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Museum Space of the British Museum


This paper is aimed at the comparative analysis of two approaches concerning museum spaces by Duncan and Hillier and Tzortzi in relation to the visit to the British Museum.

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Key Ideas and Approach to Museum Space by Duncan

The first article is written by art historian Carol Duncan. He treats museum spaces as “ceremonial monuments” that is not just a shell for museum exhibits, but they possess certain social and political meaning (Duncan 2003). Moreover, Duncan analyzes the generic features of the modern art museum, in particular, its “ritual architecture” structured by means of texts written for visitors in order to direct them, information boards to acquaint visitors with art from the beginning until late apotheosis.

Questioning the hermetic closure of museums, their detachment from the external social and political problems, Duncan discusses methods of organization of museum, management, public relations, and corporate investments. Duncan considers that museum space suggests rituality, in other words, secularity that promotes the preservation of the cultural heritage and defining the identity.

Main Points and Approach to Museum Syntax by Hillier and Tzortzi

Bill Hillier and Kali Tzortzi (2008, p. 282) claim that “the absence of a language of space in which to formulate clear distinctions between one kind of spatial layout and another” created the attention to museum space. The theory of space syntax includes descriptive and analytical instruments, in other words, the language defining the museum space. Precisely speaking, the theory considers organizational and architectural issues influencing the perception of visitors. For instance, so-called “churning” effect was stated by Hillier and Tzortzi. It is expressed in the situation when people face something difficult to note in museum space, but it tends to be more socially exciting than those aspects that are far-famed.

Comparison of Duncan and Hillier and Tzortzi’s Texts

Speaking of the differences between two described above approaches, it is necessary to mention that unlike Duncan who supposes that visitors perform a “ritual scenario”, Hillier and Tzortzi focus on the architectural organization of the museum space. However, one might note some similarities as well. For example, they argue that the museum space undoubtedly affects the perception of visitors. The varied architecture, the organization of exhibits along with the corresponding atmosphere prevailing in a particular museum make a person penetrate in time that is presented in the gallery.

The relation of approaches to the British Museum is seen in its architectural composition and spiritual fulfilment (The British Museum n.d.a). These two texts changed my comprehension of the gallery spaces at the British Museum. For instance, the Parthenon marbles “put on display by Lord Elgin from 1806 in Burlington House” appeared in a completely different light (The British Museum n.d.b, p. 36). The number of sculptures, their location, display, and gallery space in general conduct more vivid perception of exhibits combining architectural and ritual approaches. I understood that museum spaces influence even my conscious mind making me interested in museum galleries and exhibits more and more.


In conclusion, the authors raise an important social issue of modern life. Nowadays museums continue to play a great role in the preservation of cultural and historical heritage. In this regard, common ground for both approaches is that the exhibition space could capture the attention to museums contributing to the formation of social interest to the history and culture.

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Duncan, C 2003, ‘Art museums and the ritual of citizenship’ in S Pearce (ed.), Interpreting Objects and Collections, Routledge, New York, pp. 279-286.

Hillier, B & Tzortzi, K 2008, ‘Space Syntax: The Language of Museum Space’ in S MacDonald (ed.), Companion to Museum Studies, Wiley-Blackwell, Malden, pp. 282-301.

The British Museum, n.d.a, Accessing enlightenment: study guide, Web.

The British Museum, n.d.b, The Parthenon Sculptures, Web.

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