Insights

All Those New Museums? Now, The Facts...

From The Art Newspaper
November 2014
By Adrian Ellis

Reposted from The Art Newspaper

A detailed analysis of more than 650 new institutions over the past 17 years

In 2010, the Fondazione di Venezia – a well-endowed and entrepreneurial foundation with its historic roots in Italy’s regional banking system – launched an architectural competition for a cluster of buildings in the centre of Mestre, one of the mainland urban areas of Venice. The focus was the conversion of a 9,000 sq. m site that includes a Benedictine convent into a museum dedicated to the economic and social history of the 20th century. The museum, called M9, is set to open in 2017, with a budget of €100m.This book contains a survey of, and three essays on, the global museum building boom prompted by the planning of M9. Despite its highly specific genesis, the book is of considerably wider interest.

Its impetus came from the frustration of Guido Guerzoni, the M9 project manager, with the lack of reliable benchmark data on museum construction costs and associated statistics. He wanted the data to help him verify the assertions in the feasibility work that the foundation had commissioned, given how often the words “museum expansion” and “cost over-run” go together. So he set out to gather the data himself, supported by a team of researchers and, in due course, supplemented by a survey undertaken in conjunction with The Art Newspaper.

The result is a very readable book, in two distinct parts. The first is an overview of the survey results, together with the data on which the overview is based; the second is a series of essays that places the building boom in context. The first breaks new ground and maps it clearly; the second surveys, elegantly but less originally, more familar territory.

The study, directed by Guerzoni, who edited the book, focuses on museums that meet the International Council of Museums’ definition: that is, collecting institutions, so no children’s museums, kunsthalles, art centres and so on. It tracks down 652 new museums and extensions completed or under construction over a 17-year period, and classifies them by location and museum type, identifying the client, the designer and the opening date, along with data, where possible, on size, breakdown of areas, cost per square metre, visitors each year and staff numbers.

Anyone who has ever tried to get a precise overview of this territory will recognise the value of this information and the service the author has done by collating it and providing a transparent account of the methodologies and sources used. The analysis enables the reader to savour such things as size distribution, average design and construction time, and the correlation between cost per square metre and fame of architect. But just as importantly, it provides the data (although not in electronic form) for professional or manic readers to draw their own conclusions.

The cost analysis – the genesis of the whole exercise – is invaluable. It acknowledges the slipperiness and politicisation of published data, and triangulates various sources and approaches, analysing by type, geographical area and so on. This alone justifies its purchase by anyone within hailing distance of a museum-building project.

The three accompanying essays, by Marco De Michelis, Aaron Betsky and M9 architect Matthias Sauerbruch, are less granular. They provide an overview of and perspectives on the museum-building boom, explore its contradictions and muse on its economic and environmental sustainability. They refer to but do not investigate the continuing boom in China and Southeast Asia, and so do not fully address the global character of the boom. They almost all sketch out its origins in the private Wunderkammer, the foundation of public museums in the 18th and 19th centuries, the multiplicity of functions and policy objectives that museums accrued in the second half of the 20th century and the significance of the Guggenheim Bilbao.

The survey will (or perhaps just “should”) have an extensive professional readership. Combined with the essays, it makes an empirically well-grounded overview that should find a home near the top of postgraduate museum-studies programmes’ reading lists.

Some highlights from Guerzoni’s analysis

  • Geographical distribution of new museums: Europe 315, Asia 129, Americas 189 (of which the US numbers 139), Oceania (Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia) 16, Africa 5
  • 397 new builds and 255 expansions, with Africa, Asia, Oceania and South America overwhelmingly new-build
  • Top three categories: art museums 170, archaeology and history 102, science and technology 36
  • Peak completion years: 2005 (54) and 2008 (also 54)
  • Preferred design selection process: competition 76%, appointment 24%
  • Most active architects: Tadao Ando 23, Renzo Piano 17, David Chipperfield 11

Museums on the Map, 1995-2012, Guido Guerzoni, ed, Fondazione di Venezia in association with Umberto Allemandi, 318pp, €20 (pb)