Show-stoppers

If you want to see the best in new museum design, who better to ask than the experts?

Alice Rawsthorn, director of the Design Museum

Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, US

Nostalgia for Prince’s 1980s classics apart, there aren’t many reasons to visit Minneapolis, except the sensational new Herzog & de Meuron building at the Walker Art Center. The Walker has long been a model modern museum, and a great inspiration for our work at the Design Museum. As well as initiating some of the most influential contemporary art exhibitions of the past decade, it has a fantastic education programme and by far the most innovative museum website. The Walker also has a rich design heritage, exemplified by Matthew Carter’s gorgeous Walker typeface.

Thanks to Herzog & de Meuron, the Walker now has a building to match. Minneapolis is devoid of public spaces and the old Walker, like the rest of the city, barricaded itself against its surroundings. As well as opening up the new Walker to the citizens of Minneapolis, Herzog & de Meuron has created an imposing local landmark that is surprisingly intimate inside.

Tim Molloy, head of design at the Science Museum

Churchill Museum, St James’s Park, London

I think it’s the most impressive thing I’ve seen for some time – a very powerful show combining a rich set of objects with an equally rich display by Casson Mann. It feels good as a space. The artefacts are presented well and where issues are raised that can’t be presented as objects, the interactive features are spectacular, and successfully appeal to adults as well as children. I think it’s brave because the audience was split between education and nostalgia, with older people reliving their childhood.

Because it’s in the bunker beyond the War Rooms it’s got quite low ceilings. They’ve created a very good and appealing environment from a space that frankly isn’t very promising, through the use of strong architectural elements and good lighting.

Gwyn Miles, director of projects and estates at the Victoria & Albert Museum

Compton Verney, Warwickshire

Apart from London’s Churchill Museum, I’d choose Compton Verney, which is neither a standard stately home nor a standard museum.

As you’d expect from Stanton Williams (the architect that refurbished the house and created the galleries with Metaphor Design), it’s a very restrained restoration of the house and also of the collections. The displays are idiosyncratic and I like the fact that it’s not a conventional typology, but personal taste. I think it’s very interesting and well worth a visit.

David Dewing, director, Geffrye Museum

Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts, US

This museum began when Salem seafarers of the late 18th and early 19th century starting trading in the East Indies and brought back curios from the Far East; it’s grown into a museum with a wide collection of antique and decorative arts. Recently the museum itself has been refurbished – it is now three times the size and there is a huge new wing designed by Moshe Safdie, with a light and airy atrium and a new gallery for ship models, furniture and decorative arts. The most amazing thing the museum has done is to move, piece by piece, an ordinary family house from China, dismantling it and erecting it behind the museum. It’s really well presented and beautifully arranged – very sensitively done and not at all patronising. They’ve explained all the meanings of the different spaces woven into the fabric of their lives and beliefs. It’s a nice museum that’s not pompous, with rich, good quality collections presented in a nice way.

Stuart MacDonald, director of The Lighthouse Centre for Architecture and Design

Norsk Form, Oslo, Norway

Norsk Form is a former brick power station converted into a new home for the Norwegian Design Council and galleries for Norwegian architecture and design by architect Jensen og Skodvin. I like conversions of industrial buildings, but this is not just an interesting public exhibition space, the private spaces are just as good. It also has a very simple, but well designed restaurant and event space. There’s a very big gallery that must be the former turbine hall, with robust windows for natural light to show off the exhibits and great attention is paid to detailing. I know it’s a cliché to talk about Scandinavian design, but their attention to detail is phenomenal. Their use of simple materials in a simple and beautiful way is inspiring.

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