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Museum of Architecture, Switzerland, S AM, Basel

Museums of Architecture as Virtual Spaces (Part 2): Switzerland

Swiss Architecture Museum
The closure of the S AM in Basel due to COVID-19 was completely unexpected. As director Andreas Ruby stated: “We were not anticipating a pandemic.” This meant that the team had to quickly come up with ideas for how to reach visitors in another way. Like at the DAM, exhibitions that had already been set up were put online in the form of digital tours. In livestreaming sessions, curators and the museum director shed light on individual pieces and led virtual visitors through the building.

At the S AM, this idea led to a series of five- to ten-minute discussions on individual works broadcast in Switzerland’s three official languages and English. These discussions were complemented with interviews with both renowned and less-known architects, who explained their views of the possible long-term effects that COVID-19 could have on architecture and urban planning. For the exhibition planners, the question remains whether coronavirus represents a short disruption or will be a sustained development.

No one wants to return to regular operations. Instead, they want to further exploit the digital opportunities forced on them by the pandemic. This means that there will still be short films, little tidbits giving a foretaste of exhibitions. Ruby is convinced that communications practices will undergo a long-term change: it has already been proven that livestreamed lectures will be clicked on, which led to the idea that symposia no longer have to take place in a local venue. Supra-regional events are also possible and offer a great opportunity. “All the same, the digital world can only be supplementary,” says Ruby. “Often, it is important for visitors to be physically present. For example, there are pieces whose three-dimensionality must be recognizable, or whose haptics must be experienced.”

This is bad news for the current exhibition. Now prolonged until the end of August, the show entitled Under the Radar examines the working processes that take place before and after actual building work. Social distancing rules and the ban on touching pieces set great limits on the exhibition. However, there is one benefit – thanks to COVID-19. Under the directorship of Theo Deutinger, the University of Kassel has developed two topics whose results can now be seen at the S AM. The Image of a Virus investigates how statistics concerning the progress of the pandemic can be visualized and translated into visual language. New isotypes, methods of depiction and design languages aim to make complicated interrelationships easier to understand. The other project, The Pandemic Space, examines the question how everyday movements, distances and circumstances affect the use of buildings, public areas and urban spaces under the conditions of an epidemic. The results are portrayed in technical-looking drawings.

The University of Kassel projects make the opportunities and limits engendered by COVID-19 quite clear. Created virtually by people who have never met, they now hang on the wall in the form of analog drawings − and demand the physical presence of the viewer.

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