Route options in inclusive museums: Case studies from Central Europe

Natália Filová, Lea Rollová, Zuzana Čerešňová


Museums play an important role in the society, as they offer valuable experiences of discovery, education, art, play and interaction. This form of education can have a significant impact especially on the younger generation. Museums nowadays should offer quality leisure time for all, regardless of their age, preferences, status and abilities. Information is therefore provided in different ways and types of sensory perception, and at different levels of knowledge. Playful and educational activities can help visitors to understand exhibits, and bring them a valuable experience. Understandable and clear environment supports positive social interaction and relationships, as it becomes a setting suitable for making new friends and spending quality time. To facilitate understanding and support friendly atmosphere and well-being in museums, it is important to structure information, exhibits and spaces in an appropriate manner. Various means of routing systems and space arrangement can significantly influence the resulting experience. The order in which visitors circulate exhibition spaces in a museum is one of the most important architectural and operational characteristics of this type of cultural institution. Several authors also attach especially great importance to designing routes in museums. Some of their concepts and opinions are presented in the theoretical part of the paper along with the findings of the authors themselves. The typology by Ernst Neufert and ideas of Paul von Naredi-Rainer and Angelika Schnell have been given special consideration. Furthermore, the authors also mention and categorize the basic types of exhibition space layouts and connected routing solutions (open plan, linear chaining / directed sequences of rooms / round tour (loop), core and satellite rooms / spatial interpenetration and spatial isolation, labyrinth / matrix-like arrangement of rooms, complex layout, free-form spaces, conversions and extensions of architectural monuments). These forms have been assessed with respect to various aspects, first theoretically, and then on case studies. The focus of wider related research has been aimed at improving museums in Slovakia, particularly museums for children, and this objective also involved observing best practice examples in proximity. Consequently, five case studies from the region meeting desired conditions have been analysed and evaluated. The results indicate different methods of routing and spatial division applied in practice. The selected museums are VIDA! Science Centre in Brno, Silesian Museum in Katowice, Lower Austria Museum in St. Pölten, Kemenes Volcano Park and Kulturpark in Košice. Other individual specific aspects of each of these museums have been examined as well, because they offer interesting unique local ideas. The case studies show that the concepts of routes in museums and taking children into consideration are currently very topical issues. Different path structures and combinations of routing types can evoke various types of atmosphere and create possibilities for developing distinctive museum solutions. Open plans appear to be the most commonly utilized type and their properties in comparison to other arrangements of spaces are discussed in the paper. The advantage of a free floor plan is its spatiality, possibly also neutrality, and especially its flexibility, the ability to adjust according to the requirements of exhibitions. Nevertheless, multiple suitable ways of composing routes that would meet all visitors’ needs and offer them a quality leisure and educational experience from a museum tour are presented. Unique combinations of space sequence and division show practical application of theoretical layout types found in desk research. Various layouts and arrangements of exhibition spaces are analysed in the paper with abstract schemes, diagrams, layout and photo-documentation of the five selected museums. The paper proposes possibilities for future research, too. Potential subjects to study include museum paths and closeness versus openness of exhibition premises. Another interesting issue is a more precise examination of vertical connections and movement versus the horizontal ones. Last but not least, Principles of Universal Design introduced in museum architecture are another subject to be explored further. Finally, guidance of visitors around a museum when they walk through individual exhibition spaces is one of the key factors for visitor experience, wayfinding, but also easy understanding. Inclusive museum routes can thus positively affect the atmosphere and success of the whole institution and meet the needs of all its visitors. Multiple suitable solutions based on aforementioned principles were found in the research of museum routes, often with interesting hybrid layouts. Countless possibilities of combining route arrangement provide an inspiration for architects for creative and innovative museum designs.

Keywords: architecture, museum, exhibition, children, tour route, inclusion, sequence