.


They are concerned with the development and application of scientific ideas and instrumentation. These museums began to preserve the material evidence of technological as well as scientific endeavour. Some of them now concentrate on demonstrating science and its applications; in these museums the preservation of process is emphasized over the preservation of objects.

Museums devoted to modern science, such as the Palace of Discovery in

Paris, also provide demonstrations of scientific theory. In India, the National Council for Science Museums has established a network of such museums across the country.


Where collections are amassed and presented to give a chronological perspective. In many cases, if artefacts are not available or are inappropriate, curators use reconstructions, models, and graphics, sometimes with multimedia techniques, to maintain chronological continuity and to increase the opportunity for interpretation within their essentially didactic approach.

While history museums may include archaeological material, there is a distinctive type that specializes in it: the antiquities museum.

Specialized archaeology museums also are found in areas of rich antiquity or as on-site museums. The archaeology museum is concerned mainly with historical evidence recovered from the ground and in many cases provides information on a period for which the written record can make little or no contribution.

Another specialized form of the history museum collects and exhibits material from an ethnographic viewpoint i.e., emphasis is placed on culture rather than chronology like British Museum, London.


These museums are concerned primarily with the object as a means of unaided communication with its visitors. Aesthetic value is therefore a major consideration in accepting items for the collection. Traditionally these collections have comprised paintings, sculpture, and the decorative arts. Currently it can be argued that aesthetics have subordinated function and association to such an extent that objects often are presented in a totally alien context and much artificiality.


A new development, which transcends all types of museums by virtue of its unique electronic presentation, is described separately in the entry – ‘virtual museum’.




Museum spaces are more than just containers for exhibition settings and objects on display. Layout, design and atmosphere are some of the most significant factors in the overall experience of a museum visit. Spatial design, in museums and elsewhere, is a communicative element that gives a space’s contents additional meaning. The composition of spatial components creates an atmospheric environment in relation to the individual who visits a space. All of the elements of an exhibition, including the exhibition space, are interdependent and the relationships between them are what generate the concept of museum displays with their characteristic multimodality and three-dimensionality.

In museums, spatial design is interesting because of the extra dimension it brings to the exhibition as a three-dimensional medium and the meaning it conveys in combination with the exhibition modes. However, it is an issue that is easily overlooked because museum spaces are often assessed based on their contents rather than the effect their designs have on visitors.

Why should museum spaces be any different than other spaces? In some regards, they are not. They generally consist of walls, ceilings, and floors of a more or less noteworthy design, much like the halls or rooms we encounter in our daily lives. Museum spaces are also often used for containing some sort of matter and, like any other space, they have an effect on the visitors who enters them, whether the visitors are aware of it or not. Museum spaces, however, are different from other spaces because museums are different from other kinds of institutions. The main markers that separate museums from other institutions are the combined practices of collecting, preserving, researching, and displaying objects, as well as keeping their doors open for the public to use the museum for education and amusement.



Exhibition space acts as both the basic space in architecture, for instance, museums and the carrier of the exhibition. In general, plane layout of a exhibition room is divided into the following types, i.e., tandem type, radial type and hall type. The tandem type aims at connecting all exhibition rooms; its visiting circulation is specific and coherent but less flexible. As for radial type, all the exhibition room are arranged around the atrium or set along the hallway etc., which has strong flexible and selectable peculiarity. Besides, the hall type centers on centralizing most exhibition spaces into a comprehensive hall, whose layout is well-knit and flexible. However, it inevitably tends to result in overlapping visiting routes and noise interference.


Traffic space is the bond that links all kinds of space, so it plays a critical role in organizing the streams of people and guiding visitors. These spaces organise the transportation of visitors and helps to enrich spatial perception.


Relatively speaking, forms of rest space in museum architecture are diversified, which can mainly be divided into five

• Specialized rest space

Because the position of this type of rest space is very important, it is often located in the area where there is concentrated stream of audiences and spatial overlap, such as atrium space and lofty hall.

By doing so, audiences can get a better view for appreciation around such kind of place accommodating rest

• Rest space along the aisle

These are arranged in places, where intersection of a double stream and spatial conversion occur, like corridor, aisle and staircase. And these spaces usually lie close to the exhibition room. They are often arranged optionally in order that audiences can stop and have a rest at any time without obstructing visitors’ passageway.

• Utilizing remaining space to set up rest area

In order to obtain excellent indoor sensation toward space, most space in the architecture is diverse. Among such kinds of space, there may be some sma
ll jagged and interlocking space which can be used to set up an area for rest, which can not only enhance ratio of space utilization but also form a small visual centre.

• Rest area attached to other functional space

The rest space attached to other functional space aims at providing services. For example, the rest space around the Lavatory or beside the elevator affords ease and comfort..

• . Rest areas set inside the exhibition hall

Placing sofas and tea tables or small furniture in the exhibition room so as to offer a specific place for audiences to have a break after a long-time tour can serve the purpose.

Figure 1 Type of Spatial Combinations

Source: Zao Li, 2013




A transition space is an ephemerally occupied one situated between better defined and structured places. That ephemerality is due to the fact that the space facilitates movement from here to there .It is a space of experience between the inner and the outer worlds; an intermediate or a third space. It is understood as a ‘buffer zone’ or a passage from inside to outside. They act as both a buffer space and a physical link. Other than being functional as circulatory routes for the building, the designs of these spaces is considered very important by building designers for reasons of aesthetics, health and comfort, and as exit routes in the event of an emergency .

Another feature in this architecture is the subtleness in the transition—instead of a sudden and abrupt change from inside to outside and open to closed, a range of intermediary spaces fall in between the two extremes. A transition space not only acts as a link between open and closed spaces, but also is a link between private and public areas.

The transition space, therefore, is neither wholly private nor public, neither external nor internal. It can be defined as an indefinite zone, which is defined by the relationship of the existing extreme zones.


Context and situation is what allows us to distinguish between types of transition spaces and to characterize their spatial poetics. There can be three type of transition:


They generally consist of: entrance foyers, lobbies, aisles , staircases, openings or ventilations like doorways, pathways, patios, and other transitory areas which are used inside a building, but then again are not occupied at all times. Such spaces have a different impact on people who are passing through them than the areas which are outdoors or fully indoors.

Figure 2 Transition within building

Source: pinterest


Elements like corridors, courtyards, water bodies, colonnades, trellis, pergolas and landscaping contribute to such transitions. These spaces have a lot of potential to provide various experiential qualities to the user. As in ‘entering’ as transition space experience. They even allow someone to leave one experience and emerge into another. In other words, they are rich in opportunities.

Figure 3 Transitions between inside-outside



Transition from nature to building through built elements or natural gardens, vegetation, contours, water bodies gives an impression of living with nature.

Figure 4 Transition from nature to building


The quality of these transition spaces can be enhanced by

• change in lighting,

• change of sound,

• change in surface texture,

• change in level,

• by gateways which make a change of enclosure

• change in views

• change in materials

• landscaping

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