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Conservation architecture and the narrative imperative: Birmingham back to backs

By Geoff Matthews


The paper uses a case study to explore how the opposing logics of conservation architecture and interpretive exhibition design were played out in the shaping of a narrative museum space. The former concerns itself with an archaeological conception of physical space, which is defined through the decipherability of traces and their layering over time. The latter concerns itself with a theatrical notion of event space defined through the mapping and programming of performances and information flows.\ud \ud The contingencies of the Birmingham Back to Backs project – its incep¬tion, the in¬volvement of the National Trust, the foregrounding of community interests and the interpretive design process – gave rise to a novel resolution of contrasting interests. A particular idea of narrative was able to frame the use of, on the one hand, physical evidence to interpret what may have existed and, on the other, a combination of lived and documentary evidence to reconstruct the patterns of daily life. This can be understood as a process of recovering ordinary lives. \ud \ud The research addresses the following conference themes: sites overlaid with narrative, the role of visitor-centred design in the production of museum space, and the emergence of new approaches that cut across disciplines. Analysis of interpretive design and heritage management documentation is informed by Samuel’s theorization of the shaping power of memory (1994). However, overall, the approach is pragmatic, in that it engages in critical conversations, resists reductionism, and tries to point up what may be useful in helping us cope together in the world.\ud \ud The principal conclusions concern the role that a focus on narrative (re)construction can play in framing cross-disciplinary collaboration and the potential of embracing radically different conceptions of space in museum design

Topics: K250 Conservation of Buildings, P131 Museum studies, W990 Creative Arts and Design not elsewhere classified
Year: 2010
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