Building the Museum: Knowledge, Conflict, and the Power of Place

Sophie Forgan

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This essay argues that museums are complex sites, standing at the intersection of scientific work and display. Three complementary approaches to analyzing museum buildings are suggested. The first focuses on the physical aspects of the buildings, their visual vocabulary and the ability to encode knowledge in material forms, and argues that architecture provided an arena where conflicts between the different parties involved were worked out. The second concerns the now familiar argument about the located nature of scientific knowledge, the particularity of sites and their relation to civic cultures, urban activities, or metropolitan concerns, and suggests further directions for research. The third approach treats the museum visitor as an active participant and examines the impact of buildings in terms of their architectural appeal to the emotions through sensory experience. Finally, buildings have enormous transformative potential and, as a manifestation of the material culture of science, tell us much about the changing place of the science museum in culture. In designing museums, architects seem to pay little regard to the special purposes they are intended to fulfil. They often adopt the general arrangement of a church, or the immense galleries and lofty halls of a palace.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)572-585
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2005


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