AMO, the think-tank arm of Office for Metropolitan Architecture, has announced a collaboration with the Hermitage State Museum (above) in St Petersburg, Russia, to develop a new museum typology for the 21st Century.
The masterplanning project will explore ways of making the vast, historic museum relevant to contemporary audiences while avoiding the now-standard approach of using iconic architecture to flag up the institution's renewal.
A spokesperson for AMO told us:
"The project centers on the question of the Hermitage’s current institutional status and the dilemma of its perpetual modernization in the wake of a globalised and technologically-infused age, utilizing the Hermitage as a prototype for ‘the museum of the 21st Century’.
"By devising a curatorial masterplan, AMO aims to revitalize the museum without surrendering the conventional need to preserve its artifacts as well as the integrity of its unequivocal past. As a critical part of AMO’s masterplan, another objective is also to address the Hermitage’s ever-evolving relationship with the city of St. Petersburg."
A full statement from AMO follows:
The Museum of the 21st Century: Curatorial Master Plan for the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia
Do all museums have to adhere to the same technical conditions? Do all museums have to be extended and updated? Or can a certain amount of inaction, a certain resistance to change, actually be instrumental in maintaining a degree of the authenticity so frequently erased during the process of modernisation?
The State Hermitage Museum of St. Petersburg and the think tank AMO, part of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), would like to pursue a collaborative project on the future of the 21st-Century museum. The joint effort will be to define the Hermitage as a new prototype for the museum in the 21st-Century.
The enormity of the Hermitage collection, combined with the extensive number of rooms, has created a scale, complexity and an organisation that approach urbanism. In urban design, a master plan gives an overall direction to the development and renovation of cities. For this reason, the Hermitage and AMO will develop, as part of this cultural project, a Curatorial Master Plan, which will focus on the intersection between the needs to modernise and to preserve the museum’s approach to art and historic preservation.
Rather than a confident imposition of the new, the task at hand is to find those changes that will allow the Hermitage in a discreet way, without being too manifest, to function better. The central issue at stake in this project is how to modernise the State Hermitage Museum while accepting one of Russia’s great legacies on its own terms. The Hermitage will be examined as a whole: its functioning as a museum, its future position and its integral participation in the City of St. Petersburg.
The results of this project will be shared with an international audience through a kick off meeting, an international conference, an exhibition both in St Petersburg and The Netherlands, and an international publication.
Past systems have – each in a particular way – safeguarded the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg from ‘drastic modernisations’. So far, its original aim, to show art, has been maintained. The museum still constitutes a unique condition with a more direct and more authentic approach to art than in more upgraded encyclopaedic museums.
Of all the great museums, the Hermitage sustains the largest collection, the largest number of exhibitions, and the most space with the least number of visitors. In comparison to other great museums, the Hermitage’s commercial activities are reduced to a minimum. This provides an opportunity to establish the Hermitage’s global position by distinguishing it from other world-class museums. Bearing in mind commitment to its original intentions, the Hermitage must adapt to changing times as it prepares to celebrate its 250th anniversary in 2014. With its reputation untainted, the museum can now focus on its strengths - its virtually priceless and limitless collection, its scale, and its non-commercial character. With this unique history, it can be the first major museum in the 21st-Century to proclaim a renewed focus on art.
The Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) is a leading international partnership practicing contemporary architecture, urbanism and cultural analysis. The office is lead by six partners: Rem Koolhaas, Ole Scheeren, Ellen van Loon, Reinier de Graaf, Floris Alkemade and Managing Partner Victor van der Chijs. To accommodate a wide range and diversity of projects throughout the world, OMA maintains offices in Europe (OMA Rotterdam), North America (OMA New York) and Asia (OMA Beijing).
The counterpart to OMA’s architectural practice is AMO, a research studio and think tank that operates in areas beyond the boundaries of architecture and urbanism - including sociology, technology, media and politics.
Update 20/06/07: our friends at UnBeige have pointed out that AMO were working with the Hermitage a few years back (indeed, the collaboration features in Koolhaas' 2004 book Content). But the "new" news is that the collaboration has been restarted and the "curatorial masterplan" will begin this September.
AMO have given us the following additional information:
Between 2000 and 2001, OMA/AMO was commissioned to act as a consultant for The Guggenheim Hermitage and Guggenheim Las Vegas project. The program called for a flexible exhibition space and museum store, housing masterworks from the Guggenheim and Hermitage Museums in The Venetian Hotel-Casino-Resort in Las Vegas.
The initial Hermitage project
After a meeting with the director of the State Hermitage of St. Petersburg, Mikhail Piotrovsky, OMA/AMO was invited to generate an architectural concept for the General Staff Building, then a new acquisition for the museum. The General Staff Building comprised of 806 rooms all with different morphologies and in various states of restoration. This project involved a curatorial component which enabled the various collections of the Hermitage to be viewed in an unconventional way - by imbedding the artworks within the existing typology of the General Staff Building and allowing the audience to circulate freely within the rooms, carving out their own respective routes. In addition to the curatorial program, there was also an architectural component in which the lobby of the General Staff Building was created. OMA/AMO’s research from this project eventually resulted in an exhibition in Moscow as well as AMO’s ‘Expansion and Neglect’ Pavilion at the 2005 Venice Biennale.
‘The Museum of the 21st Century: A Curatorial Masterplan for the State Hermitage Museum’
After the initial Hermitage project was completed in 2005, Piotrovsky once again approached AMO and proposed a new collaboration based on the strategies which were formulated for the previous project – but on a much larger scale. This time AMO would be responsible for introducing new exhibition concepts and new strategic thinking for the whole Hermitage complex including the General Staff Building. In this particular project dubbed ‘The Museum of the 21st Century: A Curatorial Masterplan for the State Hermitage Museum’, AMO is currently devising a Curatorial Masterplan which aims to revitalize the Hermitage’s relationship with St. Petersburg as well as to uncover the fine line between modernization and preservation of the museum – without any kind of architectural intervention.
Update 22/06/07: certain sensitive passages in the text supplied by AMO has been removed at their request.