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BOOK

REVIEW

New Museums By Raul Barreneche. Phaidon, 2005. 208pp. £39.95

We are, says the introduction, in a golden age of museums; museums (post Bilbao) are now a global phenomenon: they are popular, have been 'revolutionised by desire' (more shops and cafés, ) and the architecture is a major part of the appeal. But despite this increase in architectural impact, no clear themes or directions have emerged.

The book is equally directionless. It is made up of 27 seemingly random case studies of museums built in Europe, the US and Japan between 1998 and 2004. For each building there are between five and seven pages of glossy photographs, a page of text and token tiny drawings. The buildings, almost without exception, are shown without context, void of objects or people, and the text seems to be straight from PR puffery rather than research or direct experience. There are undoubtedly some beautiful buildings (Kengo Kuma's Museum of Hiroshige Ando, for one) but quite why they were chosen, or how they function as museums, is hard to tell. Some interesting themes are touched on - the content versus container debate and the changing balance between object storage and viewing, for example - but they are not discussed in detail and you are left wanting more.

This is a deeply frustrating book. Great for images to pad out presentations but certainly not worth £39.95. Not one of Phaidon's best: a wasted opportunity and a disservice to this fascinating, evolving, building type.

Sarah Jackson is a design review advisor with CABE

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