Thursday, May 19, 2011

Happy, Building Museums in San Francisco

What do the following museum leaders have in common?Daniel Gottlieb, Patricia Leach, Julie Van Blarcom, Joe Brennan, Grace C. Stanislaus and Lial A. Jones?

Each contributed to last month’s dynamic Building Museums conference in San Francisco, presented by MAAM in partnership with WMA, IAMFA, ACM and AIA/SF. Themed around planning, building, and sustaining new, renovated, and expanded museum projects, this is the single conference, world-wide, attracting architects, museum and building professionals to discuss the challenges of this distinctive building type.

Extraordinary museums hosted at the Oakland Museum of California, Walt Disney Family Museum, The Old San Francisco Mint, Contemporary Jewish Museum, de Young Museum and the California Academy of Sciences. Each house displayed brilliant architecture, sustainability (in both the green senses) and community engagement achievements.

Oakland in particular, slightly off the beaten path, deserves a shout out. Opened in 1969, built entirely of concrete by the Eero Saarinen associate Kevin Roche on four city blocks with interior gardens over many galleries, it can be said that Oakland had a green roof decades before the term was coined. The build brought together three small museums of history, art, and science which have co-existed almost without change since that time. The current renovation respects the original architecture and mission (grounded in the radical upheaval of the time and place) and updates infrastructure, about 300,000 square feet of exhibit space, and all program offerings. All those leaky concrete roofs and garden beds are getting an upgrade, too. Now two blocks from the BART transit system, Oakland Museum is easy to get to and it is an extraordinary experience. If you can’t visit soon, I recommend Mark Dion’s The Marvelous Museum, an ambitious walk through the nooks and crooks of Oakland’s deep storage and realized in what is certainly the most marvelous publication on any museum done in decades.

We heard about the Herculean team work and flood recovery efforts of the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library and the Kentucky Derby Museum. You can witness the move of the NCSM&L’s flooded building, 140-tons, happening now. Staging necessitated by climate extremes are just part of the story of the new, all-glass Anchorage Museum. Lessons learned from building a collection and a building for it, resulting in the Phoenix Musical Instrument Museum -- a project made in a decade from idea to delivery, gives new meaning to project management. The planned move of SF’s beloved Exploratorium had us thinking about returning to San Francisco when this museum opens in 2016.

The projects were given context with in-depth discussions of financial considerations -- from how to maximize earned income to raising money in the worst economic downturn ever. The balance between stewardship, sustainability and audience needs was thoughtfully discussed, as were the latest insights on day-lighting new building projects, where and how conservation of objects fit into this work.

The Smithsonian’s Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture received the third annual Buildy Award, bestowed for outstanding construction which increases awareness within the field, and by the public at large, of the value of museums and the need for their ongoing rehabilitation and expansion to serve future generations. Claire Larkin brief inspiring acceptance speech can be read here.

Happiness, according to research from positive psychology, requires 1) meaningful work 2) mastery over the work 3) the opportunity to work with people you admire and respect and 4) a challenge that is larger than yourself. Every museum building project provides these criteria in abundance as we all learned in San Francisco.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

QR Codes in Museums

Our founder and friend, Will Phillips, provided the following in an email to his health club roundtable members this week. It holds for our museum colleagues, too, so I've redrafted slightly and reposted.

A QR code is a specific matrix barcode readable by dedicated QR readers and camera phones. The code consists of black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background. The information encoded can be text, URL, or other data.

Common in Japan, created by Toyota subsidiary Denso-Wave in 1994, the QR code is one of the most popular types of two-dimensional barcodes. QR, abbreviated from Quick Response, as the creator intended the code to allow its contents to be decoded at high speed. QR codes can hold over 7,000 characters, providing a rich data delivery.

Natali Del Conte of CNET explains QR codes in a short video. Google encourages the use of QR codes in their Favorite Places campaign by asking business to show QR codes in their windows and advertisements, leading to rich data resource. Google's Android also moved QR adoption in the US. Since the Android market is small screen only, it is common for users to scan the QR code from a web page or another phone's screen or a print ad as Del Conte explains. QR codes can link to your electronic calendar, website, videos, coupons, promotions, and invitations.

Would QR codes on an object label in a museum usefully extend the information available to the visitor? Could discounts be offered on the museum website encourage visitation during slow times? Since interest is just building, would some visitors be attracted to this now "secret" way of gaining access? Since we all carry our phones 27/7, mobile marketing is apparently the next wave.

p.s from Mary Case: I’ve downloaded the recommended iPhone app, Neoreader, but so far haven’t had success in decoding anything. Onward!