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by Archaeology Newsroom

Museums in the history of architecture

The development of the Museum as an institution is marked by three distinct phases. As a special building type i.e. as a specific architectural task, it emerges in the late 18th century.

In the first phase, the “museum” is restricted to private collections of the aristocracy and the clergy, e.g. the Fridericianum in Kassel, the Museo Pio Clementino etc. Here the building type demonstrates monumentally, a manifestation of the owner’s rank and position. The first large-scale national Museums appeared in England and France in the 18th century. Both, the British Museum in London and the Louvre in Paris are landmarks of rising nationalism and colonialism. They lost their restrictive aristocratic or cleric character to serve the “new” public, i.e. the up-and-coming bourgeoisie as “temples” for the arts. This museum type found avid imitators among the small German royal and ducal states, of which the best known examples are Schinkel’s Altes Museum in Berlin and Klenze’s Glyptothek in Munich. Whereas the exhibits in this type of museum – objects collected from all over the world in a variety of fields – are intended for and attract the well-informed connoisseur and the educated traveller, the modern movement of the 20th century advocates the notion of the Museum as a democratic institution with didactic/ educational intentions. This changing concept of the role of the Museum brought with it a new type of museum architecture, which conformed to the notions of the modern movement in regard to the creation of space Examples are Berlage, Museum of Hagen; Henry van de Velde, Kroller -Muller – Stiftung; Frank Lloyd Wright, Guggenheim Museum. The post-World War II development in Germany is marked by two successive tendencies. The first is the preservation of the building material that had survived the war, often in the shape of a combination of old and new (e.g. Altes Museum, Berlin; Alte Pinatothek, Munchen). The building of the Nationalgalerie in Berlin by Mies van der Rohe marks a new era of contemporary museum architecture. The trend is now towards an open, “flexible” Museum, a notion of the Museum which also reflects on museum architecture. The most significant examples of this tendency are Hans Hollein’s Stadtische Galerie, Monchengladbach; James Stirling’s Neue Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart; Oswald UngersDeutsches Architekturmuseum, Frankfurt; and Richard Meyer’s Kunstgewer-bemuseum, Frankfurt. The latter two are part of the so-called Museumufer in Frankfurt where a number of Museums are grouped together on the left bank of the river Main, creating a museum-area. It is only superficially paradoxical to view some of these recent Museums as new “temples” of art, a comparison they seem to invite, despite their more open, democratic character, by the way in which the architects make use of architectural vocabulary through quotations or allusions.