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Reimagining Design for the New Normal: Museums

Museums are now open in NYC! See how these valuable cultural institutions are safeguarding patrons now and in the near future.

Museums are some of our most valuable cultural institutions, with many museum buildings even serving as national historic landmarks. This is why, in midst of the New York City’s COVID-19 lockdown, 20 museums throughout the five boroughs formed a task force to develop guidelines for institutions to follow to ensure museums could continue to serve the public while protecting their health and safety during the pandemic, once allowed to reopen.

As of August 24, 2020, NYC museums have started opening their doors again. But questions remain for the future. Museums generally rely on the revenue from school trips, ticket and gift shop sales, and events, all of which are still severely impacted by the pandemic. In New York City in particular, museums are only allowed to open to 25% capacity at any given time. One NPR study observed that one-third of U.S. museums may not survive the year.

But if there’s one thing museums are good at, it’s creative innovation. Here are some ways museums are looking to redesign the guest experience and adapt to the situation.

  • Air Filtration

    As in most other industries, enhanced air filtration and HVAC systems have become a high priority to reduce spread. But unlike those industries, museums might actually have a built-in advantage. According to Don Posson of Smithgroup, because most museums have to preserve precious contents like artifacts and artwork, they keep the building to 40-60% relative humidity, “which is an ideal humidity range for controlling contagion." Score one for museums!
  • Streamlined Entry

    As in other industries, any museums that require desks or counters for key transactions, such as admissions, guest services, or retail, will need to be outfitted with plexiglass shields or other protective barriers. Some might want to go for digital entry over traditional ticket exchange, if possible. In addition, services like coat check will need to be redesigned or done away with completely.
  • Maximizing Space

    With social distancing measures in place, museums need to rethink how people move throughout the exhibits and common areas. This may include ensuring one-way travel throughout the space, moving furniture, breaking up large galleries and gift shops, and redesigning the floor plan and egress routes to accommodate distancing (even 25% capacity can cause issues if people are getting bottlenecked). New exhibits can plan ahead by making a one-way route part of the curated experience.

    Museums should also consider adding or maximizing outdoor space, creating open-air exhibits and installations where possible. The Museum of Science Fiction in Washington, D.C. has outlined ideas for what open-air exhibits and museums of the future could look like.
  • New Materials

    Particularly for touch- or interaction-heavy museums, such as children’s museums, building managers and exhibit designers should look into COVID-19 resistant materials. Now that we have more information on how long the virus lasts on different surfaces, museums will want to pivot away from plastic and stainless steel where possible. The REALM (REopening Archives, Libraries, and Museums) project is currently testing common library and museum materials, such as archival storage containers and acrylic display cases, for virus longevity, so keep yourself informed on the latest research going forward.

For more guidance, many museums are actually publishing their COVID-19 reopening plans, so it can be helpful to look to leaders in the industry to see how they are adapting to the current times.

Museums may not be as essential to day-to-day life as restaurants or offices. But they are an important cultural good that deserve every effort to keep afloat. For assistance in fortifying your museum again COVID-19, contact us at Outsource Consultants


Reimagining Design for the New Normal: A Look Inside Each Industry.

Covid-19 has had an impact across every industry. With the need for low-touch and 6-feet of distance, high-tech, futuristic design may be coming faster than we anticipated. From spatial choreography to antimicrobial materials, there are many standard and unique ways that each industry will approach the new normal. With insights from experts in design, construction, and the building code, we have curated articles for many of the major industries on how to approach the new normal with safety and aesthetics in mind. This series will dive into restaurants, airports, healthcare, hotels, offices, residential, retail, theater, and museums. Do you have a topic that you would like Decoder to cover? Just ask the experts.