Relationship Between Museum and Cultural Identity

05 Feb 2018

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As society enters a new century, many cultures have recond to an age of globalisation and, in turn, are embracing the idea of contemporary living. This results in the development of cutting-edge technology, new methods of communication, and the rapid growth of cities, causing indigenous culture of cities to increasingly blend. The desire to embrace this dynamic compels many architects to consider ways of creating architecture truly representative of a wide range of humanity. These new advances create city growth, impacting on urban form and the design process of the public institutions, including museums, which is what this dissertation will primarily explore. The result is to extend the range of materials, forms, cultural references and social thinking available to museum architecture. But does this create an uninspired sameness, where some identities are being ignored and/or distorted? Where the notion of cultures integrating really means the identity struggle between the dominants and the dominated? One could speculate that now, more rapidly than before, the architecture of the museum and the city simultaneously evolve to meet the cultural identity of the people. But are these buildings, in fact representative of the national identity of a city or the individuality of the architect?

This dissertation investigates the architect's role in designing museums, establishing to what extent the design reflects or stems from the cultural identity of the city. The relationship between the museum and the city in which to belongs is complex. In order to establish an understanding, the study consults a wide range of resources that address issues of cultural identity within a museum's national and civic perspective. Additionally, the research made reference to economic and political issues regarding museums, the study of how globalisation is reflected within a cultural and affects architecture, and case studies to support the statement that architects may intend for their museum designs to be representations of a cultural identity within the city.

There are now new ways of experiencing, interpreting and remembering. The contemporary architecture of museums are a strong medium of cultural memory, developing from the museum's traditional forms as monuments symbolising the power of key individuals within a society, into an expressive entity that creates dialogue between its contents and urban context. The otherwise conventional manner of designing develops into a world of contradictions, assorted rhythms and new ideas of beauty in the design of museums. The physicality of the building represents that of theatrical effects, incorporating contemporary elements of architectural form as a method of entertainment, whilst engaging the interest of the city's individuals and of those from further afield. Millions are drawn to what is no longer a dying institution, but a visual destination for the public, in a form that encompasses the society's identity. One can assume this is influenced by the cultural pluralism within the building's city context, and considering the many identities as a plural identity. The diverse elements are woven into a sustainable, integrated spatial fabric that contributes to the life of the city. An approach which allows architectural freedom for a building type that has been described by some sources as overlooked by the public.

Due to this study's word restriction, it is not possible to evaluate in detail more than four relevant case studies. This limitation resulted in the careful consideration of case studies varying in terms of locality and architect. Furthermore, due to time restrictions, it was not possible to carry out additional primary research which could have entailed supplementary site visits to the investigated case studies and additional data found in initial research methods such as interviews and questionnaires. The dissertation's methodology consists of individually exploring and studying four case studies against the dissertation's argument, in order to then properly conclude whether it can be proven to be accurate. These case studies pose as cultural barometers, where during investigation they help assess the extent in which they fulfill a city's cultural identity. The examination method entails drawing on a combination of primary research such as site visits to secondary research, drawing on existing written information from books, articles and online sources. The case studies follow a chronological order, beginning with Chapter One: Frank Gehry's Bilbao Guggenheim, a museum which initiated an influence on the case studies that have followed such as Chapter Two: Daniel Libeskind's Jewish War Museum, Chapter 3: Herzog and de Meuron's Tate Modern London and Chapter 4: Zaha Hadid's Contemporary Arts Centre. To further develop whether an architect's design of contemporary museums truly reflect the city's cultural identity, each case study is analysed in th light of the following issues:

Globalisation outlines whether certain cultural identities are lost or just changing within the museum's civic context, especially as cities more than nations contend to draw global attention through these culturally significant public buildings. The sub-chapter concerning National and Civic Identity explores how culture influences in terms of the architectural context of the museum in a national and civic perspective. This provides a framework for exploring how architects use ideas about culture and cultural contradictions to create the structures and spaces to engage a society. The issue will discover how the design of the museum is a task of seeking an image essentially of ourselves. Style and Identity of the Architect briefly examines how the architect's own identity, who themselves are either travelers or immigrants, insiders/outsiders of the city in which they design for, influences the ultimate design of the city's museum along with their own architectural style. Economy and Politics is a sub-chapter concerning who pays, owns and benefits from the establishment of these institutions. How cities acquire signature museums in order to stimulate their economic and ultimately cultural development. The museum building boom has been accelerated by what has become known as The Bilbao Guggenheim Effect . The sub-chapter investigates how Frank Gehry's museum has influenced these case studies to replicate their own “Bilbao Guggenheim Effect” within their cities. By putting up a museum with architectural credentials, Gehry revitalised a civic and cultural image, demonstrating that a single building could energise and enhance an entire city and region.



Layer upon layer, past times preserve themselves in the city until life itself finally threatened with suffocation: then, in sheer defense, modern man invents the museum.

[Lewis Mumford, The Culture of Cities]

These words from Lewis Mumford's The Culture of Cities depicts how the museum was manifested as a commodification of a city's overpowering history (Giebelhausen, 2003 p. 1). The design development of this building type has been changing since the museum was established in the 18th century, beginning as a space for private collections of wealthy individuals, only accessible by the middle and upper class (Giebelhausen, 2003 p. 4). Presently, the museum is a response to contemporary social change, a space that wishes to connect within its urban fabric surroundings and open to all. A museum's design acknowledges the way in which it can order, store and display its belongings, the institution's relationship to a city and surrounding cultures lacks investigation, leaving questions about the museum's role in an urban context (Giebelhausen, 2003 p. 2). Culture surpasses the ways in which something can be represented and housed, it can be seen as an expression of us. Today, culture is challenged in a world struggling for established institutions such as schools, libraries etc., which often are said to lack in relation to the people (Zukin, 1995, p. 11). Museums are no longer seen as fixed frameworks, but a place for public interaction and exchange. One could consider that one of the building's functions is to absorb the cultures within the city, and then reflect and shape this within an architectural form. The museum itself visually exemplifies its roles within a city, for instance unlocking urban memories, reconfiguring the past, aiding in touristic rediscovery and exploitation of a place to the whole urban environment, roles that challenge the museum's attempt to reconnect culture and a city's built form (Giebelhausen, 2003 p. 2).

There is an ability to recon a city with the use of museums, from “systematically inserting them, to salvaging or reconstructing them” into the urban fabric (Giebelhausen, 2003 p. 2). Therefore the museum's cultural significance surpasses that of any other building types. In The Museum Transformed, by Douglas Davis (1990, p.14) asserts that, “no building type can match the museum for symbolic or architectural importance” because it is so often redefined due to its stimulation from cultural development. The museum can be considered as an entity that defines, represents and creates cultural trends ahead of its own place in time. As quoted from MacLeod (2005, p.1), “As museums have come to be consciously recognized as drivers for social and economic regeneration, the architecture of the museum has developed from its traditional forms into often-spectacular one off statements and architectural visions.” Architects persuasively argue for a new type of experience, aiming to appeal to a general audience rather than the scholarly advisors soughing to replicate tradition (Giebelhausen, 2003 p. 3). This is an aspiration expressed from an analysis of contemporary society and its future direction, that being cultural diversity, resulting in the commissioning of strongly conceptualised museums to devote to multiplicity. As Relph (1976, p. 33) claims,

…for each setting and for each person there are a multiplicity of place identities reflecting different experiences and attitudes; these are molded out of the common elements of appearance…through the changing interactions of direct observation with preconceptions.

In the past however, the significance of museums were solely to serve a refined function, transcending the thinking of the scholars and academics, along with manifesting the power of a city (Giebelhausen, 2003 p. 4). Relph (1976, p. 35) provides evidence to this claim in mentioning,

Public places which achieve their publicity through high imageability are not necessary innocent- their distinctive appearance or form maybe capitalised upon or even created as a statement of grandeur and authority to be regarded in awe by common people.

The museum was considered a monument, take examples such as The Louvre in Paris, or the Uffizi in Florence, they are models of the grandeur museums encompassed (Merkel, 2002, p. 66), significant in urban context, deliberately chosen to emphasise a city's status, and drawing attention within a public space. Traditionally understood as temples of knowledge, the architecture itself could be said to represent the value of knowledge. This belief was prominent in the early period of museum founding where the scale of buildings also symbolised power, so much so that the museum evoked the metaphor of a cathedral. Historian Jayne Merkel (2002, p. 66) writes,

Not surprisingly, palace architecture-grand, classical, urban, and horizontal-was a principal influence when the first museums were designed. But like most public buildings at the time, they were built in the classical style for other reasons as well, including classicism's associations with government, law (Roman basilicas), with the sacred (Greek temples and Italian Renaissance churches) and with the culture and art of the past.

Today, the museum could be considered as a building type that satisfies a city's need for symbolic signification, and an indicator of metropolitan aspirations such as world-wide recognition. A desire to entertain and educate society, along with a “sensitivity that refuses to bore, alienate or pander to the public” (Zieger, 2005, p. 17). If this is the case, then the status of a great city can entail in encompassing several of these institutions, thus the spread of museums witnessed during the nineteenth and twentieth century indicating the start of city rivalry.

At the start of the twenty-first century, the museum as architecture has been reinstated as an evocative entity, as opposed to decades devoted to neutral, voided spaces lacking symbolic significance and strict functionality termed as “white box” (Lampugnani & Sachs, 1999, p. 15). Museums began to create dialogue with their content and urban context. They can be seen as similar in some ways to churches, to shopping centres and other places of gathering, but they have a function different from these examples, they contain things of enquiry. The museum has made a considerable contribution to a city, adding historic and cultural significance along with contributing to a city's metropolitan status, presumably due to the transformative possibilities of museums (Giebelhausen, 2003 p. 9). The city and its museum are in conjunction to one another, one could believe the museum is a city's method of revealing cultural meaning through its architectural forms. This belief is an advancement from the words of the theorist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, ridiculing museums as cemeteries, stating that they were “truly identical in their sinister juxtaposition of bodies that do not know each other,” along with a judgement that cultural institutions were dilapidating. (see Zieger, 2005, p. 7) A society today uses the museum to represent a new dynamic form of culture, reflected through an innovative physical form that is often considered a visual spectacle of the city, that one could believe draws visitors to it in theatre like fashion. Consequently it can be theorised that they are quickly becoming radical buildings constructed in a world driven by the need to address new concepts of diversity and equality (Zukin, 1995 p. 2). Rather than just “cultural cemeteries piling up gilt frame paintings” (Zeiger, 2005, p.11), they are spaces of social condensing- a space attempting to build a community rather than filling a city with volumes of emptiness. As Daniel Libeskind was quoted in saying “…it's not just some sort of container, some abstract piece if glass and concrete, it is part of a communicative system.”

The design challenge in the multicultural growth of cities is to find an architectural expression that goes beyond the conventional, while something relevant to contemporary life. Contemporary museum design can be deemed as a physical entity of cultural trends developing within the city (Zukin, 1995 p. 2), either recognising which cultures are integrating or if the city epitomises a specific one. No matter what conclusions are drawn out from a city's cultural make-up museums are a place where people go to mix with others unlike themselves, by having a broad appeal they must aim to please a vast variety of people. Libeskind confirms this in his words,

…(museum) architecture is what is common between people, and what a contribution it makes to the viability of a city, and to civic space. …we might as well make in inspiring environment, an environment that is more than just a shallow façade of something inauthentic. (Cathcart, 2001)

To avoid the idea of an undistinguished environment is by physically fitting in the cultural identity related to the city. The museum in a physical setting is a structural body of city understanding and city change. There can be no denying the importance of its architecture in the urban environment in terms of regeneration, tourism, symbolism and so on (Zukin, 1995, p.2). Society as a whole has been persuaded that museums are agents of social economic change. There has been an unprecedented period of radical reshaping, building, rebuilding in the design of these institutions that cannot be disassociated from the drive for cultural inclusiveness and diversity. A building with space that can be considered with endless possibilities for use when “escaping the straitjacket of conforming to a giving role and move into a sharing mode” (MacLeod, 2005, p.25). In other words, a diverse audience needs a diversity of spaces that reflect, provoke and thrill.






Frank Gehry's Guggenheim museum is acknowledged worldwide as a magnet for tourism, but can it be truly considered an expression of the Basque people's cultural identity? Or is it just an architect's expressionist gesture in an industrial city? The New York Times depicts The Bilbao Guggenheim as part of an ambitious plan to revise the city as an international centre of culture. The museum is not just a neutral container where art is stored and presented, but a place where the institution itself is in relation with the public.


It could be said that globalisation creates struggle between the dominant and the dominated cultures within a society and the search for a reconstructed identity of a society. (AlSayyad, 2009, p. 22) Within the Spanish Basque region, it is evident that their identity has been burdened with tension in their attempt to stress their own regional identities and singularities from the rest of Spain (Guasch and Zulaika, 2005, p. 74). However one can argue that in this case globalisation has become a force in strengthening and proliferating a cultural identity, allowing the idea of identity to change into a more universal commodity represented by the museum itself.

But how do issues of globalisation affect the architecture itself, especially in terms of the Bilbao Guggenheim? The new advances of technology, communication and construction methods create interventions for local cultures and establish the identities of a place. Gehry's use of cutting-edge computer design technology enabled him to translate his forms into reality (Chulvi, 2007) (see 1.1). Architectural statements such as the Guggenheim Bilbao are often questioned at times in whether or not they have relation to the place and identity. There could be two sides to this argument, one side could be seeking to safeguard and extend already established indigenous architectural traditions, promoting historical continuity and the preservation of identity through traditional decorative forms. The other side which is in more relation to the Guggenheim Bilbao, considers globalisation as a force that seeks to encourage invention and distribution of new forms using new materials and technology in response to changing needs to have relation to the place and identity. Gehry has been quotes in saying, “Democracy is good for architecture. Pluralistic ideas are what we want presented in architecture, the lead to a visual chaos is part of our lives” (Guasch and Zulaika, 2005, p. 58). There is an opportunity for growth in unique architectural forms in all of its diversity and 2903687145_5cb25af9b6


The Basque people have been able to preserve their distinct culture and language while flourishing in an environment of globalisation, post-modernity, and European integration (Castillo, 2008). Currently, integrating the two social collectives of nationalists and non-nationalists within the region is growing (Castillo, 2008). However how does a group of people who have never had a country to call their own continue to hold on to their own cultural identity? The Bilbao Guggenheim is a phenomenon of cultural development employing “the three successive phases posited by the theory of cultural epochs- a period of chaos, a period of adjustment, and a period of equilibrium in cultural change” (Guasch and Zulaika, 2005, p. 74). All around the world culture operates as an engine for new regional and urban development, one could say that no strategic growth of a city would take place without the role of culture (Zukin, 1995, p.11). In the case of the Basque region, it was suffering deterioration caught up in a decline in inspiration along with cultural institutions progressively being abandoned. Simultaneously, the Guggenheim Foundation was in need of a new concept of the museum, capable to withstand the achievement of Guggenheim in New York, yet gaining its own recognition abroad. Co-operation between two considerably different cultures occurred in recovering the identity of a small society (Guasch and Zulaika, 2005, p. 77). As Frank Gehry himself explains , the museum embodies two different cultures, the Basque culture and American, which is considered as a melting pot used to extend its arms to everybody (Farnsworth, 1997). The Bilbao Guggenheim is proof of culture being a key strategy in not only providing a physical renewal but a new injection of self-esteem within a city and an entire region. (see 1.2) Culture in the case of the development of this building, can be seen as something essential to humankind and above all to a society in regaining values and providing a sense of identity.

Rather than ignoring the cultural context of the city entirely, the fabric is restored, connecting any form of cultural isolation with the new building. The curving forms of the building glide over the River Nervion, a main bridged entry to the Spanish city, shattering strict perpendicularity and ridged geometry regularly associated with museum architecture, providing a new model of collective identification (Guasch and Zulaika, 2005,p. 42). The rejection of these norms is emphasised by the titanium cladding, making the building appear as a single entity that intertwines the city around it. Like the Basque region the building is a place of “contested borders” (Guasch and Zulaika, 2005,p. 42). (see 1.3) Whether Gehry's building actually erases the city's cultural heritage is debatable. Bilbao is famous for its maritime history, after Barcelona, it has Spain's largest port. The Bilbao Guggenheim pays tribute to its own surroundings as it edges onto the riverfront. Its exterior sculpted out of steel, which is

traditionally the main industry of the city (Guasch and Zulaika, 2005, p. 154). The museum's relationship with the city is conceived as the outcome of a perceived social need, as society changes and new social needs arise, new building forms will be produced in order to fulfill that need. The Bilbao Guggenhem facilitates a complete urban facelift, a driver for the city's urban regeneration, communicating not only its importance to the city as a powerful foci, but the city's mark in the cultural world. As a result, after Bilbao every city aspires to its own Guggenheim effect - the “build it and they will come” (Barreneche, 2005, p.6) belief is what cities have taken on for their museums after untitled


Frank Gehry is widely recognised as a North American architect whose combination of steel, high-tech and flowing designs have broken the rigid hold of rectilinear design that has dominated most of Modern architecture (Zieger, 2005, p. 8). However the question remains: is it a good idea for the city to have an international museum built by a foreign architect? Gehry was quoted as spending a lot of time trying to understand the culture and trying to understand the Basque people. He explains,

I related to them because I was raised in a Jewish upbringing in Toronto, Canada, so I was an outsider into the culture when I was a kid. And I understand--I empathized with this outsider role, and--but I can't put my finger on a piece of the building and say this is Basque, but they seem to think I captured their spirit. I tried to use the materials of the region to build the building. The stone in Spanish. The steel structure is Spanish. All the work people were Basque. (Farnsworth, 1997)

One can assume to Gehry a rich piece of architecture would combine elements in a way that preserve the coherence of their origins. At its best, the process of gathering cultural elements and marrying them to the sensitivities of a gifted architect can result in a powerful work of architecture such as the Bilbao Guggenheim. According to the Bilbao Revitalization Plan, the natural slope running down to the riverfront was to be transformed into a green valley, but Gehry did not want to lose the industrial feel of the existing waterfront. (see 1.4 & 1.5) People say that the design of the museum's architecture was inspired during Gehry climb up the Mundana, one of the highest mountains in the outskirts of Bilbao. “Seen from the river, the building appears to take the shape of a boat paying homage to the port city that has given its home. The museum's bright, shining panels resemble fish scales, reflecting the influence of natural forms and shapes.” (Chulvi, 2007) One could argue that the architect's use of abstract, free-form components from local materials are reminiscent of Modernist Spanish sculptures, a cultural aspect valued by the Basque, or how the architect's design of the enormous boat-shaped gallery is a dedication toward Bilbao's past as a centre of shipbuilding and trade (Guasch and Zulaika, 2005, p. 154). Many would argue that Gehry's design for the Bilbao Guggenheim truly reflects the identity of the Basque people even though the architect himself has no relation to region. However, there is a degree of sensitivity to the region's character that can be witnessed through the architecture. The city of Bilbao places an emphasis on the institution Gehry has designed, as having an important role in defining public culture. This has been achieved through the architect's process of negotiating what architectural expressions could be accepted by the people.


Gehry's museum was hailed an as instant landmark, bringing a sense of relevance to architecture in the transformation of cities. (Guasch and Zulaika, 2005, p. 7) The Basque region was in need of local development due to its rustic city appearance and distinct regional identity compared to the rest of Spain. Primarily, the Basque region was in need of distancing itself from the negativity that it was associated with, such as being recognised as a terrorist region. Bilbao, the largest city in the Basque country, is a stronghold for the separatist group ETA (Basque Fatherland and Liberty), which seeks independence from Spain through often violent behavior (Farnsworth, 1997). For the Guggenheim Foundation this was an opportunity to fund a centerpiece of huge urban renewal for Bilbao.

Previous museum concepts were of a private space for seekers of wisdom, philosophers and historians. Currently the museum's directors are in favor of new futuristic architectural visions that were unimaginable years before, representing a museum's city and forming the basis of urban regeneration such as Bilbao Guggenheim. The titanium shapes flourish through Bilbao's dark cornices and nearby smokestacks, as Andrew Friedman (see Zieger, 2005, p. 9) explains,

…the nearby smokestacks and cranes; they seem…to be Gehry's whimsical idea of visually rendering the tumultuous and violent process by which a once-working industrial waterfront is brought to heel-an actual enactment of the grim process that the Guggenheim makes a point of capitalising on.

The capitlisation Friedman mentions is the transformation of Bilbao from living city to an architectural destination. In other words the city acquires a signature building in order to stimulate a city's makeover (Zeiger, 2005, p.9). The design of the museum is recognised as a drive for social and economic regeneration, from traditional forms, to, in this case, a spectacular one off statement that challenges architectural preconceptions and creates a visual feast while maintaining the integrity of the site. Why have contemporary museums become a favorite tool of urban regeneration and redevelopment schemes since the Bilbao Guggenheim? Referred to as the “miracle,” (Guasch and Zulaika, 2005, p. 7) Frank Gehry's Bilbao Guggenheim changed the face of the Bilbao city, and set up to give a new purpose to an abandoned industrial estate. “Since the Guggenheim was built, Bilbao has never been the same again - the museum has helped create pedestrianised areas that run from the town hall to the port on the shores of the river.” (Chulvi, 2007) The answer is that museums allow an opportunity for growth in unique architectural forms in all of its diversity and inclusivity.






The Jewish War Museum's design is so powerful that it can be considered as an artifact in its own right. Even as it was unveiled in 1999 with nothing in it, the building was said to evoke a sense of loss and dislocation inflicted on Europe's Jewish population the Holocaust in World War II (Barreneche, 2006, p.121). Through the building's brief and urban site, Libeskind's Jewish Museum echoes the history of Berlin creating an emotional effect on the visitor.


Cultural identity is something people have, and a form of traditional inheritance that is shared, something that needs to be protected and preserved. In contemporary society, globalisation has been portrayed sweeping through diverse cultures, and bringing a homogenized cultural experience (Tomlinson, 2003, p. 270). However, one can argue that globalisation, instead of destroying, has become a force in creating and developing cultural identity, allowing the idea of identity to change into a more collective entity. In terms of how this relates to the Jewish Museum, the building is not just seen as a response to some traditions, it is also open to new ones, a link to the past and the future (see 2.1). The mission of the Jewish Museum, and for all new museums, is not just for the city themselves but for the wider public, in which it becomes a communal existence. Around the globe, in every corner, new museums have appeared, coming in every shape and size, appealing to various preferences (Barreneche, 2005, p. 6). As Victoria Newhouse notes (see Barreneche, 2005, p.6), “One intriguing aspect of the current proliferation of museums is the ‘museumfication' of seemingly every phenomenon”. The Jewish Museum is an example of this, and one could assume that through the guidance of globalisation, there are Jewish Museums in cities from New York to Sydney stemming from Libeskind's prominent Berlin museum. (Barreneche, 2005, p. 6).


Culture is cumulative and changing by additions of successive generations, reinterpreted from one individual or group to another. The designed environments of contemporary museums create a setting and representation of particular cultural identities. Daniel Libeskind's Jewish War Museum in Berlin encompasses these attributes, it is a building that engrains Jewish history. The design is based on a process of connecting lines between the locations of historic events and the locations of Jewish culture in Berlin. This is evident from the building's plan with the zigzag footprint, symbolically derived from a fragmented Star of David (Barreneche, 2006, p.121). (see 2.2) The architect has created metaphors for the absence of Jewish communities in Berlin where the lines slices the plan (Barreneche, 2005, p. 121). The concepts of absence, emptiness and the invisible express the disappearance of Jewish culture in the city. Libeskind proves there is a powerful faith in the ability of people to learn a nation's history from architecture. As Russell states in the Architectural Review 1999, “In this he eerily echoes the assimilated Jews of the Hitler era”, and how faith in culture cost them their lives. Libeskind explains in the article, “A building and a city are always present across time and history. The act of building transforms the culture of a city”.

Traditionally, the architectural environments of museums may have responded to a specific culture or to a homogeneous group of much smaller scale and, therefore, the resemblance of the culture to the built form was simpler and possibly consciously achieved. Relph (1976, p. 42) helps explain,

…the objects and features…are experienced in their meaning and they cannot be separated from those meanings, for these are conferred by the very consciousness that we have of the objects. This is so regardless of whether we are self consciously directing out attention towards something, or whether our attitude is unselfconscious.

One could believe that Libeskind's reflection or embodiment of these cultural elements dealing with Jewish identity were used consciously implemented, however to the visitor experienced unselfconsciously. In the case of the Jewish War Museum, there is a need for a wider cultural responsiveness within the architecture: the Jewish and Berlin identity. As Relph (1976, p.2) clarifies in Place and Placelessness, “For each setting and for each person there are a multiplicity of place identities reflecting different experiences and attitudes”. The building fosters community among people of diverse background through one shared experience. The architect intertwined the history of the Jews and Berlin by plotting the addresses of sixty key Jewish and Non-Jewish cultural s before the Holocaust who lived in Lindenstrass, the museum's city site (Brawne, 2003, p. 71). Libeskind clarifies, “In the structure of the building I sought to embody the matrix of connections which might seem irrational today but are, nevertheless visible and rationalised by relationships between people” (Zeiger, 2005, p. 42). The architectural intertwining of these parallel cultural identities or parallel stories are visually connected and in the architect's words, “fused with the whole history of the city” (Cathcart, 2001).


Daniel Libeskind who himself is of Jewish decent felt that this was not a design he had to invent or a building he had to research, but rather one in which he was implicated from the beginning, having lost most of his family in the Holocaust and himself having been born only a few hundred kilometers east of Berlin in Lodz, Poland (Libeskind, 2001) . Through the architect's understanding already of the cultural identity of the city in which he was building for the building itself speaks. In Libeskind's words,

…because architects are not there, no curators always to explain why things are the way they are. People have to feel these things, and they have to feel them not just mentally and intellectually, they have to feel them in their bones… It's what I've built into this museum. (Cathcart, 2001)

Every architectural decision made by Libeskind has referenced to the cultural identity of the Jewish and Berlin people. For instance the building's façade (see 2.3 and 2.4), as Libeskind describes,

…it's not just a trendy façade which looks good and then inside you find some hollow spaces, but the whole building is a plastic expression of spaces of times, shadows, ghosts, horizons which unfold in exciting ways for viewers who might not ever have heard of Berlin history, Jewish history, what it used to be like, what it might be in the future. (Cathcart, 2001)

Libeskind's ability to relate to this particular cultural identity helped conceive a museum for all Berliners, and for all citizens. Bearing in mind not only those of the present, but those of the future who might find their heritage in this place. He sought to create a new architecture for a time which would reflect an understanding of history, a new understanding of museums and a new realisation of the relationship between cultural identity and architectural space.


In 1988 the Berlin Senate held the competition for the design of the Jewish Museum, for the building to be a new wing to the existing Berlin Museum (Zelizer, 2001, p. 190). One could question how the city of Berlin could invite the Jewish people back after driving them away by creating a Jewish Museum in the capital city of a nation that voided itself of Jews (Zelizer, 2001, p. 181). The task facing Libeskind was to embody the existence and recognition of the role Jewish people once played in the creation of Berlin culture within a medium like contemporary architecture.

All government plans came to a halt as Berlin and Germany came to grips with no dividing wall between East and West. The museum adjoins the old Berlin Museum and sits on land that was both East and West Berlin even before the Berlin Wall fell (Libesekind, 2010). (see 2.6) Through political and cultural s expressing their support for the museum, the Parliament of Berlin overruled the Senate and work on the Jewish Museum continued (Libeskind, 2010), “however altered it may be by the new realities on the ground” (Zelizer, 2001, p. 190). These alterations such as the angles of the walls to be straightened were resisted at first, however Libeskind has explained, “As soon as Berlin unified I straightened the walls….I did it because…the museum has to stand and open itself in a different way in a united and wall-less city” (Zelizer, 2001, p.190). What was designed while the Berlin Wall was standing would now be built for a newly reunified city.

The museum is based on a public brief and that of the government. As Libeskind confirms, “…this is a German Jewish museum, this has a program. It's not my program, it's a program that politicians, holocaust survivors, citizens of Germany have worked on for over a quarter of a century” (Cathcart, 2001). The architectural references of the history had to be strong because the history of the Jewish Berlin identity itself is strong and unique. The design conceived as museum for all Berliners, with special emphasis on the Jewish elements of Berlin's history, providing a voice to a cultural identity.


Similar to Gehry, the architect Libeskind was designing for a cultural identity that has experienced neglect like that of the Basque people, in order to restore a city's fabric. In the case of the Jewish Museum, the fabric in need of strengthening was the city's missing Jewish past. The initial intent was to communicate the tragedies that had befallen the Jewish Berlin people during the Holocaust into the context of a space for a new public. Yet, one could believe the building proved to do much more, the building may have also been a contribution in reconfiguring the city after the political event of the fall of the Berlin Wall.






The Tate Modern museum was created from the shell of the old Bankside Power Station originally designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, alongside the Thames River in London. As stated in Building Tate Modern, “…despite its size and prominent position…many Londoners were unaware of its existence.” (Moore, Ryan, and Hardwicke, 2000, p. 19). An examples of a powerful and dramatic combination of old and new architecture. The Tate trustees saw the Bankside power station as a potential site for exhibitions, a distinctive addition to the London skyline.


Cultural identity is often claimed to be lost and reinstated as a ‘national identity' (Tomliinson, 2003, p. 270). Therefore, how could an architect specifically design for a diverse city such as London? In regards to the Tate Modern one would assume that through the influence of globalisation it involves the architecture to multiplicity, rather than represent a singular notion. The Tate could be regarded as result of this, as a physical representation of an embodiment of a collective society.


Cultural identity is a collective property, shared with people, symbolizing belonging to either a singular urban culture or to many different cultures and subcultures. “An ethnic mix has always been an essential part in London's character with areas such as Spitafields, home to successive waves of immigrant- from Huguenots in the 18th century to a diverse Jewish population in the mid-20th century, and a sizable Bangladeshi community today” (Melivin, 2006, p. 9). This introduces the term multiculturalism, a word associated with social inclusion and cultural diversity, a term that responds to individuals belonging to many cultures and people having multiple cultural identities. In the case of cities like London, cultural identity is always under development and in constant evolution, compelling culture to be represented in city structures Whatever cultural identity is, one cannot simply design for it, “…but only specific parts of environments for specific components of culture”, (Rapoport, 1984, p.11) therefore, cultural identity is vast, allowing for a variety of abstract representations. By discovering what manifestations of culture are observable, such as “…social relationships, status [and] rituals”, they can be studied within a city and then integrated into the surrounding built environment (Rapoport, 1984, p.11). Today, cities like London have become more mobile and diverse, partly in fact of its inhabiting identities integrating, challenging institutions such as the Tate Modern to become more relevant embodiments that frame a vision of the city. Essentially, the “Tate Modern is not architectural display but the functions and events that the architecture serves or inspires. Like a city, it is much more than a static architecture” (Moore, Ryan, and Hardwicke, 2000, p. 36). Proving that the museum is not only about physical space, but “the energy of ideas and emotions within”. (Moore, Ryan, and Hardwicke, 2000, p. 36) One could say relevance for the Tate to its city was achieved by the architects' accepting the original edifice whilst finding new ways to enhance and utilise the building. “Appropriating London's most characteristic building type as a symbol of integration is one sign of the city itself providing the means and stimuli for multicultural activity”. (Melivin, 2006, p. 15) Those who create these embodiments, the architects themselves, stamp a collective identity, developing new spaces such as the Tate Modern, for the surrounding public (Zukin, 1995, p. 3). These spaces are a physical representation of “the way certain basic social functions have taken place on the same spot,” (Melivin, 2006, p. 15) such as that on the streets, the bus etc. Specifically in regards to the Tate Modern, one can witness these interactions of cultural diversity in within spaces, specifically the Tate's Turbine Hall. (see 3.1)


In the case of the Tate Modern, there were two architects involved with its design, both Swiss. Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron's work is distinguished by “a refusal to adhere to a single style or range of materials and details”. (Moore, Ryan, and Hardwicke, 2000, p. 19) Their proposed design scheme was not about “oblitering the past, since Londoners (would) still be able to recognize Gilbert Scott's power station”. (Moore, Ryan, and Hardwicke, 2000, p. 19) The architects realised the advantage of the original power station, and unlike a number of other competitors who eliminated it, Herzog and de Meuron integrated the structure within the design as a vertical beacon on the London skyline. (see 3.3) Furthermore, the architects recognise that the Turbine Hall was essentially a street that ran through the building, an obvious place to make a connection between the outside and inside, “something you walk through, and as something that literally attracts people”, allowing the Tate to take part in strengthening the city's existing dialogue. (Moore, Ryan, and Hardwicke, 2000, p. 38). Like a plaza or galleria, it is a space open to everyone, running like a street through the entire length of the building. The architects design encompasses a sense of integrity towards the existing London building and site, “they proposed the least drastic changes to the fabric of Bankside itself” (Moore, Ryan, and Hardwicke, 2000, p. 19). The transformation of the Bankside power station to art gallery is a union of old and new, where the abandoned monument has found a new role in the city of London.


Sir Giles Gilbert Scott's vast brick structure with its tower dominates the scenery on the south bank of the Thames and could be considered as an imposing structure in central London. Yet after its closure in 1981, the Bankside Power Station became invisible by the public eye and gained frequent threat of demolition. Reopening of the Bankside in May 2000 as London's first national gallery of modern and contemporary art restores and regenerated a neglected area of the city (Moore, Ryan, and Hardwicke, 2000, p. 37). However, the Tate's choice it site was met with a degree of struggle. “…critics…misread the Tate's intentions. The choice of an existing building undoubtedly had political advantages, as it bypassed the destructive rows that affect large new buildings in London” (Moore, Ryan, and Hardwicke, 2000, p. 17). However, the choice had strong reason, “a site where it would have a public presence and in a part of the city where its arrival would make a difference”. (Moore, Ryan, and Hardwicke, 2000, p. 37). When the Tate Modern was being established, is was not part of the government's initiative, it was established through civic vision and public (Searing, 2004, p. 14). Further politics ensued “over the fact that only one of the six final architecture participants were British” (Moore, Ryan, and Hardwicke, 2000, p. 17). The Tate Modern can be considered as an aid in solidifying the city of London's reputation as Europe's leading cultural capital. More than just a physical entity, the Tate is could be regarded as a driver for urban regeneration and understanding of a city. Especially considering the new scheduled developments, one would say that the public building will act as a catalyst for the further regeneration of the Southwark. Facilitating the greater integration of the Tate Modern with its local community and urban landscape, in turn bringing substantial economic benefits to London as a whole and to Southwark in particular.


The Tate Modern in resemblance to Bilbao Guggenheim, had the further function of regenerating and revitalizing an entire urban area. In the Tate publication, Art Spaces The Architecture of the Four Tates, Helen Searing (2004, p. 15) states:

From places consecrated to the conservation, display and contemplation of art, museums have expanded their mandate to become arbiters of value, engines of education, revitalisers of community, generators of economic wealth, sites of corporate philanthropy and reward, purveyors of entertainment, refreshment and consumer goods.

On the basis of this claim since the opening of the Tate Modern it has now become the most visited museum of modern art in the world, the Tate has become global. In a local perspective, the Tate has also had an effect on its immediate environment by creating a new cultural quarter which has generated further enterprise, as well as jobs and other urban renewal projects, reminiscent of the Bilbao Guggenheim effect in the Basque country.






The CAC is Hadid's first building in the United States and the first major American museum designed by a woman. The building's interior space embraces its urban environment of Cincinnati's downtown. The architect sought to draw the energy and activity of the city into the lobby and into its galleries.

Presently it could be said that cities, more than nations are competing to attract a new image making architecture that somehow interprets national identity through its form. As a result, a sense of cosmopolitanism within cities is generated, and what arises from new and unexpected combinations of cultures and ideas provides individuals with variety (Bhabha, 2007, p. 167), in other words, the various cultures are referenced by the architects within the design form of buildings. However, this can be seen as “Architects….competing to imitate each other implementing images and icons rather than sustainable concepts, processes and approaches. Major conflicts resulting from this process ignore tradition, culture, place and identity” (see The Multiple Faces of Identity in the Design Environment, Hannalla, 2009, p. 72). This is when relying on a star architect, such as Hadid for the CAC, is introduced to draw global investment and global tourism. As Robert Adam states in his article Globalisation and Architecture (2008), “the commissioning of public buildings by high profile architects is now an established marketing technique. The buildings must be “in the literal sense of the word, extra-ordinary”. (see 4.1) The architecture, strongly conceptual, cannot rely on any detailed study of culture within the locality, and the intention is that the building is to be an Scan0001
iconic global product.


Cultural identity and architecture itself can be seen as complementary, however giving an exact definition is not sought because it is still unclear exactly which aspects of cultural identity are the most important regarding built environments like museums (Rapoport, 1987, p 10). Hadid's museum is a response to the civic setting of the building, she developed a concept of the “urban carpet” to draw pedestrian traffic in the city's somewhat declining downtown (Barrenech, 2005, p. 37.) (see 4.3). It remains certain that cultural identity creates an image, through shaping public spaces of museum spaces such as that of the CAC, for social interaction and construction of a visual representation of the city. As quoted by the director of the institution,

Hadid's appreciated…commitment to engaging a diverse public is integral to her design. The brilliant result is an environment that will encourage…dialogue between the city and the museum. (Bellon, 2004)
The building is intended to combine the city and its people, forming a “cultural nucleus within the community” through the symbolic “urban carpet”. (Zeiger, 2005, p. 36) The façade is said to display the diversity of its surroundings, with the forms and materials picking up on the language of the city street, a busy and compacted environment, achieved with the stacked layers comprising the building (Zeiger, 2005, p. 36). These elements are what help personify the surrounding cultural identity of a city. (see 4.5)


British Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid is recognised for her building designs in the style of Deconstruction, which captures idenitity “using collage to express diversity” (Bhabha, 2007, p.167). The Deconstructive style of the architect's design is evident within the lobby area's intent to serve as a public square, the sidewalk is pulled into the building and rises to become the back wall, creating a continuity between the outside and inside (Barrenech, 2005, p. 37) (see 4.4). One could believe that the aspiration for this architect's style for the building “is to identify differences that are singular, look for a connection, design systems of negotiation and find larger areas of consistency among these differentiated [identities]” (Bhabha, 2007, p. 167).


The large numbers of immigrants and “ideologies of multiculturalism…have forced public institutions to change” (Zukin, 1995, p. 2). There is pressure and influence put on public institutions such as the CAC, forcing a necessity to diversify and expand their offerings to appeal to a broader public, in both aesthetic and economic needs (Zukin, 1995. P. 15). In the case of the CAC, the people with economic power have the utmost opportunity to shape public culture by controlling the buildings of a city's public spaces.


One could presume that Zaha Hadid's Centre for Contemporary Art strengthens the city's competitiveness in relation to other cities or other institutions, an effect similar to that of the Bilbao Guggenheim. The public institution was conceived out of the social need, as mentioned the city of Cincinnati was experiencing a lack of vitality, Hadid's building was about to lift the city into a higher state of notice. The appointing of another high profile architect foreign to the city could also be a contribution to stimulate the cultural development within the city.


So to what extent can the design of a contemporary museum reflect the cultural identity of a city?


Within the case studies there has been, in one way or another, an effect by globalisation. In terms of the city of Bilbao, the Guggenheim provides evidence of globalisation's affect in encouraging the invention of new forms that are diverse and inclusive. Similarly in the case of Libeskind's Jewish War Museum, globalisation, instead of being a force in erasing certain cultural identities, has in fact help develop cultural identity into a more collective entity to be experienced by all, so much so that museums such as the Guggenheim and Jewish War Museum spring up all over the world. In terms of the Tate Modern, it is an example of cultural identity being reinstated as national, resulting the architecture to be full of multiplicity rather than an entire singular notion, comparable to that of Zaha Hadid's Contemporary Arts Centre.


Some architects aspire to link design symbolically to express a particular analysis of a society and its future direction, designing spectacular museums that are strongly conceptualised and do not rely on any detailed study of one specific culture. Take for instance Zaha Hadid's Contemporary Arts Centre, which responds to movements across the city's site, interweaving them into a ‘landscape carpet.' (Barrenech, 2005, p. 37). A similar approach is seen by Herzog De Meuron's Tate Modern, where the Turbine Hall is reminiscent of a street running through the entire length of the city, cementing its presence within the multicultural city of London. However this is not always the case; when considering Libeskind's bold addition to the German capital of Berlin, the Jewish Museum, the building relates and conveys the events of two cultural identities with intentional design motifs. Or Gehry's Bilbao Guggenheim which helped regain the Basque identity through its honoring of the industrial port city with its curving forms. The embodiment of cultural identity in the architecture reflects the decision about what and who should be visible and what should not in aesthetic terms.


Often times these case studies can be regarded as a star architect's attempt to stamp their architectural style on a city, while having no affiliation to the cultural identity for which they are designing. Strongly evident in the case studies of the Bilbao Guggenheim and the Tate Modern. But there is no denying the physical effect the buildings represent, these public buildings manifest today from the style and identity of the architect.


Rapid urbanisation and the growth of cities are a response to social change, providing public spaces such as contemporary museums to strengthen the surrounding urban fabric. The Tate Modern for instance can be considered as an aid in solidifying the city of London's reputation as one of Europe's leading cultural capitals, or the Bilbao Guggenheim which eased the city's urban facelift. Thomas Krens (see Guasch and Zulaika, 2005, p. 56) has said, “growth is almost a law…Either you grow and change or you die”. This quotes helps explain the growth in the physicality of museums like Bilbao Guggenheim. “Big art demands big spaces. Big spaces demand big art. Big spectacular art and architecture draw big audiences” (Guasch and Zulaika, 2005, p. 56). Contemporary museums are a institutional ambition and it may be no accident that two of the most enormous spaces in Europe, the Guggenheim Bilbao Fish Gallery and the Tate's Turbine Hall were commissioned by institutions in pursuit of expansion through the development of branch museums, the Tate within Britain and the Guggenheim globally (Guasch and Zulaika, 2005, p. 56). Certainly from this, one can agree that contemporary museums play roles in the competitive struggle of cities for economic, social and cultural stakes, which have increased over the years (Guasch and Zulaika, 2005, p. 56).


Unlike any other structure the museum exposes its unique intentions for exhibition, preservation, education and the desire of the architect to make an aesthetic statement. Museums in different societies carry distinct origins, as evident throughout the investigated case studies, however one can believe they represent a constant source of pride for the cities in which they stand. Take for instance Gehry's Guggenheim, which one can assume is a source of immense pride for the people of Bilbao. Currently, hardly anyone remembers the early criticisms since the success of the building, and of the museum itself, is unquestionable (Chulvi, 2007). Similarly the city of Berlin takes pride in a symbol of the city's incredible cultural development in housing a museum which integrates for the first time in post-war Germany, the history of the Jews in Germany and the repercussions of the Holocaust.

Nevertheless one could conclude that in many cities, major contemporary museum construction, is driven by a hunger for the “Bilbao Guggenheim effect”. One could speculate that in the future, their effect within a city's context will match that of the Bilbao Guggenheim.


In terms of the architect's role in designing museums, the designs stem from the cultural identity of its city in one way or another. Through these explored studies, one can gather that some architects attempt to answer to a city's cultural identity with designs of multiplicity, rather than ignoring and/or distorting certain identities. This is evident in the study of the Tate Modern and Zaha Hadid's Contemporary Arts Centre, whose deigns stimulate multicultural activity and thus are developed in more conceptualised way to represent a national identity that is evolving. However, when considering the designs of the Bilbao Guggenheim and Jewish War Museum, the designs illustrate a different degree of sensitivity to cultural identity. They symbolise certain aspects of cultural identity within the architecture.

The contemporary living of cities results in the need for cultural identities to integrate more than ever before, resulting in an opportunity for architects to design for the transformation that arises in cities from existing, new and unexpected combinations of cultural identity. However this role is easier to define than their success is to measure: ultimately the case studies illustrate that the extent to which an architect can establish a design of a contemporary museum reflective of the cultural identity within a city varies. The desire for a new architectural asset to reflect cultural identity, is at the start of its life when the building is finished. After fifty, thirty, or perhaps even as little as ten years, it can become an integral part of the city's cultural identity and a source of pride for the people it represents.


Online Journals:

Isar, Raj Yudhishthir., 1990. Museums in the Developing World: New Models For Many Needs. Mimar 35: Architecture in Development, [ONLINE]. p.18-20. Available at: [Accessed Jul 2009]

Rapoport, Amos., 1987. On the Cultural Responsiveness of Architecture. Journal of Architectural Education, [ONLINE]. 41(1), p. 10-15. Available at: [Accessed Jul 2009]

Hays, K Michael., 1984. Critical Architecture: Between Culture and Form. Perspecta, [ONLINE] 21, p. 15-29. Available at: [Accessed Jul 2009]

Tomlinson, John., 2003. Globalisation and Cultural Identity, [ONLINE]. p.269-277. Available at: [Accessed Nov 2009]

Russell, James., 1999. Daniel Libeskind's Jewish Museum in Berlin Speaks to a History That Is Both Rich and Tragic. Architectural Record [ONLINE]. p.1-3. Available at: [Accessed Nov 2009]


Slessor, Catherine., 2001. Public Engagement; Evolution of Public Space. The Architecture Review: Public Engagement, 209, 36-37.

Slessor, Catherine., 2008. Urbane Guerrillas: The Historic Reciprocity Between Culture and the City Can Help Refuge Architecture With A Sense of Purpose. The Architecture Review: Culture and City, 223, p. 1.

Burdett, Richard., 2006. Cities, Architecture and Societies. The Architecture Review: Cities, Architecture and Society, 1315, p. 35-55.

Davey, Peter., 2001. Regionalism: Time to Review and Renew. The Architecture Review: Sense of Place, 1257, p. 34-35.

Melvin, Jeremy., 2005. London Calling. Architecture Design: The New Mix: Culturally Dynamic Architecture, vol. 75 no. 5, p. 9-15.

Caples, Sara, Jefferson, Everardo., 2005. Introduction: Mixology. Architecture Design: The New Mix: Culturally Dynamic Architecture, vol. 75 no. 5, p. 5-7. Page 29 of 31

Online Newspaper Article:

Adam, Robert., 2008. Globalisation and Architecture: The Challenges of Globalisation Are Relentlessly Shaping Architect's Relationship With Society and Culture. The Architecture Review, [ONLINE]. Available at:

Muschamp, Herbert., 1997. The Miracle in Bilbao. The New York Times, [ONLINE]. Available at:


Bhabha K, Homi., 2007. Intervention Architecture. London: IB Tauris.

Zeiger, Mimi., 2005. New Museum Architecture Innovative Buildings from Around the World. London: Thames & Hudson.

Lampugnani, M. Vittorio, Sachs, Angeli., 1999. Museums For A New Millennium. Munich, London, New York: Prestel.

Margolius, Ivan., 2003. Architecture Design: Art and Architecture. Chichester: Wiley Academy.

MacLeod, Suzanne., 2005. Reshaping Museum Space: Architecture, Design, Exhibitions. Oxford: Routledge.

Giebelhausen, Michael., 2003. The Architecture of the Museum: Symbolic Structures & Urban Co

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