After hosting the Expo 2010, Shanghai has clearly positioned itself to become an international metropolis and launched a new round of urban development strategy.1 A metropolis cannot do without vigorous culture facilities, especially art museums, and as it has already revealed, during this decade, there has been a spurt of growth and development of art museums in Shanghai.2 Based on the solid economic foundation accumulated by its industrial capacity in earlier years, as well as a rich and unique cultural and artistic resource, that not only traditional Chinese culture and art, but also a strong capacity of collection and appreciation of international contemporary cultures and arts, Shanghai has provided a steady guarantee and a constant impetus for the rapid development of contemporary art museums. As a result of quantity increase, related architectural designs and constructions of contemporary art museum have also indicated a prosperous growth trend. In fact, since 2010, more and more leading architects (teams) from domestic and abroad have been bringing their outstanding, innovative and unique architectural designs to Shanghai, making Shanghai become a global experiment filed for architectural designs, especially public cultural facilities as art museums.
As a carrier of contemporary artwork exhibition, a materialized expression of art museum institution, and an important strategy for urban development, architecture of contemporary art museum plays a vitally important role in contemporary art promoting, as well as urban vitality increasing. The architectural design of contemporary art museum is showing a great diversity based on the demands of not only contemporary artworks, whose unique and diverse themes, materials and representations are requiring more appropriate and flexible exhibition spaces of their own, but also society, as its demands for art museums are no longer just for art appreciation or public education, but for more and constantly changing new social activities.
However, the public’s expectations would change; exhibitions would be replaced; but the architecture stands forever. Therefore, a question which deserves to be pondered is posed: How could a design for an architecture achieve “forever”? More precisely, it may not be “forever” or “fixed eternal”, but a “everlasting pattern” that is constantly updating, adapting, and continuously developing. At this moment, the program of architectural design would be proposed once again. Based on the constantly changing demands for architectural space in art museums, that may come from the exhibitions or the future social development, architectural design always leaving opportunities for changes of the program in it may be the pattern mentioned above. On the one hand, it is a response to the various demands and requirements proposed by related stakeholders for contemporary art museums; On the other hand, it is a rationalized re-activation of the architectural spaces that has been abandoned or survived from the urban developing process; In addition, it is also a reservation for the future possibilities that may take place in the current design.
Therefore, this research takes program as the starting point and aims at exploring that in the future, how should the program be set in an architectural design of a contemporary art museum located in Shanghai central area3 to realize a sustainability in architectural design. The issue involves two aspects: first, what will be the programs; Second, how will these programs be set. Moreover, the formation and origin of program design in contemporary art museum architectural design will also be highlighted, thus discussing how related factors influence the design of program as well as take a further influence on the design of contemporary art museum architecture.
Program in architectural design
In the definition of architectural space, the activities (or “events” in Bernard Tschumi’s word) that take place in the space is an indispensable component. (Tschumi 1996, 3)4 As for architectural design, it is the design of space. It involves a specification on the shape and dimensions of space, as well as defining the activities that may happen inside it. The latter process contains a definition on what activities there are, including the requirements and demands proposed by these activities that the space should meet, and the sequence in which they occur, which refers to define the program of space.
The notion of program involves “an act to edit function and human activities” as the pretext of architectural design: epitomized in the maxim form follows function, first popularized by Louis Sullivan at the beginning of the 20th century. The unification of program and function in concept can be traced back to 1957, at the conference of Royal Institute of British Architects, John Summerson interpretated the program as a description of space dimensions, spatial relationships and other material conditions required to facilitate the implementation of a specific function. (Summerson 1957, 307-310)5 Moreover, in Program vs. Paradigm published in 1983, based on the definition in Oxford Dictionary, Colin Rowe defined program as “a definite plan or scheme of any intended proceedings: an outline or abstract of something to be done”, and he strengthened that “it is in this sense that the word program has penetrated the architectural vocabulary”. (Rowe 1983, 9)6 The proposal of program was a sublimation of functionalism and gave more prominence to people’s activities in architectural space, inspiring a number of famous architects, such as Bernard Tschumi, Rem Koolhaas, MVRDV, Kazuyo Sejima, etc.
Design of program
Program not merely comes from the demands of space users or related stakeholders, but also considers the identity and corresponding responsibilities of space itself, as well as the architect's own intention. The identity of space and stakeholders’ demands define what specific activities would be contained in a program, as well as what corresponding requirements the space should meet. And it is the architect, to the greatest extent, who determines the sequence in which activities would take place, thus the visiting order and routes, as well as the positions and orientations of each activity7. This argument can be demonstrated clearly in the application of bubble diagram (see fig.1) during the design process of architecture, as well as the description of “cross-programming” that Koolhaas outlined in his book Delirious New York (1978).8
Therefore, program should also be designed. The design contains that finding the relationship and sequence of activities that will take place in space, so as to develop a set of spatial organization of behavior system, and providing appropriate place for each activity (Wang 2014, 106).9 It is worth emphasizing that, different from the design of physical architectural space, program design (as indicated in the two diagrams on the left in fig.1) takes place before the steps of getting to the physical space (which is indicated in the two diagrams on the right in fig.1). The process of program design can be interpretated as a meticulous and precise realization on the requirements proposed by various activities. (Viollet-le-Duc 1877, 448)10
Figure 1: Diagrams presenting the transformation from program to schematic design
Laseau, Paul. Graphic thinking for architects and designers. John Wiley & Sons, 2000. 62-63.
Selection of case studies
This research selected eight architectural designs of contemporary art museum in Shanghai central area since 2010 as study cases, namely the Rockbund Art Museum (2010), the SPSI Art Museum (2011), Power Station of Art (2012), Long Museum (2014), Tank Shanghai (2018), Modern Art Museum Shanghai (2019), West Bund Museum (2019) and Museum of Art Pudong (2021). All these cases are all independent architectural designs (no sharing architectural space with other non-museum institutions or organizations), including both new constructions and renovation designs. The selection of these cases was based on two criteria: the time and location of design.
1. Time consideration
The selected cases were all designed or renovated designed from 2010 until present (2021). In October 2010, the Department of Art in the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of China issued the Notice on the Application for Projects of National Art Museum Development Support Program in 2010. In the Notice, the importance of art museums in the development of public culture system was stated, and the decision that the National Art Museum Development Support Program would be implemented gradually since 2010. Moreover, in 2010, Shanghai hosted the 41st Expo. With the boost of this Expo, Shanghai had become clearly defined as an international metropolis and vigorously developed its art museum issue. Therefore, thanks to both national policies and international opportunities, there had been a spurt of growth and development of art museums in Shanghai and related architectural designs and constructions had also indicated a prosperous growth trend.
2. Location consideration
The selected cases were all designed or renovated designed in the central area of Shanghai. As described above, as one of the first metropolises that developed in China, Shanghai had a solid economic foundation, as well as unique and rich cultural and artistic resources, which made Shanghai become a global experiment filed for architectural designs, especially public cultural facilities as art museums. The architectural designs of these museums had been extremely abundant and representative. Moreover, the selection of cases here was also in consideration of the necessity to better fit the urban context and daily activities.
The research started with an analysis of eight architecture designs of contemporary art museum in Shanghai central area, giving a specific focus on the drawings of architectural plans, which were the materialized manifestations of space designs. Based on these drawings, the program design was traced back and mapped out regarding to each case. For each case, corresponding program was illustrated and analyzed, including what activities demanded the spatial design, as well as the relationships among them, in terms of their positions, orientations and the sequences in which they occurred. Moreover, the characteristics of these program designs were highlighted, and basic dispositions of program designs were deduced and summarized. Combined with possible future changes in factors affecting program design that discussed above, as well as taking the basis of these dispositions, a design guideline would be proposed as a conclusion for future program designs in contemporary art museums, allowing for multiple forms of future use and appropriation.
Case studies: The programs in eight architectural designs of contemporary art museums
The activities in programs
Based on the analysis of architectural plans drawings, there are 11 types of activities presented in the selected designs, namely, ticket purchasing (TP), clothes storing (CS), exhibition experiencing (EE),11 reading (R), participating lectures (PL), courses (PC) and music LIVE (PM), as well as shopping (S), dining (D),12 involving in art creation & design (AC&D) and operating daily working affairs (O).13 The activities in the eight contemporary art museums are listed respectively as shown in table.1.
Table 1: Activities in architectural designs of contemporary art museums in Shanghai central area
As indicated in table.1, ‘ticket purchasing’ ‘exhibition experiencing’ and ‘operating daily working affairs’ are activities that necessarily take place in each of the cases. These activities also represent the original identity and fundamental responsibility of an art museum—exhibiting art works, and the basic modes for keeping operation. Moreover, except for SPSI Art Museum and Modern Art Museum Shanghai, other museums have all set up specific spaces for ‘clothing storage”. ‘Shopping’ and ‘dining’ are present in most of the cases and have become an essential part of museum users' activities. In addition, ‘participating lectures’ is also a common activity in museum program. And other events, such as ‘reading’ ‘participating courses’ and ‘involving in art creation & design’ also can be found in individual museums. It is also worth mentioning that Tank Shanghai has set up a special space for ‘participating in music LIVE’, which has become its unique specialty and attractiveness.
The designs of program
Based on the drawings of architectural plans, the designs of program for each case are illustrated in fig.2 presented below. This diagram depicts the relationship among the activities in program design, including tight junction, proximity and separation; the positions and orientations of each activity, such as taking a deck view, taking a river view, accessing to urban context, etc.; as well as the sequences in which these activities occur, which are marked with arrows in the diagram.
Moreover, in the diagram, the grey circles indicate ‘activities that not specifically defined’, which take architectural spaces such as entrance spaces, foyers, lobbies, outdoor areas, public decks, roof decks, etc. These spaces are not given a specific activity and are often served as ‘spaces for rest’ or combined with adjacent functional spaces. However, the spaces corresponding to these unspecified activities play a vitally important role in connecting the spaces required for other activities in entire program design. And in some cases, such as Tank Shanghai and West Bund Museum, spaces for ‘unspecified activities’ have become a core that support the entire architectural designs.
Figure 2: Designs of program for contemporary art museums in Shanghai central area
Basic dispositions of programs
Extraction of basic dispositions
Although the designs of program for contemporary art museums demonstrate variety because of the unique context of each case, there do exist some basic dispositions of programs that indicate relatively fixed compositions, connections and sequences of occurrence. Based on the eight designs of program above, six basic dispositions of program in contemporary art museum can be extracted, as shown in fig. 3 below.
Figure 3: Basic dispositions of programs
- It is one of the most basic dispositions, appearing in most of the program designs. It illustrates the relationship and the sequence in which related activities need to occur in order to approach the most fundamental activity ‘exhibition experiencing’: Visitors enter an art museum, purchase a ticket, store their personal belongings, and then begin to experience an exhibition.
- When ‘exhibition experiencing’ is not the only activity in an art museum, ‘reading’ ‘participating in other events’ ‘shopping’ and ‘dining’ can all become reasons for people to come to an art museum. This disposition reveals the coexistence and parallelism of these activities, as well as the possibility that they can all be approached directly from the entrance.
- This disposition, which also appears in the program designs of most art museums, indicates the connection and sequence of related activities that occur after ‘exhibition experiencing’: Visitors leave the exhibition room and optionally go for a cup of coffee or buy some art souvenirs. Meanwhile, ‘dining’ and ‘shopping’ can be adjacent to each other.
- This disposition shows the connection between the activities that museum staff are involved in. In architectural space, working space is interconnected with exhibition space, which demonstrates a connection between operating activities and exhibition experiencing, in terms of guarding, maintaining and updating exhibits.
- This disposition appears in the case of Tank Shanghai and West Bund Museum, showing a connection that it is the ‘undefined activity’ that connects other activities, including ‘exhibition experiencing’, and all these activities can be approached directly through this undefined one.
- This disposition adds ‘art creating and designing’ to the connection between ‘exhibition experiencing’ and ‘shopping’. The addition of AC&D emphasizes the importance of artist residency and visitors' participation in art and design, and, more importantly, the products that derive from this activity can provide economic benefits to the museum.
Possible transformations of basic dispositions in the future
As discussed in section 2.2, there are three factors that would affect a program design of contemporary art museum: the identity and corresponding responsibilities of contemporary art museum itself, the demands of related stakeholders (including but not limited to visitors) and the architect's own intention. The possible future transformations in these factors would also have an impact on the modes of basic dispositions.
1. A transformation in identity and responsibility of art museum
Art museums, especially contemporary art museums, have begun to transform their identity and responsibilities in social life and urban development. They are no longer just a platform for artworks exhibiting, but are gradually becoming a place for people’s daily lives. People will come to an art museum not just to experience an exhibition, but to get more opportunities for activities, whether to gain knowledge and skills, or just to relax and enjoy themselves. At this moment, a variety of daily activities will be needed, and it is especially important that these activities will be directly approachable and independent of each other.
2. An experimental field for artists
For artists, an art museum should not only be a place to display their works, but also a repository of inspiration, a studio where they can create, and a platform for communication and collaboration. This is an extremely strong impetus to the creation and development of artists, especially young artists. In this sense, it makes sense to integrate the activity of ‘art creating and designing’ in the program design of art museum, as it will promote the development of contemporary art in a real sense.
3. In an age of digitalization
Although i is one of the most common dispositions at present, in the future, with the prevalence of online ticket purchasing and reservation, the activity of ‘ticket purchasing’ will no longer be part of a museum's program. Visitors will be able to start their ‘exhibition experiencing’ by simply showing their electronic voucher for online reservation or ticket purchasing.
4. Economic benefits for non-profit organizations
Although, art museum is defined as a non-profit organization, the prerequisite for its proper development is its survival in this economic society. The integration of other activities besides ‘exhibition experiencing’, such as ‘shopping’ ‘dining’ and ‘participating events’, can effectively generate economic income. This is one of the reasons why more social and daily activities will be encouraged to be included in the program design of art museum.
5. Sustainable program design
With an increasing quantity of architectural constructions and a transformation of social demands, renovation designs of abandoned (old) architectural spaces will be an inevitable and important topic in the future. Facing the sustainability of architectural design, architects should consider not only how to fit current programs into previous architectural designs, but also whether current architectural designs would be adapted to the possibilities of future programs. This would provide a good opportunity for ‘undefined activity’ to be introduced into the program design of art museum.
Conclusion: a design guideline of program in architectural design of contemporary art museum
As for architectural design, it is the design of space. Besides a specification on the shape and dimensions of space, defining the activities that may happen inside the space, that defining the program, is vitally essential. Program should also be designed, which contains defining the relationship among the activities, the positions and orientations of each activity, as well as the sequences in which these activities occur. Moreover, a program design can be affected by three factors: the identity and corresponding responsibilities of the space itself, the demands of related stakeholders and the architect's own intention.
This research took eight architectural designs of contemporary art museum in Shanghai central area as study cases, mapped the program design of each case and summarized six basic dispositions. In order to realize a sustainability in architectural design, based on the deduced dispositions and considering the possible future transformations of the influencing factors mentioned above, the future program in architectural design of contemporary art museum will be set following these three points: 1) Considering the demands from various stakeholders, a program should integrate more diverse and daily activities; 2) ‘Undefined activity’ should be introduced into the program design of art museum and perform its flexible functions and features; 3) Activities should be set independently, in parallel and approachable directly.
This design guideline would give a reference for the future design of program in contemporary art museum, as well as cast a further influence on the design of contemporary art museum architecture in Shanghai city.
- In January 2018, Shanghai Municipal People’s Government issued The Shanghai Urban Master Plan 2017-2035, which stated that “… Shanghai will be built into an outstanding international city, a modern socialist metropolis with worldwide influence.” (2018, 6)
- There were only 20 art museums in Shanghai in 2010, and in 2021, according to the latest records, there are 96 art museums in Shanghai (Data from Shanghai Municipal Administration of Culture and Tourism. See link: http://whlyj.sh.gov.cn)
- Shanghai central area includes Huangpu District, Xuhui District, Changning District, Jingan District, Putuo District, Hongkou District, Yangpu District and the area within outer ring road of Pudong District. It has an area of 660km2.
- Tschumi, Bernard (1996): Architecture and disjunction. Cambridge, MA: MIT press.
- Summerson, John (1957): “The case for a theory of modern architecture”, in: RIBA Journal: 1957(6), pp. 307-310.
- Rowe, Colin (1983): “Program vs. Paradigm”, in: Cornell Journal of Architecture 2, pp. 8-19.
Laseau, Paul (2000): Graphic thinking for architects and designers. John Wiley & Sons.
- Koolhaas, Rem (1978): Delirious New York: a retroactive manifesto for Manhattan. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Wang, Zheng 王正 (2014): Gongneng Tanyi 功能探绎 [Enquiry into Function]. Nanjing: Southeast University Press.
- Viollet-le-Duc, Eugène-Emmanuel (1877): Lectures on architecture. Vol. 1. Translated by Benjamin Bucknall. London: Edinburgh Anibersitg Press.
- ‘Exhibition experiencing’ includes all possible activities and behaviors that may occur during exhibition experiencing, such as walking, standing and staying, taking photos, talking, etc.
- ‘Dining’ includes having coffee, light and formal meal.
- ‘Operating daily working affairs’ includes marketing, exhibits collecting, storing, studying, etc.