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Clearly one of the objects of museum architecture is to efficiently and effectively

fulfil the specific programmatic needs of the contemporary museum; this goes
without saying. But there is more to it than that: museum architecture also has a
strong communicative and representational aspect, and it can have a role in
expressing and embodying certain museological beliefs and strategies. Perhaps
most importantly, the object of museum architecture seems increasingly to be
selfreflexivity the museum building is called upon to foreground its own artifice
and constructedness, its dual existence as also part of the museums contents. This
opens the question of what category of object it might be, whether artwork or
At the level of architecture, this question gains another layer of complexity: when is
a building a work of architecture, and when is a work of architecture a work of art?
While architecture may be seen to encompass the design, fabrication, and
occupation of buildings, it does not necessarily follow that its art is located in built
form. There is a tension between architectures place as a tangible thing in the
world, its ordering and choreographing of the experience of a beholder, and its
existence as an abstract idea. It is unclear whether architecture is located in
products or practices.
On the one hand, buildings might be seen as a kind of byproduct or husk of
architecture, which is actually located outside of the object. On the other hand, a
more conventional art historical treatment would have it that built form is the
medium, and that this results in a physical work of architecture just like the act of
sculpting results in a physical sculpture. Debates about architecture as art are very
often also, directly or indirectly, debates about its object character. Such questions
go to the heart of how art is defined, and how and where architecture is an art.
Curiously enough, to say that a building is an object can, in architectural parlance,
be something of an insult. It implies that the building does not respond or fit in
adequately to its context, and that it has been designed to stand out, to draw
attention to itself as a work of architecture. Interestingly, this is virtually the same
pejorative as saying that a building is a monument, which also implies that it is selfaggrandising, and places too much emphasis on formal concerns over the functions
and activities that it contains. This is made doubly significant by the fact that
architectural monuments are seen to be released, at least partially, from the
necessity for a function. Function is the single factor that truly complexifies the
relationship between architecture and the other arts. Architecture is used by people
in the quotidian pursuit of their everyday lives. Architecture thus struggles with its
double-edged character - having an intimate connection with the life-world, but
thereby becoming ubiquitous, sinking below the threshold of notice, being
apprehended only in a state of distraction.
Architecture thus has an inherent object character, an inescapable groundedness as
a thing in the world, which complicates its parallel existence as an art. So there are

a whole series of questions raised by the clause on the object of the museum and
its architecture. How, for instance, is the museums purpose furthered or enacted
by its architecture? What is the purpose of museum architecture, and what is the
object character of architecture?
These are just some of the most fundamental questions at hand, and the
dissertation will explore their implications at length. But at this early stage, it is also
possible to propose a series of contentions. These are: that the broader museums
purpose its object can be furthered and enacted by purpose-built architecture, in
ways that are interesting, significant, and revealing. That museum architecture has
its own objects, that is to say disciplinary specificities and purposes of its own, in
furthering its particular mode of art and in existing simultaneously as the form, and
part of the contents, of the museum. And finally, that questions of the object
character of architecture are also central to its definition and designation as a form
of art. This brings us, then, to the object of the museum.
The thesis proposes that it is theoretically untenable to separate aesthetic from
historiographic questions in the museum, and therefore that the status of the
museum building as itself a work of art becomes central. This is particularly true of
the tension between architecture as art and architecture as the receptacle for the
museum apparatus. The study is concerned with exactly how architecture is an art
form, a question that is strangely under-examined within the discipline itself, and
finds that some recent history museums, particularly those that have a
selfconsciously postmodern or critical focus, are presently revising the status and
position of art within the museum matrix.
The focus of the study on museums of impossible histories makes this point even
more clearly, since art is there given a privileged role in presenting the
unpresentable. The dissertation is based on original research in the form of analysis
and interpretation principally the analysis of both the primary literature and of
actual museums. By approaching the field of museology from a base in architecture,
it examines the museum as an architectural genre, and analyses the implications of
built form for the museum as an institution or apparatus.
These implications are shown, particularly in the two primary examples, to be
profound. The study is therefore original in its reframing of general theoretical
questions in museology, its address of a new and under-examined genre of
museum, and its approaching the field from an uncommon angle - through
architecture and the analysis of built form. The methodology is primarily analysis
and theoretical exegesis, and the principal object of the dissertation is therefore the
existing body of literature on the museum institution, along with a selection of other
theoretical texts.

For the museum to take such a critical stance, museum architecture would
necessarily take a key role. It was architecture, previously, that was both the sign
and the mechanism of the museums separation from the world, it was the
museums walls that both enacted and symbolised its isolation. In the period where
the museum maintained a primary archive function, and was filled with precious
objects, its architecture represented this through a solid, vault-like security. But now
it is architecture, still symbolically located at the interface between the space of the
museum and the space of the world, still mediating between the two albeit through
more literally permeable and transparent means, that might facilitate this distance
at a discursive rather than physical level.

It is true that the idea of architecture as autonomous is potentially problematic in

many ways, and this question has been examined by Heynen, also through Adornos
terms. Heynen writes that architecture is not an autonomous art form: architecture
is always built as the result of a commission from somebody or other; for reasons of
social usefulness it must conform to prevailing expectations.34 In spite of this, she
goes on to propose, in analogy with Adornos argument about the dual character of
artworks that they are both socially determined and autonomous that
architecture does involve an autonomous moment.35
It is true of course that architecture, more so than literature or the visual arts, is
determined by social factors ... Even so, architecture cannot simply be reduced to a
sort of sum total of these factors [namely materials and techniques, context and
program]. Giving form to space cannot be reduced to a simple conformity to
heteronomous principles, such as functional or constructional requirements, the
psychological needs of the users, or the image the building is intended to convey.
There is always an autonomous moment in the design process at which an architect
is purely and simply occupied with architecture with giving form to space.36


interesting and significant that many of the most prestigious, expensive, and
importantly the most architecturally adventurous buildings to be constructed in the
past twenty years have been museums. The idea or rather the image of
autonomy may also provide an explanation for the conspicuous artfulness, as well
as the sheer lavishness, of such museums. This is true in the sense that, as the
thesis noted earlier, it is the explicit pursuit of the formal, media specific, useless
purposes of art itself, rather than other, external determinations, that the work
identifies itself as autonomous as existing above all for the purposes of art per se.