What is Museum Architecture?

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  • Written By: Lou Paun
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2019
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There are many types of architecture, and they are categorized in different ways. Architecture can be named after the time period in which it was popular, such as Victorian architecture or Georgian architecture. It can be named after a particular style, such as Prairie School architecture or Gothic architecture. It can be named after the function of the buildings, such as church architecture or civic architecture. Museum architecture creates buildings specially designed to house objects that have been collected because of their historical, scientific, or artistic importance.

The great challenge to museum architecture lies in providing for the often conflicting uses of the building. On one hand, the important objects in the collection must be preserved, and preservation often requires very specific environments. On the other hand, museums make parts of their collection available to the public, so the environment must be comfortable for people, enabling their movement through the space and providing for their safety. In addition, museums are often publicly owned structures, and museum architecture is designed to make a statement about the community. Today, museum architecture also has to accommodate environmental concerns as well.


A museum must have adequate space to store the collection of objects that it houses. Museum architecture must be designed to provide a climate that will preserve the objects, controlling temperature, humidity, and light. Sometimes different objects require different conditions, so museum architecture may have to provide different specialized climates within the same building. Work space for preservation and restoration must be included.

The international trade in stolen art and artifacts is brisk, despite the best efforts of law enforcement. Therefore, museum architecture must provide security for the collection. Although security systems must be updated as technology improves, proper design will make that task easier and less expensive.

A second important function of a museum is to open the collection to the public. Museum architecture must provide for the safety of objects on display, including climate control and security in the galleries. It must provide for the safety, security, and comfort of visitors, just like any public building does. Museum architecture must also create ways for visitors to be close to the objects and connect with them intellectually and emotionally without damaging them.

Today, museum architecture must also provide for other public demands. Visitors expect restaurants and gift shops. Museums often include theaters, where visitors can learn more about the collection. Interactive spaces, where visitors can experience the collection through all five senses, are also popular. Good museum architecture makes all this possible, and many older museums are retrofitted to provide these services.


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