Case Studies

British Museum – workplace design

Year
2005

Project Director
Maximo Martinez

Partners
DEGW
Ian Ritchie Architects

Client
The British Museum

Office space

A study to investigate the ways in which staff members use the spaces of the British Museum.


Context

In the second phase of our work with the British Museum, we carried out a study to provide evidence about the way that the building complex was occupied by staff. Our first aim was to understand how the layout of the museum space currently functions to define the organisation culture of the institution. We worked in close collaboration with the British Museum and DEGW. The study provided a GIS database of space allocation for the entire building, which became a guiding tool in the masterplanning process that followed.

The collections form the core of the British Museum. The value of the collections lies in the fact that they capture and make real a knowledge of the history and cultures of the world and the interrelations of these through time and across territory. This knowledge is derived from the first-hand study of the collection by staff members. It is a primary function of the museum as an institution to foster that study activity. It is also the responsibility of the museum to translate that knowledge, to set it in a context of contemporary relevance, and to make it accessible to the public at large. This requires an intimate relationship between specialist scholarship, the collections themselves and those with expertise in education and translation for public exhibition and display. The spatial layout of the museum plays a key role in the movement, interaction and communication of the staff members and, in so doing, creates a unique organisational culture.


Methodology

– photographic survey including observations of staff movement and interaction patterns

– building spatial database, including space type, areas and departmental allocation

– extension of the Front of House spatial analysis to include the Back of House

– organisational spatial structure/culture analysis.


Findings and outcome

The organisational structure of the British Museum is both complex and not directly comparable to that of more conventional corporate organisations. The same holds true for the spatial structure of the museum and the way that this is allocated to the different departments and used by them.

Through spatial analysis and detailed observations, we managed to gain a better understanding of how the British Museum operates as a workplace and the impact of the organisation’s spatial distribution on knowledge transfer.

The team members that worked on the British Museum project – Alan Penn, Max Martinez and Maia Lemlij – published a paper titled “Structure, agency and space in the emergence of organisational culture” based on this study at the 6th International Space Syntax in Istanbul (June 2007).


Further information

British Museum visitor circulation study
A summary of our work on visitor flow patterns.

Space Syntax Consulting page
Details of our services supporting public & private sector clients in the creation of urban planning & building design strategies.