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MACRO - “(Re)opening a Museum: Some DOs and DON’Ts” (1)                                                              by Al...
We can address a risk assessment considering the building’s project (i.e. if the specificfunctions it has to absolve – in ...
about the nefarious side effects politics and its timings often have on cultural heritageinstitutions and policies…Notes:(...
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MACRO - reopening a museum


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This paper, first posted in December 2010 on my blog at, is a first draft of a much wider risk assessment of the new Annex of MACRO, designed by French architect Odile Decq.
Further in-depth papers will be posted to SlideShare later this month.

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MACRO - reopening a museum

  1. 1. MACRO - “(Re)opening a Museum: Some DOs and DON’Ts” (1) by Alessandro Califano (2)The title in brackets was the theme of the latest UNESCO workshop I organized in August2010 at the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul, for museum and site managementprofessionals coming from the capital and from the provinces – most of them from Ghazni.It could however – and even should, maybe – be applied elsewhere, too. In Rome, perhaps,where during the last (3-5 December 2010) weekend MACRO’s annex reopened to thepublic. Designed by French architect Odile Decq, it had been briefly opened for a previewin May 2010, but underwent since than a rather lengthy (seven months) “final touch”treatment.MACRO’s (re)opening has been well deservedly wide echoed by the media, andinstitutional presentations at the opening have underlined the significant role the newMunicipal Contemporary Art Museum (or rather – Gallery – since MACRO’s collection isto be fuller implemented yet) is called to play. We have heard presenters speaking of“urban microsurgery” and “land marking” (Deputy Mayor Marco Corsini), we’ve beeninformed of the vast amount of new space delivered for expositions and other purposes(Deputy Mayor Umberto Croppi), and we were told of the exiting challenge of building anew museum – even more so in Rome’s rich historical setting – (architect Odile Decq), andin opening it to the city (MACRO Director Luca Massimo Barbero). Rightly so, after all: anew museum is often almost as a newborn child – to be looked upon in awe, and hope, andexpectations.But stepping aside from celebrations and the festive mood they bring along, somethingshould be said regarding the process, the building, and the final (at this temporary stage)result. Though the rush and crowds of an opening surely are not the best conditions onecould think of under which to perform a comparative (May and December 2010) riskassessment, a quick survey could be done at once. I’ll lay out an in-depth analysis aboutthis issue, either in other documents or presentations to be posted to SlideShare, or in anessay to be published elsewhere, soon. Nevertheless, I would like to anticipate a few pointshere for tumbler, first.
  2. 2. We can address a risk assessment considering the building’s project (i.e. if the specificfunctions it has to absolve – in our case: being a museum – have been correctly andcoherently taken into account, or not), its result (are there any flaws in the materials, inthe finishing? are there risks for the artefacts on display, for the staff, for the visitors?), andits functioning (are some of the solutions messy, or simply unpractical for those incharge of handling them? has the staff – or do visitors have – enough clues regardinglocations, weak spots, etc.?).Though some major flaws registered at a similar assessment in May have been effectivelytaken care of – slippery steps in a staircase descending from the court of the old building tothe foyer of the new one, for one, or the leaky glass roof over the central part of the newbuilding (but I can remember that also at the opening of Moshe Safdie’s new NationalGallery of Canada in Ottawa, back in 1988, a similar story could be told) – others are stillexisting. Some of them are a matter of functionally not-too-sound solutions.Just to give a few examples, dedicating 50% of the new 20.000 sq. m to exhibition spacemeans reducing way too much the functional infrastructures’ area of the museum,especially considering that to the display area a two-storey garage, a restaurant and aterrace must be added, and that in the old building storage areas, office space and labswere already much too cramped. The access to the building, though rather attractive, ishowever not up to its function, as it consists in a narrow zigzagging path, on a slightlyhigher level than the surrounding gravel stone area, on which cleaning machines andvisitors alike are bound to clumsily move. Also the two elevators – only way to allowwalking impaired people to move between three levels of the new building, and betweenthe new and the old one – are insufficient to provide an adequate service, except maybe ina really low visiting season.Other flaws, however, are a matter of too much rush in opening to the public. Thisaccounted for no time being left over for the staff to properly familiarise with the newbuilding before the opening itself. Trainees were given just a quick guided tour by curators,but no proper plan was developed for allocating human resources, in order to identifyneeds, times, and locations – which was self-evident during the first opening days. This is– it may so be hoped, at least –a matter that can and probably will be corrected in duetime, while running the new museum. Nevertheless, it also is a pretty good case study
  3. 3. about the nefarious side effects politics and its timings often have on cultural heritageinstitutions and policies…Notes:(1) This paper was first posted to my blog on Tumblr, MuseumStudies, on 5 December 2010.(2) The Author, Ph.D. in Oriental Studies, is a member of the Canadian Museums Association, ICOM, and ICOMOS-UK. Since 1999 a part-time senior Museum Professional at CRDAV, the City of Rome’s Research and Documentation Centre for Visual Arts, he is a Cultural Consultant for UNESCO in Central Asia – first in Uzbekistan, then, starting from 2009, in Afghanistan – mostly involved in risk assessment and collection management programmes.