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Institutional Critique, Museum Islands and the New Museology

The museum phenomena have been centered on debates in many layers, their architecture, their typology, and their role in society. The museum’s historical role is a giant field in today’s academic world; nevertheless, there is a consensus about certain aspects of museums’ function. One of those aspects is that they are cultural institutions. Although there are controversial points on their primary role in showing colonial experience and national power, the ‘modern’ museums are, whether self-claimed or officially declared, educational and cultural institutions. However, the economic role of the museum notably changed in time, especially after the emergence of mega museums. The museum’s economic role can be enlarged in the historical frame, particularly analyzing two cornerstones: first and second museum boom. Although economic and cultural concerns impact architectural and urbanistic decisions, this thesis’s main objective is to look at museum island phenomena through the lens of architectural research. Today’s concentration of museums can be called whether museum clusters, museum island, museum park, museum campus, or cultural district; today is far beyond just representing an urban typology.

Museum islands- museum campus- museum clusters, Basic definition

Museum island -as a term- by itself was born in the German language to refer to urban plot in Spree Island, Berlin. By the time it has started to be used to conceptualize museum-centered urban settlements and multiple cultural, infrastructural functions orbiting around museums. The clustering of museums is a way to draw tourists and visitors to a particular part of the city and an effective urban planning tool for city administrators. However, a museum island can also mean the entire urban plot literally works like an island for multiple museums. Indeed, museum cluster is more comprehensive as a term; however, museum island is more literal while talking about tight relationships at the urban and economic level.  Cultural districts are slightly separatable from museum islands in terms of museum density and not being museum-centered. Cultural districts are geospatial areas (urban settlements) mostly located in the cities or metropolises, and their primary role is contributing to the cultural productivity and consumption by locals and visitors. Cultural clusters change the district’s interface through new structures dedicated to cultural activities and existing structures adapted for new purposes.

There are different terminological uses of cultural districts’ such as cultural clusters, cultural quarters, cultural neighborhoods, cultural milieus, museum parks, museum campus, museum island, museum clusters, etc. how they have been understood and adopted by architects and policymakers. Most of the terms are used interchangeably; however, it depends on the geographic or urban context; the academics sometimes choose specific terms. For example, the museum campus and museum park are mostly used in the United States and Asian countries, museum island and museum quartier are common in Europe. It usually refers to the 19th-20th century urban fabric. Museum mill is used for a larger scale of urban areas. However, cultural clusters or cultural districts refer to more generic urban zones involved with art and creative sectors; they are not only based on museum structures.

Origin and Historical Evaluation of Museum Clusters

The birth of museum clusters – What are the mechanisms of the cultural islands’ emergence? The museum clusters reflect the urban exhibits of the history of architecture and urban design and the carriers of change and the contemporary spirit in their development to the demands of modern times, new uses, and new users. The museum clustering is an urban tool has been a core part of the tourist industry and an essential contributor to the urban economy within a relatively short period of time. In order to increase the economic value of these museums, many cities in the world are now working on setting up museum clusters. Museum clusters are a valuable strategy
for improving city economies.

However, we should look at the historical development of museums, islands, museum clusters, or museum campuses, which is based upon changes in museum phenomenon in the recent past. There is increasing recognition of the critical role that creative and cultural activities can play in fostering and promoting urban competitiveness. Before discussing the benefits of cultural districts’ existence, it needs to be indicated a different pattern of their emergence in terms of their development path, economic character, and cultural character.  How do cultural tourism and the growth of the cultural tourism industry lead arising of museum islands as a new urban typology? The inter-dependency of its main components is a core aspect of the cultural district. It is assumed that cultural institutions located next to each other produce greater economic prosperity and growth as a community rather than if they were working independently.


           Culture has become a key factor in the competition among cities to attract visitors and an important part of the service-based economy                                                     (Porter,   1998).

Culture tourism is considered a green economy, a tool for marketing national identity, and it helps to promote human intellect. The buildings become the signature of the city and its followed by economic transformations. Cities are almost competing to have more structures in landmark status. In general, museums are not functioning as way-finding marks in the cities. However, they are actually the attraction points that create a particular desire for the tourists and citizens to visit. In terms of architectural typology, museums rarely construct towers to be way-finding marks in the urban context. However, they can have architectural significance in that they can be the main point to be reached rather than being way-finding buildings. Museums as megastructures have become a key partner in the cultural tourism industry. It also shapes museums’ administrative management and their facilities to provide leisure activities, creative curatorship tools,

Museums or concentration of museums become entertainment hubs for the city 

Hannigan (1998: 98) calls the process of functional inter-meshing  ‘edutainment,’ which he states as ‘the joining together of educational and cultural activities with the commerce and technology of the entertainment world.’ Museums are losing their educational character by the time and turning into a marketable cultural space risk that museums become cultural supermarkets by the nature of them being economic resources for the city. According to statistics (van Aalst, 1997), merchandising opportunities sometimes create more significant revenue than museum tickets. On the other hand, it changes visitors into customers and the starting point of the museum districts as a culture of production into a culture of consumption.

Which Contribution Did Museum Clusters Bring to the Evolution of the Museum Paradigm? 

The origins of museum history can be linked back to the era of the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Europe, and Asia. Obviously, from that time to the museum becoming a public institution, there is a great storyline and multiple factors that affect the museum island phenomenon. This research’s scope is relevant to the beginning of museum clusters until today. In the first half of the 19th century, in Europe, museums became public institutions. Early examples of museum islands such as Museuminsel, Munich Kunstreal, can also be included Louvre it can be traced to ancient temple aesthetics and ideals.

Pompidou effect / Bilbao effect (1997) on museum clusters  

Since the second museum boom (the mid-1970s) emerged by the inauguration of Centre Pompidou in Paris, urban planners started to discuss that effect as an economic growth model for other cities. Bilbao effect brought a new discourse into the culture industry about how the museum building itself becomes more attractive than what is shown inside. Of course, its unique and iconoclastic architecture has a major role in that ‘success.’ After Guggenheim success, entire series of new architectural buildings have been added to the landscape, such as the university of Alvaro Siza, the office building of Cesar Pelli, the airport of Santiago Calatrava, the master plan of
Zaha Hadid, the library of Rafael Moneo, landscaping, some statues, numerous of spectacular bridges and green areas.