Museums in the 21st century: Innovative forms of exhibitions for children

Natália Filová, Lea Rollová


In the past few decades, we experienced significant development of construction and renovation of various museums worldwide. In spite of the potential for great popularity of these cultural institutions, the traditional museum presentation in showcases is no longer enough to attract a wider audience. The attractiveness can be enhanced through appropriate architectural solutions and also by introduction of innovative forms of exhibits that offer a unique symbiosis of education and entertainment which make modern museums unique. Modern techniques applied in exhibitions, as can already be seen especially in western countries, could contribute to greater popularity and prosperity of Slovak museums and galleries and increase the number of their visitors.

The forms of exhibitions are continuously evolving and the traditional model of a museum, characterized by simple showcasing of exhibits, which can be experienced primarily by sight, has been enhanced with many other presentation techniques, which increase the attractiveness of the museum space for a larger spectrum of visitors. Thanks to the ever-increasing opportunities for touching and interacting with exhibits, museums open up to a wider audience in order to capture the interest and welcome all visitors, regardless of their age, education, abilities, or health restrictions. It is important for the society to offer this cultural space to all segments of the population, thereby attracting more visitors to these institutions. Exhibits are therefore presented using modern means that help a variety of users to fully experience the exhibitions. Various forms of interactive exhibitions are presented, in particular multisensory and interactive exhibitions and hands-on  by innovative methods in particular. At present, museums, galleries, but also partial or temporary exhibitions tend to focus more and more on attracting the interest of children. A distinctive feature of children’s museums and exhibitions is that, unlike in traditional museums, visitors are allowed, even encouraged, to touch exhibits, perceive exhibitions not only visually, but through multiple senses, and be actively involved in the handling of exhibits, often with support of information technology.

The multisensory architecture simplifies the stay and orientation in space in general, together with the understanding of a particular museum exhibition for all its users, and plays an especially important role for children and people with visual or hearing impairment. Interactive exhibits provide visitors with direct experience that supports the learning process. Multisensory and interactive architecture is in line with the principles of universal and human-centered design, allowing as many people as possible to fully enjoy the environment. When designing the interior and exterior of children’s museums, the emphasis is put on the safety of the space, appropriateness of the target age group, and taking into account the development needs of all children and also those of adults.

Children have different needs, expectations and areas of interest, compared to adults, as well as specific ways of perceiving museum exhibitions, so it is necessary to design exhibitions for them accordingly. The reasons for these differences are briefly explained in the theoretical section. So, the architecture of children’s exhibitions differs from traditional museums, mainly in the interior design and the character of the exhibits. Children’s museums are thus partly outside of the definition of a museum. Indeed, many institutions that are designated as children’s museums do not meet some of the basic criteria for a museum in general. Generally, one of the main goals of traditional museums is to ensure the safety of the exhibited artifacts and to highlight their museological importance. However, the main objectives of modern exhibitions for children can be described as a strong positive experience of the museum’s visitors and their education.

The analyzed case studies of the visited exhibitions, mainly for children, in Austria, present a variety of solutions utilized by this type of institution. Particular attention is paid to the educational potential, the atmosphere of the exhibitions, and the ways of creating and adjusting the exhibition space for all visitors, including people with special needs are explored. The aforementioned attributes were chosen for the great importance they have in the role of children’s museums, whose purpose is to educate and “shape” their visitors, offer memorable experiences through the creation of unique atmosphere and their modern goal is also to support the inclusion of children with health limitations. These examples are intended to serve as inspirational architectural and design options for the presentation of exhibitions, as these museums primarily highlight the positive elements and introduce the options for adapting some of the exhibition segments to better accommodate the needs of people with disabilities. Four museum exhibitions in Vienna dedicated to children were selected for the comparison. This location was chosen due to its inspiring nature, high quality of local exhibitions and museums for children visitors, as well as due to its geographical and cultural proximity to the Slovak environment.

Based on the acquired information, the paper also suggests potential areas for further research concerning mainly the possibility to divide the museum space for children into sections, as well as suitable routing of exhibitions in order to achieve a playful, inclusive and educational architectural space.

Keywords: museum, exposition, interactive museum, hands-on, human-centred design, multisensory