DMatters January 2019 Issue

Transforming Museums with Design

2018 has seen the cultural scene in Hong Kong hit some important milestones. Tai Kwun, the police station complex-turned-cultural landmark, has attracted more than a million visitors since its opening last year. Former Nan Fung Textiles sites were rejuvenated into a new cultural hub, The Mills. Xiqu Centre, the West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD) venue dedicated to Chinese opera performances, marked its grand opening earlier this month. The renovation of the Museum of Art is also well underway. All these new developments are enthusing the city more than we can imagine.

Museums are traditionally considered to be revered monuments preserving valuable art and artefacts from the past. However, coming to the 21st century, they are breaking both architectural and intellectual walls to become an even more inviting place. Design is playing an increasingly prominent role in transforming these institutions. New architectural designs are becoming more open to knitting museums tightly into the urban fabric. And design itself has become an important subject matter in museums’ collections. We begin to see visionary museum clusters with holistic plans to foster cultural ecology.

The Museum of Image and Sound in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil exemplifies a museum for all in its architecture. It is located at the famous Copacabana Beach, a democratic space for locals, tourists and diversified communities. To weave the museum into the vibrant neighbourhood, Charles Renfro and his team at Diller Scofidio + Renfro designed a set of zigzagging staircases as the museum’s front façade. It looks like a folded extension of the waterfront promenade, leading visitors from the beach to the rooftop terrace to enjoy amenities and a free panorama of the city. The façade also provides a view framing mechanism with hundreds of differently oriented tubes. As museum visitors inside move up the building, they can view Rio from myriads of angles — this is what museums fundamentally do, giving us fresh and diversified perspectives of our city and life.

In terms of curating and collection, the focus of museums has shifted from the past to the present. Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) has been pioneering the curation of "contemporary heritage" with its Department of Contemporary Design and Architecture. Breaking away from simply collecting and presenting history, “we choose to be propositional and generative, to shape the design discourse,” said Ewan McEoin, NGV’s Senior Curator. They commission new work that stimulates thoughts on design’s ecological, political and cultural impact. A good example is Ore Streams  by Amsterdam-based Studio Formafantasma. It investigates the recycling of electronic waste and reveals the profound environmental impact of precious metals. This kind of perspective is often overlooked by designers, manufacturers and consumers. NGV provides a platform for design projects like these to challenge design practitioners and the public to develop a more critical view on the design practice and their life as a consumer.

“Major international cities are not always remembered for their financial sector, but their culture,” said Duncan Pescod, CEO of West Kowloon Cultural District Authority. The cultural district aims to cultivate a creative ecosystem in Hong Kong by providing world-class museum spaces. Even before the hardware is up and running, a lot of pilot programmes have already been taking place to nurture the art community. For example, before its opening, Xiqu Centre has been providing emerging actors with performance opportunities. Freespace will be a place where the public can freely explore, encounter and be inspired by innovative programmes across all genres, such as avant-garde black box theatre performances and live jazz music. Art and commerce will also come together in WKCD to create a vibrant and diversified cultural ecology.

Museums and cultural facilities of our times are no longer about defining art and culture authoritatively. Instead, they present diverse perspectives, cultivate a creative mind and inspire us to be more open-minded. They become dynamic and democratic spaces for us to explore and experience culture on equal ground. From museum architecture to exhibition content, design is taking an active role to drive this change. Sometimes, even communication design can make all the difference — for example, Tai Kwun’s new branding and navigation design, created by Marc & Chantal, certainly encourages us to explore the treasured site while keeping it easy and enjoyable to navigate.

In this issue of DMatters, we take a look back at some of the design events taking place in parallel with the Business of Design Week (BODW): the sharing of DFA Awards winners, the week-long Fashion Asia and its “10 Asian Designers to Watch,” and #ddHK’s #ddFashion Parade which turned the streets of Sham Shui Po into a fashion runway. We will also chat with a few young design entrepreneurs from last month’s DIP Quarterly Networking Event about the challenges of building a design business.

Further reading:

Charles Renfro’s interview by ArchDaily

Features of NGV Triennial

WKCD’s YouTube channel

Click  here  to read the full issue of DMatters January 2019.