Exploiting Conflicts in Designing Museums in Heritage Buildings: Ongoing Experimentations in the Portuguese Area

Barbara Bogoni
Department of Architecture and Urban Studies, Politecnico di Milano, Italy

Elena Montanari
Department of Architecture and Urban Studies, Politecnico di Milano, Italy     

Museums have always had a special relationship with heritage buildings (i.e. structures bearing historic, artistic or architectural values, originally dedicated to different functions), as through the centuries they have often accommodated the collections, programs and settings of this cultural institution. The insertion of new display systems and functions into the historic rooms represents a highly complex project, where several conflicts coalesce and are performed. These involve the multiscalar and multifaceted clash between the conservation of the site’s tangible and intangible features and the transformative actions that are needed to adapt it to fit new tasks and standards, the complicated coexistence among the manifestation of the building’s history and values and the conveyance of the museum’s contents and collections, the potentially contentious combination of the enjoyment of the spatial experience and the integration of digital devices that mediate the relationship with the environment, etc. The partial or strong prevailing of one conflicting stance over the other (or the search for their balance) plays a key role in shaping, characterizing and positioning the project within a specific cultural frame. 
Throughout the decades, both theories and practices developed around these topics have been widely mutating – and yet no definitive position or formula has been univocally defined. The elastic nature of this field is related to its complexity, operating at the crossroad between restoration, museography, technology and architectural design, but also to everchanging disciplinary revisions and constant cultural and/or technical advancements, as well as to the unique nature of each specific site and project. These “conflicts” and the search for their solution remain open, and actually represent a driving force for a continuously reinvigorated work.
The paper aims at reflecting on the latest direction of this research, with a particular focus on the innovative positions that are currently emerging from the practice of some young Portuguese architects (DepA Architects, Spaceworkers, CVDB Arquitectos).

Keywords: Portuguese museums; heritage buildings; inter-disciplinary approach; museographic trends

Barbara Bogoni is Associate Professor in Architectural and Urban Design at the Department of Architecture and Urban Studies of Politecnico di Milano. She has widely investigated and published around Portuguese architecture culture, with a special focus on its contemporary development.

Elena Montanari is Assistant Professor in Interior Architecture and Exhibition Design at the Department of Architecture and Urban Studies of Politecnico di Milano. Her research work is mainly focused on the development of museographic culture at its intersections with other disciplines.