Posts Tagged ‘museum comfort’

MoMA NYC: Still Pretty Dim

November 30, 2012

On a recent trip to New York City, we stopped in at the Museum of Modern Art. An otherwise interesting exhibition on the work of the Brothers Quay was marred by a series of ridiculously unreadable labels in a gallery that featured the artists’ dioramas.

bros q dim label

Yes, there’s a label in that murk. The image was taken using the available light in the gallery.

If a visitor came equipped with night-vision goggles, a flashlight, or the eyes of a nocturnal creature, a label might look like this:

q b lit

For most of us, however, it looked like this:

bq black

This is the opposite of access, comfort, and common sense. There is no excuse for it.


Calif. Academy of Sciences, part 3: A ghost of its former self

November 3, 2011

The California Academy of Sciences, as it now stands, is a big and busy place. On a typical day it teems with visitors, most of whom seem to be enjoying themselves.

In the midst of all that space and light and color, I suspect that most visitors don’t realize how much of that space is basically wasted – soaring ceilings that go up to nowhere – or how many of the exhibits are pale shadows of what the Academy had before it was remodeled to such fanfare several years ago.


Remembering the old Academy, I can’t help compare these cheesy, cheap biology exhibits to the old Life Through Time installation, which was immersive, engaging, and far more modern than any current exhibition.


The new Academy has vast floor space given over to static signage and rudimentary touch exhibits. The old Academy was stuffed with curiosities, cleverly designed and displayed. Its huge collections were readily accessible to anyone who was interested.


What’s really sad are the physical remnants of the old Academy that the new one is built around. The old Reptile and Amphibian Swamp, which featured a number of live alligators and crocodiles, now contains one forlorn albino alligator.


The railing, with its seahorse motif and bronze starfish atop the bannister, is a reminder of the old-fashioned skilled handiwork and well-thought-out whimsical design elements that were everywhere in the old building.


The African Hall is pretty much as it was – a quiet, dark, and contemplative space that also serves as a reminder of an earlier age of museums, when naturalists “collected” (shot and killed) animals, which were then mounted in dioramas with great skill and artistry. What puzzles me is why the Academy chose to keep its African Hall but not Wild California, an equivalent space filled with evocative dioramas of California wildlife. For better or worse, they don’t make exhibitions like that anymore; once Wild California was dismounted and destroyed, it was gone forever.

Nonetheless, the new Academy is wildly popular, with lines out the front door on weekends. Most visitors are from out of town, I think – another difference from the old Academy, which was one of those beloved institutions where kids who were taken there grew up and them brought their own kids in turn. The new Academy substitutes zing and flash for substance and love. Ultimately, there’s not that much there, which is a loss for us all.



Calif. Academy of Sciences Aquarium: Second-Rate Monterey

October 11, 2011

The Steinhart Aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences tries very hard to be another Monterey Bay Aquarium – going for that immersive, “wow” experience that MBA does so well:

The problem is, the aquarium at the Academy is basically an afterthought, stuffed into the basement, with nowhere near the square footage of its southerly rival.

It’s disturbingly dark (as opposed to serenely dark), with no straight lines – which makes for a rather disorienting visitor experience. Not to mention difficult to navigate for anyone with mobility issues.

Low lighting often makes for signs and labels that are difficult to read.

Unlike Monterey Bay Aquarium, entire wings of which are bathed in natural light, the new downstairs Steinhart Aquarium is lit only by ceiling lights. Exhibits like the Tidepool, which ideally should attempt to reproduce or at least realistically represent the experience of a real tidepool at the open ocean, instead become something you might see next to a craps table in the eternal twilight of a Las Vegas casino.

For anyone who remembers the old Steinhart Aquarium, pre-Renzo Piano rebuild, the new aquarium is a sad experience. The old Steinhart was spacious, contemplative, and actually had far more tanks with a lot more sea life. It was, and felt like, an integral part of the Academy of Sciences – and its exhibitry related a lot more to the local environment of northern California. It was successful on its own terms without trying to be something it wasn’t.


LACMA: White cubes still rule

April 11, 2011

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art still believes in white cubes – those minimalist display spaces that are an essential part of the modernist art experience in contemporary museums.

It seems to be a requirement that the white cube, in its purest form, must have no seating, as in this photography exhibit in the newly opened Resnick Pavillion.


Across the way at the Broad Contemporary (a museum within a museum), the scene could have been lifted from any major art museum any time in the last 50 years:

White walls, wood floors, no seats, pensive visitors in black, and a television on the floor – cathode ray, no less, for that classic touch.

An adjoining gallery had the requisite ambiguous constructions:

And to complete the sense that the visitor is but an acolyte at the altar of culture – a mere supplicant who must work hard for any rewards the art might have to offer – we have the inevitable unobtrusive label in the small typeface:

The Broad’s insistence on the old-fashioned “display-space-must-not-in-any-way-compete-with-the-art” aesthetic would almost be endearing if it didn’t make for so much discomfort.


LACMA: Outside looking in

March 29, 2011

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is a mixed experience for the visitor, or at least this visitor. It’s a jumble of art and architecture, with no real physical or emotional center. But they’re working on it.

A recent visit on a sunny day in mid-March helped me to appreciate different aspects of the Grand Entrance Pavillion, situated between the Ahmanson Building (on the left) and the Broad Museum of Contemporary Art.

Looking to the north – 180 degrees opposite the view above – the broad expanse of lawn and sky invite lounging and sunning.

In fact, sunning is encouraged by the presence of concrete chaise lounges.

Even on a late winter day with relatively low sun, the lounges and the lawn were bathed in warmth.

The pavillion now has two new places to eat and drink – Ray’s, a restaurant, and the Stark Bar, both run by Patina, purveyors of museum food seemingly everywhere you go.

The good part is the presence of two outdoor establishments. The bad part is the pricing, which is not exactly populist: for lunch at Ray’s, sandwiches are in the $11 to $15 range, and main courses go for around $20. So-called bar bites at the Stark run $8-ish to $15-ish; the bar also offers an encyclopedic selection of small-batch handcrafted liquors and cocktails from $10 up. All fine and good if you’re relatively well-to-do and/or able to spend a lot of disposable income on food and drink. Not so accessible, financially speaking, if you’re not.

MOMA: Oh, not much, just visiting some Abstract Expressionists

November 22, 2010

The current Abstract Expressionist show at MOMA in New York has, I am pleased to report, a bench in just about every room of the exhibition.

What interested us, apart from an apparent change in attitude with regard to seating at MOMA (from almost none to more than adequate, at least for this show), was one particular pattern of use that we had not seen before.

Many visitors sat in order to gaze at the work more closely, and/or to rest. But some used the bench as an opportunity to interact with a handheld device.

From what we could see, these were not audio tour players, but smart phones or Blackberry-like devices. Users seemed to be checking messages or texts, or actually texting in at least one instance.

Are these simply visitors who are unable to be out of touch for more than a few minutes? Or is it another form of leaving the room and chilling out – changing gaze and focus not by looking out of a window, but into a window? Or both?

MOMA New York – Please be seated in front of the Monets

November 16, 2010

On a recent visit to MOMA in New York, we were pleased to discover that the gallery with the huge Monet water lillies had seating once again.

The water lilly seating went away when the museum was redesigned and rebuilt a few years ago. Now it’s been restored, and visitors were using it eagerly on the day we visited.

MOMA seems to be doing better on seating in general. More on that in a future post.

More Bathroom Blogfest: clean, simple, 60s

October 29, 2010

Thanks to the folks at Results Revolution for listing my first Bathroom Blogfest post. They bring up some good points about restrooms as key places where the concept of visitor comfort can be extended or utterly neglected.

Another BB post linked from the same entry is from the Kitchen and Residential Design blog by Paul Anater. He notes that being “stuck in the 60s” (the theme of this year’s BB) isn’t necessarily a bad idea if you’re talking about bathrooms, and provides illustrations of some classic modernist, human-scale bathrooms from the early 60s that look as if they could have been designed today.

In that spirit, here’s a women’s restroom (photos by Beth) from Palazzo Grassi, the just-too-cool museum of minimalist, conceptual, and terminally hip art in Venice, Italy. As I noted in an earlier post, the seating in this museum is lacking, to say the least; but the restooms are clean (literally and design-wise), simple, and classic – completely in keeping with the White Cube look and feel of the museum.




In terms of access for people with mobility problems or in wheelchairs, they are a bit tight, however.


Bathroom Blogfest 2010: back to the 60s

October 25, 2010

Please Be Seated is pleased to join Bathroom Blogfest 2010, a week-long, web-wide series of blog posts devoted to, yes, bathrooms. Here’s a description of the event from the Bathroom Blogfest website:

“… bloggers from around the globe write about the importance of bathrooms in the customer experience. Their posts come from a wide range of perspectives that include sociology, marketing, research, psychology, environmental, customer experience, and user-experience design. The event was initiated in 2006.”

Since restrooms are essential to comfort in most public spaces — indoor ones, anyway — we’re happy to join the discussion.

This year’s theme, inspired by Mad Men, is “Stuck in the Sixties,” the idea being that many public-space bathroom experiences have not been improved in half a century or longer. Not to be contrarian, but here is a 60s style women’s restroom that has been adapted to our own century quite nicely (photo by Beth):

This is on the ground floor of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, in a lobby area that was renovated (I believe) in the 60s. This restroom has the virtues of a 60s modernist space – straightforward access to all stalls as soon as you open the door, sufficient space between the stalls and the sinks, no awkward angles – updated with contemporary 21st century fixtures. The adjacent men’s room has pretty much the same layout. As usual, the Met does things right.

Please visit the entire roster of Bathroom Blogfest blogs:

Blogger Blog Name Blog URL
Susan Abbott Customer Experience Crossroads
Paul Anater Kitchen and Residential Design
Shannon Bilby Big Bob’s Outlet
Shannon Bilby Carpets N More Blog
Shannon Bilby Dolphin Carpet Blog
Shannon Bilby From The Floors Up
Shannon Bilby My Big Bob’s Blog
Toby Bloomberg Diva Marketing
Laurence Borel Blog Till You Drop
Bill Buyok Avente Tile Talk Blog
Jeanne Byington The Importance of Earnest Service
Becky Carroll Customers Rock!
Marianna Chapman Results Revolution
Katie Clark Practial Katie
Nora DePalma American Standard’s Professor Toilet
Nora DePalma O’Reilly DePalma: The Blog
Leigh Durst LivePath Experience Architect Weblog
Valerie Fritz The AwarepointBlog
Iris Garrott Checking In and Checking Out
Tish Grier The Constant Observer
Renee LeCroy Your Fifth Wall
Joseph Michelli Dr. Joseph Michelli’s Blog
Veronika Miller Modenus Blog
Arpi Nalbandian TILE Magazine Editor Blog
Maria Palma People 2 People Service
Reshma Bachwani Paritosh The Qualitative Research Blog
David Polinchock Polinchock’s Ponderings
Victoria Redshaw & Shelley Pond Scarlet Opus Trends Blog
David Reich My 2 Cents
Sandy Renshaw Around Des Moines
Sandy Renshaw Purple Wren
Bethany Richmond Carpet and Rug Institute Blog
Bruce Sanders RIMtailing Blog
Steve Tokar Please Be Seated
Carolyn Townes Becoming a Woman of Purpose
Stephanie Weaver Experienceology
Christine B. Whittemore Flooring The Consumer
Christine B. Whittemore Simple Marketing Blog
Christine & Ted Whittemore Smoke Rise & Kinnelon Blog
Christine B. Whittemore The Carpetology Blog
Linda Wright LindaLoo Build Business With Better Bathrooms

Beatty Museum: the comfort of small museums

May 24, 2010

During our spring trip to Death Valley, we drove up to the small town of Beatty, Nevada, just east of the national park. There, we visited the Beatty Museum and Historical Society.

The main mission of the museum is to preserve the mining heritage of the region. Which sounds dry, but in reality it’s a charming and informative place, chock-full of artifacts of daily life and work in the desert from the mid-19th century through the end of the 20th. The original building once served as a church, and the jumble of objects looks homey and inviting in there, rather than cluttered.

A few years ago, the collection outgrew the original space, and another small building was added on.

In many ways a typical small-town museum, run on a shoestring budget by dedicated (mostly unpaid) staff, the Beatty Museum turns out to be surprisingly comfortable. Its small size works to advantage: there are no problems with orientation, wayfinding, or fatigue, and you can take in a good deal of the space in one glance.

Grandma’s attic? In some ways – but a clean, organized attic, with good lighting and wide walkways. The staff has done a good job of organizing all this stuff — mostly received through donations from interested residents — into thematic sections. 

Our visit reminded me how enjoyable a well-run small museum can be. We came away with a real sense of what life must have been like in the Mojave when mining was the main engine of the economy and life depended upon the railroad.