Too often, museums mount exhibitions in a uniform style. Monochromatic podiums, display cases, and partition walls are carefully distributed in bland white-cube spaces so as not to detract from the works on view. While the argument for this restrained method remains valid in many respects, a new push to break the mold and diversify exhibition design is challenging the status quo. In a world where people’s attention spans have shortened, and engagement is harder to come by, major cultural institutions have had to rethink the standard exhibition model. Top museums have begun using theatrical devices and the latest technology to program immersive shows that draw in crowds. However, the line between true engagement and sensationalist appeasement in these contexts has become harder to distinguish.
Multidisciplinary architecture firms are helping to refine this new approach. Tapped by top institutions, these practices develop dynamic designs that expand the curatorial visions of various shows but also enrich visitor experience. Architectural elements become holistic environments that translate clear storylines. Applying their expertise to this medium is similar to working in interior design. However, the museum gallery is a different type of “blank canvas” which provides architects with the freedom to experiment. Instead of being taken for granted, exhibition design has come out of the shadows and is now understood as a crucial element of any program. The following selection of current and recent architect-designed exhibitions represent a range of approaches that constitute this new trend.