Aaron Betsky Asks: Is the Era of Big Museums Over?

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Aaron Betsky Asks: Is the Era of Big Museums Over?
The Milwaukee Art Museum, by Santiago Calatrava, FAIA / © Matt Niemi/Flickr via Creative Commons license

Museums are expensive buildings, but not as expensive as I thought: On average, they’re about $450 per square foot. The United States is the second most expensive place in the world, after Norway, to build a museum. In the last decade, Renzo Piano, Hon. FAIA, has designed more built museums than any other major architect (and his are also the most expensive per square foot), with Tadao Ando, Hon. FAIA, running second. Most new museums are indeed new, rather than additions or renovations. The peak of new museum construction occurred right before the 2008 recession. Most museums are boxes.

These are the results of a survey—conducted by the Fondazione di Venezia as part of the process of building its own new building, in the port area of Mestre, to a design by Sauerbruch & Hutton (it will open in 2016)—of more than 600 new museums built in the last two decades. These results are available in a book the Fondazione di Venezia published, Museums on the Map 1995-2012 (full disclosure: I have an essay in the volume). They confirm that museums must be important because of the amount of money we spend on them, but also because they just about all look, smell, and act like monuments, rising out of their context and dominating their surroundings with something that is other and alien to the daily life around them. []