Exhibit Design for Architecture: A Non-Digital Method for the Inclusive Communication of an Architecture

Exhibit Design for Architecture: A Non-Digital Method for the Inclusive Communication of an Architecture

Cecilia Cecchini (Sapienza University of Rome, Italy) and Miriam Mariani (Sapienza University of Rome, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7555-9.ch008


This chapter introduces a novel method of communication, based on an analytical and analogical fact-finding journey, aimed at comprehending an architectural design for a more extended and inclusive usership, in particular for visually impaired and blind people. The study focuses on the communication aspects of architecture and the methodology considered effective in architectural criticism, with the aim of attaining deep and real understanding of those principles that represent its tangible expression. Starting from an in-depth theoretical fact-finding analysis, the research suggests a slow and completely non-digital exhibition, available to normally sighted, visually impaired, and blind people, and also for an informed and a non-informed audience. The study was carried out with the support of Public Engagement Department of the MAXXI Museum in Rome (National Museum of the 21st Century Arts) as part of the plan for the accessibility of museum collections.
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Graphic representations, photographic reproductions and, gradually, virtual reconstructions and augmented reality have laid the foundations for a system to popularize works, that allows the public audience to increase exponentially, by pointing to a more extensive and universal communication: today, virtual reality seems to be the main tool for communication in the cultural heritage field. Notwithstanding the importance of the aforementioned tools, the design research described in this paper suggests a different approach.

Starting from an in-depth theoretical fact-finding analysis, the research suggests a slow and completely non-digital exhibition, available to normally sighted, visually impaired and blind people, and also for an informed and a non-informed audience.

The research examines the “Palazzina Girasole” apartment building by Luigi Moretti, an extraordinary example of experimentation on the topic of Roman residential housing during the post-war period. The aforementioned choice, in addition to the importance of the work, derives from the desire to give credit to its images, created by the great photographer Gabriele Basilico. The pictures are kept in the photographic section of the MAXXI Museum.

Figure 1.

Palazzina Girasole, front on Viale Bruno Buozzi

Source: The Authors (2017)

The project research proposal involves a slow set-up path which, through gradual learning about the context where the work was created, the designer’s background, and comparison with contemporaries, allows visitors to assimilate those “codes” constituting the key to a real understanding of the work, which would be showed only at the end of the path, as in our example with the large photograph of the main frontage of “Palazzina Girasole,” taken by Basilico.

What the authors propose is a slow journey, punctuated by the work’s progressive reading phases, through which the visitor can appreciate its full complexity. As Umberto Eco speculated in 2001: a Third Millennium Museum, it is no longer organized around a collection of countless objects but rather as a specific exhibition about a single artwork, a “memorable” visit which would allow the visitor to truly “get inside” the work and understand it deeply.

At first the problem was faced in terms of communication, thinking if and how architecture follows the logic of a communicative system. If that system can be considered as also applicable to the deep comprehension of an architectural organism in an exhibition setting, it is necessary for users to know the codes through which the work expresses itself. For this reason, the semiological approach, through the identification of an architectural language, produces an explanation of the “architectural system” which involves syntactic and grammatical aspects of the language comparable to the form one’s own – that is, the definition of a same logic of style that identifies architecture as a system of connections, based on subordinated structures expressed through logical terms, in which each structure provides a sign/contribution and, therefore, a meaning.


Background: Psychology Of Perception And Semiology For The Communication Of Architecture

In order to develop a communication strategy for architecture, it is necessary first to outline the fields upon which it acts, and with which it interacts.

It is known that Vitruvius, with reference to the art of building, already expressed himself in terms of firmitas, utilitas, and venustas (Pollione, 2002), while Le Corbusier defined architecture as a learned game, correct and magnificent, of forms assembled in the light (Le Corbusier, 2005), thereby highlighting the interaction between tangible elements (volumes) and intangible ones (light).

The communication of these elements of differing nature is the subject of the following text. It is first necessary to outline the analysis of the methods of representation that constitute the tools for intermediation in the user/architecture relationship.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Narrative Design: Design based on the employment of the storytelling’s technique, that is a communication strategy aimed at the persuasion of the interlocutor and/or to efficiently communicate concepts and information in the form of narration, therefore through a progressive learning’s logic (introduction, main part, conclusion).

Design for All: Design methodology aimed at making products, environments, and events while respecting accessibility for every category of person, including individuals in conditions of disability of various kinds, in accordance with the principles of fairness, flexibility, simplicity, and perceptibility.

Blind Experience: Development of an activity or a path, temporarily renouncing the use of sight through the use of masks and blindfolds. Through the “dark” experience the normal sighted person is put through a test and, finding himself outside of his comfort zone, uses the residual senses discovering a new orientation method in the space, as well as a different system of interaction and learning of places, works, objects.

Museum Experience Design: Design of museum’s settings and exhibitions aimed to an interdisciplinarity approach and the use of digital and analogue technological systems with a high engagement of visitors. It’s based on the experience’s design through the practical involvement of the public.

Gabriele Basilico: Italian photographer (Milan, 12 August 1944 – 13 February 2013). His works devote particular attention to the urban landscape, and to cities’ architectural and social changes. His features on Beirut, Berlin, Milan, and Rome are of fundamental importance.

MAXXI: Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI Secolo – The National Museum of 21st Century Arts (Rome, Flaminio neighborhood) is a museum dedicated to contemporary art and architecture, currently run by a Foundation set up by the Italian Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities. The museum’s building was designed by the architect Zaha Hadid.

Luigi Moretti: Italian architect (Rome, 22 January 1906 – Capraia Isola, 14 July 1973). His works are the result of experimentation influenced by the Modern Movement, and by Roman and Baroque tradition, accompanied by constant research on architecture’s codes of composition and expression, and on the theory of perception and of creative thought.

Palazzina: Construction type born in Roman territory in the 1930s, as a model of transformation of the early twentieth-century cottage ( villino ), and prior to the intensive construction in the 1970s. During the post-war boom years, this type of apartment block symbolized the Italian “economic miracle.”

Accessibility: Requirement that characterizes projects, objects, device, services, settings, easily usable by every kind of user. In particular, it refers to the possibility for an individual with motorial, perceptive, and/or psychical disability to approach public services and cultural initiatives in conditions of safety and independence, in order to remove the so-called “barriers”, both architectural and perceptive, that represent the obstacles for an equal public dimension, that respects disabilities.

Structure: Structural linguistics define structure as a coherent set of elements whose relationships constitute its meaning. In this text, it is applied to architecture through the semiological interpretation of the “architectural system” as a set of parts interacting through relationships.

“Typhlo-Didactic” Tools: Teaching aids aimed at increasing the tactile exploration’s ability in visually impaired and blind people. Among these tools are tactile boards with raised representations and titles both in a bigger font size and in Braille alphabet. They can be made in different materials and through different techniques, but what is at the base of their efficiency is the correct design of the tools depending on the learning needs of the people for which they are realized.

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