BIG’s competition design entry for the new Cité du Corps Humain (Museum of the Human Body) in Montpellier, France, won first prize for its innovative combination of environmental and functional qualities. The museum explores the human body from an artistic, scientific and societal approach through designing for cultural activities, interactive exhibitions, performances and workshop spaces. Thus, although it can be considered a science museum, through the blurring of boundaries between science and art, it is able to offer us relevant architectural insights into the design of art and culture focused community spaces, specifically in the context of Singapore.

The museum situates along a metaphorical “seismic fault line” dividing Charpak Park and Montpellier city hall. It thus arises from the collision of these two seemingly immiscible bodies, conceived as a confluence between park and city, nature and architecture. This confluence of bodies is expressed by BIG in the museum’s continuous meandering membrane façade creating spaces and views that oscillate between park and city. BIG describes the architecture as representing “individual fingers united in a mutual grip.”

Image credits: http://www.big.dk/#projects-hum

Image credits: http://www.big.dk/#projects-hum

However, beneath the human body imagery it is perhaps more important to appreciate their architectural strategy of engaging the larger bodies on site. This is particularly so when designing community spaces – spaces not only meant for people to engage with people but also for people to engage with the site. One possible medium to facilitate community bonding in such community spaces, proposed in Singapore by the National Arts Council, would be through art and culture. How can we then gather strategies for designing art and culture focused community spaces from BIG’s Museum of Human Body?

We first look at BIG’s strategy of weaving the two bodies of park and city. Adapting this to Singapore’s densely built context with pockets of green rather than huge expanses of green, we can imagine a different kind of weaving as shown below, one that requires integration on all sides, like a circle. A possible alternative to this model can then be formed if we replace “park” with “art and culture focused community spaces” of similar nature. In doing so, we actually create a design strategy for art and culture focused community spaces that have increased exposed surface area with existing bodies for art to be more visible and accessible for better outreach to the community.

image credit: Author

Image credits: Author

Besides engaging bodies in the broad sense of site, BIG’s Museum of Human Body emphasises on the engagement of the human body itself. Its roof is conceived as an ergonomical garden – “a dynamic landscape of vegetal and mineral surfaces that allow the parks visitors to explore and express their bodies in various ways – from contemplation to the performance – from relaxing to exercising – from the soothing to the challenging”.

Image credits: http://www.big.dk/#projects-hum

Image credits: http://www.big.dk/#projects-hum

This emphasis on engagement with the user’s body is even more crucial when designing art and culture focused community spaces in Singapore. The misconception that art and culture should just be passively imbibed or consumed by attending concerts in the Esplanade or visiting the galleries of National Museum is one that needs to be actively challenged. Thus, the design of art and culture focused community spaces, whether through activating the roof as in the case of BIG’s project or other everyday spaces should demonstrate that art and culture can exist in our everyday lives, and everyone (not just professionals) can participate in the creation of art and culture in Singapore.

Image Credit: Taken by Lisa Oh

Example of participatory art events: Digital Graffiti class in Woodlands Regional Library, Singapore Image Credit: taken by Lisa Oh

Finally, to effectively engage people with the various exhibition spaces, BIG’s design of the interior circulation facilitates alternative paths of flows. The museum allows both a more direct, linear movement through its main circulatory space that intersects the different exhibits as well as a more meandering circulation where people can weave in and out of the different pockets of exhibition spaces. This approach to designing circulation can also be adapted in the design of community art spaces in Singapore to accommodate various degrees of engagement with arts based on the individual.

Image credit: Adapted from diagrams by BIG

Image credits: Adapted from diagrams by BIG

 

References:

Rosenfield, Karissa. “BIG Selected to Design Human Body Museum in France” 20 Nov 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed 26 Feb 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=450388>

Bjarke Ingels Group. “Projects: Cité du Corps Humain” 2013. Accessed 26 Feb 2014. <http://www.big.dk/#projects-hum>