Service of Bigger is Better
September 11th, 2014
Categories: Architects, Big, Museums
I don’t believe institutions need to occupy more space to be better, and see few benefits apart from the jobs expansion generates.
The private school I attended has hired a company to find it a larger building. It currently inhabits a big and several smaller ones. With so many talented architects and interior designers who know how to squeeze the most out of space, getting something bigger seems like a waste of money. Spending the money on teacher salaries, scholarships and upgraded computer capabilities would be a better plan. My checkbook will remain closed when I receive the anticipated requests to support a bigger and better building.
Then there’s the Frick that’s about to swell and the Delaware Art Museum [photo right] that felt forced to sell artwork to pay for its expansion that, in the end, didn’t positively affect attendance. The latter museum’s administration is being scolded by its peers for selling its treasure, a stopgap measure at best. Deborah Solomonaug covered the intrigue in The New York Times in “Censured Delaware Art Museum Plans to Divest More Works.”
Adding to the debate, here are highlights of our recent visit to a bigger–so it must be better–museum.
Guides directed us to a parking lot at the expanded, new and improved Clark Museum in Williamstown, Mass. [photos below left and right] which we’ve visited many times before. Formerly we parked outside the main entrance where the admissions booth was. Where we parked last week clearly wasn’t the main lot. As a result, we began a preposterous trek that helped accentuate the ungainly plan of the new place.
We followed a path to the closest entrance which landed us in museum offices. A helpful administrator jumped up and showed us to a door which led us through a research library. They were expecting company: At the end of the library’s main aisle was a guard stationed to wave us forward and no doubt to watch that we didn’t take a detour through the stacks.
As we left the library he pointed to our next door, which took us outside again. He told us to be sure to admire the new water pools—where the original parking lot was. He mentioned the number of doors we should bypass to get to the cashier. Off we went on another stroll. I couldn’t help think what such a ramble in and out would be like in bitter heat or cold, rain or snow. The guard said we could take a golf cart back to the parking lot. I saw one wandering around the property carrying a large family. The kids enjoyed the ride. It didn’t seem efficient.
We entered the correct door but still no admissions desk in sight. Following an arrow we walked down a long hall passing the gift store and finally, to a gracious foyer at the back of which were information and admissions desks. This was the new part of the museum where additional special exhibition spaces are.
However, to visit the main museum, our old friend, off we went again past the gift shop, down the long hall and into another entrance where, that day, you couldn’t buy a ticket.
More to the point: Was the expansion practical or necessary? How many people will be able to avail themselves of exhibits in the expanded space? Williamstown is charming but inaccessible by public transportation, though as we left town, we saw a Peter Pan bus parked outside the local inn.
Do you think that institutions must increase their footprints for survival or in some cases, is such expenditure the first step towards doom? What is really behind such expansion: ego and folly perhaps?