Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

How museums fit into the cultural landscape by Peter Higgins

Introduction [1]

While discussions are going on at the level of spatial planning about Europe becoming more and more like a museum, thereby translating cultural heritage into temporal terms as to what needs to be preserved so as to keep up collective memory, there is another way of describing the role of museums. They are by now no longer just outstanding collection centers of evidence about a certain time period e.g. Byzantine Museum or Archaeological Museum in Athens, but have become testimonies to man’s achievements. The recent evocation of Planetariums depicting flights to the moon and what man has learned so far about the universe is evidence of another kind of experience linked to science, technology and man’s thirst for adventure. What the ‘Deutsche Museum’ in Munich has managed already, and what is being imitated in many ways by Museums of Industrial Heritage, is that tracing man’s innovative restlessness becomes a way to learn about scientific discovery and with it the changing concepts man has of himself and of the world.

Clearly then, museums need to fit not only physically into the landscape, but also in what is to be taken as signs of the times: cultural development expressed through experiences becoming so captivating, that it is worthwhile to exhibit them not as the ancient or recent past, but as an amazing present undergoing daily changes.

These thoughts need to be taken further with regards to the kind of museum landscape is being created in Volos as a result of a deliberate plan to create there besides the Archaeological Museum, equally a Museum on Industrial Heritage in the former brick factory Tsalapatas, a History of the City Museum in a former tobacco storage complex and at a very new location a Museum for the Argonauts that should include the possibility of viewing the ship ARGO as well as follow the voyage the Argonauts did undertake by having a virtual route presented to the visitor in the form of digitalization of such imaginary projections into the past as if the future.

Indeed, a key orientation within the HERMES project is really about ‘cultural heritage’ being best understood as ‘memories of the future’. Projections and experiences that contribute towards learning out of man’s actions may be an important educational purpose museums have to and can fulfill. They have become, as shown by the museums’ expert Peter Higgins also places of cultural identification possibilities e.g. football museum underneath a major football stadium in the UK.

The three fields of consideration

At the outset of Peter Higgins’ presentation under the telling title of “How museums fit into the cultural landscape”, there was put emphasis upon three fields in need of being considered when approaching the museum question.

The three fields can be summed up best in the ‘destination’ of the museum to be evaluated as to how it shall fit in the cultural environment as well as be responsive to the business and commercial context in which such a museum has to be operated in.

Certainly such advice is based on long experiences with the conception and design of museums so that architecture, contents (interior design) and location can go together with being attentive to all usual questions museums face and have to give answers to.

Land Design Studio methodology

At the outset of his presentation, Peter Higgins gave an outlay of the methodology used by Land Design Studio in its approach to the museum question.


Build Environment






Holistic orientation


Physical presence

Physical presence



Understanding potential of existing or planned building

Context of building

Unpack the archive




Establish context for

Power of the Real





Type of visitor profile

Acknowledge architectural language

Exploit interpretative opportunities

Appropriate use

of Communication Media






Master Plan







Conceptual Vision

Architectural Vision

Landscape Design Vision

Narrative Vision


Questions and answers to this topological overview will certainly arise as the complexity of a museum begins to unfold, but already some basic principles can be taken from such an approach:

Altogether the tableau indicates the minimum requirements for a feasibility and design study for a museum. Further specifications may have to be added once the specific museums in question e.g. History of the City and Argonauts in Volos, are taken into consideration.

This means that the brief for the museum has to be very clear and concise.

Guiding principles

Due to the numerous experiences Peter Higgins and the Land Design Studio have made as of late due to being involved in many museum designs, some guiding principles can be deduced out of suggestive ideas

  1. Extension of the museum into the city

2. Pricing policy

3. Thematic approach

4. design

5. movement logistics

6. street characteristic in museums

The key concept of the ‘narrative’

Without going into any further details about this concept, Peter Higgins and the Land Design Studio consider the story to be told or the ‘narrative’ to be the key to what a museum should look like both inside and outside. Again he illustrated this with several key points:

New Media

A discussion about the proper use of the new media would have to begin with a definition of the new media which many reduce to just communication tools e.g. Internet, when in fact a vast technological innovation has taken place so as to expand upon that traditional understanding of the term media.

A key question here is how to use mechanisms to transform images, so that it is possible for someone walking through the city of Paris and take photos which are then downloaded and printed out on the spot?

The new media is above all about ‘interactive means’ and this must be central to the idea of a modern museum. Two guiding principles need to be observed here:

Everything should become a part of ‘memory learning’ and not be about just pushing buttons, but make things work.

For example, a museum about a city must reflect the real people telling why they moved to that city. Otherwise you end up having a global city which could be everywhere and no where.


The techniques to be used have different layers and should be distinguished as well as be understood in terms of their own respective values. There are techniques using

The degree of abstraction from the real must be countered by bringing the virtual into constant dialogue with the power of the real.

All this can go along with techniques allowing the investigation and experimentation with the new media e.g. Matrix.

Animation as with the GROUSE advertisement are by now used by all forms of media presentation.

Extension of the museum through website

Museums are inconceivable today to be of any great value if they do not motivate people after having gone home to be willing to consult websites in order to extend and to deepen the experience they just made in the museum. This means people must be taught and made aware of



The extension of the museum must be supported by such website services which are linked to digital archives so that visitors know they can access to still much more information over time.

The museum should be really something like a mobile stage, but this is only possible if museum designer and architect work together.

The function of a museum can be best understood by celebrating a certain narrative that people will tell e.g. about their sailing experiences.

Peter Higgins continues working with especially media artists to keep up with latest technological developments and how they can be used to present and to access new experiences. (for further information see www.landdesignstudio.co.uk)

Use of the new media is about taking the visitors of the museum into a different context and into a new dimension.


Hatto Fischer

[1] These notes are based on a lecture given by Peter Higgins from Land Design Studio in Volos, 11.6.2004

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