Innocad dissolves the typical museum formula

Graz, Austria – How should a museum look in today’s digital age? Not like a museum at any rate, according to Martin Lesjak of Innocad, the design firm behind a pair of new permanent exhibitions at the History Museum in Graz, Austria.

Showcasing Styrian cultural heritage, the two very different exhibitions in the former 18th-century Herberstein Palace called for contrasting schemes. In Schaudepot, the problem was how to present a huge collection of physical objects, as well as a digital archive. In the other exhibition, called 100 x Steiermark, the setting – a beautiful baroque hall – provided the challenge. The low budget was an additional restricting factor. ‘Our strategy was to create a low-threshold, varied experience,’ says Lesjak. ‘With Schaudepot, we wanted to give people the feeling of being in a contemporary warehouse and with 100 x Steiermark of being in an 18th-century palace.’

For Schaudepot, he continues, ‘all the materials used are existing industrial products that are flexible and adaptable’. The result looks more like a shop than a museum and is all the more approachable as a result. The lighting concept, with dappled patterns of light and shadow falling on floors and ceilings, was ‘inspired by the atmosphere you often find in attics’. The accompanying multimedia archive proves a complementary volume.

The second project, 100 x Steiermark, is meant to evoke ‘the private chambers of an 18th-century aristocratic family’. With the authentic baroque backdrop in place, the use of mirror and glass ‘dematerializes the exhibition elements and reflects history’, says Lesjak. Display units melt into the background altogether, while objects and setting emerge in sharp relief.

Both approaches shrink the distance between the visitor and the objects by dissolving the typical museum formula. Remarkably, 2,000 pieces are displayed without overwhelming the exhibition design. Seen behind metal mesh or on mirrored tables rather than in display cases, objects can be viewed with fresh eyes. ‘The best part of the project is helping people to participate and to perceive history in an unexpected and unpretentious way,’ says Lesjak. ‘We like that most of the visitors explore the exhibition more than once, discovering something new each time. It’s a great testament to the transformative quality of the space. Kids love it, too.’

As museums need to offer ever more immersive experiences, Lesjak believes designers must provide ‘multilevel environments in which people can decide whether to simply enjoy a cool space or to absorb information, and on what level. One-size-fits-all solutions no longer help museums to stay relevant. When we talk about the museum of the future, we should be thinking of a transdisciplinary hybrid of art, design, entertainment and content, relating to all the senses.’

His top tip for would-be exhibition designers? ‘Don’t be awestruck by the content. Here in the Graz History Museum, the project doesn’t offer itself up too readily; it needs to be explored. It poses questions, but when you interact with the content out of curiosity and dig deeper, you can find hidden treasures.’ 

You can also read this article in the newest issue, Frame 123 (p 82-87).

Location Sackstraße 16, Graz, Austria

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