Museums are fascinating! In fact among my earliest and favorite memories, as a young person discovering the world of independence occurred in museums, wandering about alone free of worries, enjoying the large spaces full of glass vitrines, stuffed animals, dark paintings and creaky floorboards. During my first trip to Cairo in 2017 I visited the Egyptology Museum in the centre of the city on the banks of the Nile. I was happily reminded of my first experiences as a child in the museums of Dublin, the huge space, the seemingly unending array of exponents, unopened boxes waiting to be processed, treasures within reach, stories untold and mystery. Museums initially developed to house the private collections of the rich and the privileged, often conceived for the enjoyment of a selected few. In the 17th and the 18th century the first museums open to the public established themselves among fears that the public would damage the exponents. This has changed dramatically over the last 100 years or so, as museums embraced the idea of common heritage for all. It is of course also a huge business and today museums are seen not just as important instruments to collect and protect extraordinary examples of human-kinds history and activities but also marketing and merchandising tools for entire cities and regions. In architecture one often speaks of the “Bilbao effect” a phenomen attributed to the Guggenheim Museum that opened in the city of Bilbao, Spain (1997 and designed by Frank O. Gehry) and is said to have revitalized the whole city and region by placing it literally on the tourist map as “must see” examples of modern architecture. As a result several cities throughout the world have since contracted architects to design buildings of equal beauty in the hope of repeating this success.
In my own museum projects I have explored the compacting of the information on display and introducing interactive possibilities for the visitor to “discover” his or her own reading of the subject matter being presented. In the “mobile interactive micromuseum” for the famous German writer Erich Kästner this method has proved very successful.
Another museum project I enjoyed working on was the “interactive museum laboratory” for the “Die Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden” with which I conceived to an accompanying series of workshops for children and young adults. Working in the museum with schools and visitors “Iive” with the collection the series of workshops demonstrated to the participants how a collection is conceived, developed, presented, documented and archived.
The “Betonzeitschiene” is a “Gesellschaftkunstwerk” project on a large urban scale, this is another kind of museum, one made by local people in a participation process. In 2001 I was asked by a group of local citizens, from the city quarter of Johannstadt in Dresden, if I could develop an idea to help them make public the importance of protecting the ruins of the disused Industrial concrete panel factory in the heart of the quarter. The factory had built the surrounding “Plattenbauten” (Concrete slab housing) and had also provided the local people with jobs.
I suggested using the “waste”, the broken slabs, the “left overs” from the factory to create a “concrete garden”.
The site was urban “wasteland”. The “Betonzeitschiene” was a new type of micromuseum, an urban implantation made from the fragments of the past, set into a story telling “Gestalt”. Young and old enjoyed the result, I organised with the project “group” open air film evenings, architecture workshops and talks, music events and art exhibitions. It was a peoples micromuseum placed into the macromuseum of the city of Dresden.