The ornate decoration and luxurious fittings of museums past are being replaced with modern buildings that are sustainably focused and demonstrate new building typologies.
They’re also no longer situated in the heart of cities but are being built on the waterfront or among gardens, with architecture and design echoing the history they house.
While modern museums may not be able to compete with the architectural magnificence that is the Louvre, The Met or The Uffizi Gallery in Florence, they still hold aesthetic merit.
Here is a list of 10 recently completed museums with aesthetics alone that make them worth the visit:
1. The Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, Qatar
Architect: I.M Pei
The Museum of Islamic Art appears to float atop the Arabian Gulf on an island location that was suggested by Pei so “future buildings would never encroach on the museum.”
The design itself draws inspiration from ancient Islamic architecture, in particular, the 13th century Ibn Tulun Mosque in Cairo. The exterior combines a cream-like limestone from France, stainless steel and concrete. A central courtyard connects a five-story building to a smaller education wing.
Above the main building is a 164-foot domed atrium that helps to reflect light patterns throughout the exhibition space.
Inside, geometric shapes commonly seen in Islamic architecture clad the ceiling, while a double-curved staircase reflects the wall curves and complements the ceiling from which striking metal chandeliers drop.
2. MAS Museum, Antwerp, Belgium
Architect: Neutelings Riedijk Architects
MAS Museum is the largest museum in Antwerp. The 60-metre building refers to the 16th century houses that are renowned within the city.
Its radiant red exterior is built from Indian red stone and six-metre high curved glass windows. Each “museum box” is stacked and the level twisted to 90 degrees to create a spiral tower with a series of six-metre high glass windows to offer a constantly changing view of the city.
3. Fondation, Louis Vuitton, Paris, France
Architect: Frank Gehry
Despite drawing its share of critics, Fondation Louis Vuitton demonstrates intricate architecture at its finest, cleverly moulding glass to create the striking curved “sail” roof.
The building is an art museum and cultural centre and sits on the Jardin d’acclimatation in the Bois de Boulogne public park in Paris.
It offers 3,850 square metres of museum space and at the time of the design, Gehry described the building as “a veritable ship amongst trees.”
The “sails” were created using 3,600 glass panels fluidly layered over each other and are supported by 200 wooden larch beams and stainless steel lattice. The glass allows the museum’s 11 stark white exhibition spaces to be drenched with natural light.
The museum was a gift to the city from LVMH a gift to the city, worth a reported $134 million.
4. Hanoi Museum, Hanoi, Vietnam
Architect: gmp Architekten
Hanoi Museum features an inverted pyramid shape and sits within an artificial park among water features.
Inside, a central circular atrium links an entrance level with the three exhibition levels.
The competition-winning design has both outdoor and indoor space for exhibits and monuments, and showcases traditional villages in the style of old Hanoi.
5. Riverside Museum, Glasgow, Scotland
Zaha Hadid Architects
As the name suggests, Riverside Museum sits on the banks of the River Clyde and houses the city’s vast transport and travel collection.
“The building, open at opposite ends, has a tunnel-like configuration between the city and the Clyde,” the architecture firm’s website reads. “However, within this connection between the city and river, the building diverts to create a journey away from its external context into the world of the exhibits.”
Hadid’s signature fluidity is evident throughout, and the sharp wave shape of the building showcases its relationship with the waterfront site. The glass facade also delivers an abundance of natural light to the main exhibition space. An 1896 tall ship is also moored as a living exhibit at the front of the museum.
According to the museum’s website, the project cost £74 million.
6. Moesgaard Museum, Aarhus, Denmark
Architect: Henning Larsen Architects
The outside of the new Moesgaard Museum gets a little more attention than its interior.
Dedicated to housing archaeology and ethnography for the city, the wedge-shaped building of Moesgaard also features a slanted green roof that offers picnic space in summer.
It also features underground terraces which draw natural light into the three-storey building and its exhibition spaces.
“The interior of the building is designed like a varied terraced landscape inspired by archaeological excavations gradually unearthing the layers of history and exposing lost cities,” Henning Larsen Architects said.
Panasonic, which provided visual systems to the museum, reported the building cost 393 million Danish kroner – approximately US$60 million.
7. Len Lye Museum, New Plymouth, New Zealand
Architect: Patterson Associates
This contemporary museum features a “folding” stainless steel facade that works to direct the volume of light into the building’s interior, helping to create light patterns and shadows.
Solely housing the permanent works of filmmaker and kinetic sculptor Len Lye and an arm of the Govett Brewster Gallery, it features educational spaces spread across four levels.
“The 3000m building engages with the urban square via a light reflecting and transmitting facade,” Patterson Associates said. “This transfers light in a holographic effect from one place to another to successfully enliven and activate both.”
8. MAXXI, Museum of XXI Century Arts, Rome, Italy
Architect: Zaha Hadid Architects
Zaha Hadid has made her second appearance on this list for her museum in the eternal city.
Roman culture can be seen through the prioritisation of concrete for the building, metallic columns and the geometry throughout the space.
Ribbon-type stairs divide and conquer throughout the exhibition spaces, creating playful and fluid movement through the coolly coloured space.
“MAXXI supercedes the notion of the museum as ‘object’ or – presenting a field of buildings accessible to all, with no firm boundary between what is ‘within’ and what is ‘without,'” the architects said. “Central to this new reality are confluent lines – walls intersecting and separating to create interior and exterior spaces.”
9. The Bundeswehr Military History Museum, Dresden, Germany
Architect: Daniel Libeskind
Opened: May 2018
While this museum was originally built in 1877, Liebeskind designed a new extension that blends the old with the new. The wedge-shaped extension cuts through the former building, in particular through the horizontal chronology between 1914 and 1945, creating a clear, architectural distinction.
According to the museum’s website, “the light and shadow effects produced by the new wedge symbolise the eventful military history of Germany.”
The “wedge” is actually a five-storey, 14,500-ton glass, concrete and steel creation with a breathtaking view of Dresden on the fourth floor. This view also points toward the triangulation of the area where the fire bombing began in Dresden, creating a space for reflection, according to Libeskind.
“This is architecture that is appropriate for its function, combining geometric rigor with clear commentary,” the architect said.
10. The Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), Cairo, Egypt
Architect: Heneghan Peng Architects
Under Construction, to be completed May 2018
While not officially completed, this highly anticipated museum is one to put on the list.
The GEM will play host to the ancient history of Egypt over the past 7,000 years, including artefacts which belonged to Tutankhamen.
It will sit just two kilometres from the Giza Pyramids and cover 480,000 square metres.
“The design of the museum utilises the level difference to construct a new ‘edge’ to the plateau, a surface defined by a veil of translucent stone that transforms from day to night,” the architects said.
“The approach to the museum is a series of layers, whereby the visitor moves through a monumental forecourt, a shaded entrance area and a grand staircase that ascends to plateau level, the level at which the galleries are located where for the first time the visitor sees the pyramids from within the museum.”
A feasibility study estimates the project will cost $550 million.