This case study of the Navigation Pavilion illustrates transformation of an outmoded ‘grand narrative’ display to a theatrical space for showing fair representation—reviving “ordinary” voyagers’ tales excluded from Spain’s imperial maritime story. Reopened in 2012, the new permanent exhibition—Bridge to America—recycled the heritage building and theme of the Navigation Pavilion built for Seville’s 1992 Universal Exposition.
Principal access interventions :
- New access/egress ramp and internal lifts dovetail with the reorganised visitor itinerary (figs. 10 and 11).
- The rescripted exhibition narrative—Bridge to America—foregrounds previously neglected social histories.
- An immersive theatrical setting conceives visitors as participatory actors in the historical dramas (general view above).
- Multi-sensory interactive exhibits bring the intangible stories to life for diverse audiences (figs. 6 and 8).
- Formerly blocked views of the river and historical port city of Seville were reinstated and integrated into the exhibition to help visitors to contextualise the stories (figs. 9, 10 and 11).
Though on the periphery of Expo ’92’s grounds on Seville’s artificial Island of the Cartuja, this particular Pavilion’s unique siting arrangement opens up to panoramic views of the Guadalquivir River against the backdrop of the historical port city on the opposite shore (figs. 1 and 2).
The original Expo’92 Navigation Pavilion was a hybrid of two types of exhibition spaces—a Universal Exposition pavilion with a future museum plan built-in. The Pavilion today offers a dynamic mix of the former’s fun entertainment offer and the latter’s traditionally more serious educational approach. The resulting visitor experience challenges common expectations of what makes a museum.
Find out more :
- The Navigation Pavilion’s website (new tab, spanish)
- The architect’s website (new tab, spanish)
- The exhibition designer’s website (new tab, english)
- The exhibition scriptwriter’s book (new tab, english)
This case study is one of a three part series exploring inclusive design responses to a common dilemma in heritage museum buildings:
How to bring stories to life in museums’ heritage spaces to engage today’s diverse audiences?
The study extends inclusive design thinking to embrace three nuanced interpretations of social inclusion drawn from the museum world. The case studies of three venerable cultural institutions’ efforts to reinvent themselves demonstrate these aspirations:
- Showing Fair Representation at the Navigation Pavilion (this case study)
- Sharing Dialogue at the Ashmolean Museum (new tab)
- Shaping Society at La Casa Encendida (new tab)
Together they reveal an inclusive symbiosis between storytelling and design strategies. Simply put, storytelling held broad human appeal while designers made stories more comprehensible and meaningful for diverse audiences.
The research portrays the Museum as Storyteller, highlighting socially inclusive opportunities of rescripting museums’ heritage spaces as compelling vehicles for narrative to rival other popular storytelling media forms.
Michelle Moore · School of Architecture · The University of Queensland
This case study is distilled from, and includes extracts of, Moore’s PhD thesis—The Museum as Storyteller: Designing socially inclusive narrative environments. Publication details of the thesis with bibliography will soon be available at the following link (new tab)
Heritage significance and attractiveness
The inherent maritime character of the Navigation Pavilion’s context, form and materials (fig. 3) created a fitting vessel for conveying Seville’s sixteenth and seventeenth century maritime heritage. Furthermore, the Pavilion’s own heritage significance is two-fold: firstly, as a legacy of Expo ’92; and secondly, as a clear example of early 1990’s architecture.
This walk-through of the transformed Pavilion shows how the museum project team harnessed the original heritage building’s qualities to engage visitors in the new exhibition’s socially inclusive intangible stories.
The Vessel—an integrated narrative space
Today, four exhibition areas occupy the continuous space of the Pavilion’s upper level. For the visitor, the sensation is like being inside a massive wooden hull, an effect that links the exhibition’s stories with its spatial setting (fig. 11 and general view above). This high spatial integration renders each exhibition area perceptible from others, lending its images, colour, light and sound to the general theatrical atmosphere.
Area One—Sea of Souls—a multisensorial voyage
Ascending to the upper floor exhibition from ground floor reception, when visitors’ eyes adjust to the semi-darkness they find themselves suddenly transported to the sea—a LED light sea rippling beneath projected tempestuous skies. Like make-believe voyagers they step aboard a timber deck to embark upon an Atlantic crossing. Tacking through this Sea of Souls visitors interact with maritime “props” that activate short films reviving life-sized animated historical voyagers who speak in different languages of life at sea and personal motivations behind their migrations (fig. 6). Reproductions of their possessions are touchable, and the sound of passing storms and the smell of tobacco complete the sensorial journey.
Area Two—Shipping Advancements—touchable objects
Emerging from the sea visitors see a large wall mural painted in infinite shades of blue and encrusted with life-sized touchable reproduction objects. It forms a vivid backdrop for a set of restored model ships recovered from Expo ’92, openly displayed (fig. 7). The models trace technological progress, while the mural depicts parallel human portraits, aspirations and use of inventions from the sixteenth century to the present.
Area Three—Sailing Simulations—ergonomic interactive play
At the above sequence’s conclusion begins a series of ergonomically designed games for practicing sailing skills. The set-up resembles a giant video game. Projected immersive scenes aboard ship are activated by robust full-scale models of apparatus with moving parts that simulate manning the wheel, hauling the rigging or operating the cargo hoist (fig. 8).
Area Four—Seville and the Guadalquivir River—sense of place
Concluding the exhibition, visitors promenade an internal riverside deck from where panoramic views of Seville’s historical port give a sense of where voyagers’ stories began. In contrast to previous simulated exhibits, here the real port presents tangible evidence of stories. Tactile screens illustrate the same viewpoint changing through the centuries demonstrating the evolving relationship between the city, its people and the Guadalquivir River (fig. 9).
The Viewing Tower and Quayside—an accessible lookout
Before departing the site, visitors ascend a separate tower inherited from Expo ’92 offering a bird’s-eye city and river views (fig. 3). The way up is by external glass lifts while descent is via an internal ramp, the latter inspired by La Giralda—Seville Cathedral’s Moorish bell tower. From the dock below by prior arrangement it’s possible to embark a city cruise boat or launch a kayak to tour Seville by water.
Watch this inclusive space
If you liked this taster of The Museum as Storyteller, check back in early 2020 for more on the Navigation Pavilion’s project challenges, players and processes and the case study’s conclusions.