Musée de Refusés: Functional Infrastructure

Refusals and rejections are everywhere in a museum, some natural and some intentional, some may be clearly visible whereas some may be occurring in the background. Our focus here is on the functionality of the museum, the objects, the activities and everything that makes the museum function, in terms of the infrastructure. People, practice, space, objects and materials used form the very basics of the infrastructure to be functioning. We try to question the functionality here. What is functioning is that really functional?

A PRACTICE  is something that is being done, something happening or a system being followed. Drawing a comparison between V&A museum (commercial) and sir john Soane's museum (personal) in terms of the practices and systems they follow.
Both V&A museum and sir john soane's museum are very interactive in their own ways. V&A museum involves a lot of ongoing commercial activities like events, talk sessions, tours, workshops and other activities for all age groups along with the permanent display of historic exhibits whereas sir john soane's is very private and personalised museum being interactive in its oen way. Sir john soane's museum gives a human touch as a way of interaction as it does not have much written or displayed information for the exhibits. It gives a more traditional touch to the museum retaining the originals and adding least amount of modified, technological or supporting tools.
V&A museum being a versatile museum in terms of its operation, photography is appreciated and open for all but since sir john soane's is a conserved museum, photography is strictly prohibited. They make the visitors switch off the phones so that the focus and interest remains on the exhibits. They believe it creates a unique and magical atmosphere.
V&A museum allows its visitors to carry their baggage around the museum and they have a clockroom as well for the visitors to leave their belongings there while roaming. They give the freedom to  the visitor to choose as per their comfort. Sir john soane's museum is converted into a museum from a house therefore having narrow spaces to move through. This is a reason why they do not allow huge bags inside the museum and have a cloakroom for that, and a small transparent packet is provided to keep the small utility items like wallet and small bags in it to carry through the confined  spaces with causing trouble to themselves, the exhibits and the fellow visitors.
Signage and information display:
Being a visitor friendly museum, V&A provides with information and signs to guide the visitors in each room and corridor. They have maps and signage on boards, digital maps and information, guide books, information printed on walls, audio guides, video monitors, information boards etc. In contract to this, sir john soane’s museum has teied to tmkeep the essence of the original artifacts and exhibits and has not incorporated many additional information boards. They have stuck to minimal information on boards and instead made an information person available in each room to provide the visitors with the information they require. They also have paid tours and guide books for people interested.
Different types of museums have different purposes and methods of security. V&A museums use glass boxes for displays and barriers for restricted areas, while sir john soane’s has a very symbolic way of restricting areas and objects from being touched by keeping a teasal. For such a huge area involving hundreds of visitors every hour, heavy security is a must. Hence, V&A museum has CCTV on almost every alternate beam or pillar. In addition to that, they have security men around all the time with their gadgets. Sir john Soane’s museum has an information person in every room providing the visitors with the information and the museum with the security it needs.
Both &A and sir john soane’s museum have a free entry but V&A has a lot of tours, activities, events, etc taking place with ticketing system that forms a source of income and the map donation is 1pound whereas sir john soane’s major source of ticketing is through their tours. Sir john Soane’s guide book with map costs 3pounds.

SPACE is a vital part of any museum. It defines the area and importance given to  a particular theme and exhibit.
In Sir john soane’s museum, space has been allocated to the exhibits very naturally and as it is. The exhibits are shown in the place they are supposed to be, as it would be originally like the room decoration, the fireplace etc.
Colour & material:
The walls are of different colours in each space to suit the theme of the exhibits in most museums. For example, in the V&A museum, a room called ‘The Rise of France’, has red, blue and white walls representing the French national flag; 'The Rise of Gothic’: navy blue.
Same is with the floor, the ‘Medieval & Renaissance’ area has marble flooring giving a touch of ancient and distant feeling, whereas the ‘Europe & Britain history’ area has wooden flooring which makes it look more relatable and civilised.
The transition from the display area to the additional areas like the restrooms, elevators, café etc have been disguised by the surroundings with classical decorations and colours in some museums which otherwise would have modern aesthetics. For example, in Sir John Soane’s museum, the restrooms have been given a the colour allocated for the room next door so that it does not look out of place with a room filled with historical displays.

MATERIALS play a very important part in every aspect of the museum. They are those substances that are used to make-up and compose the museums, from exhibits to their display, from flooring to the ceiling.
V&A Museum:
Flooring- V&A museum has marble walls and marble flooring in most of the corridors, but the floor of their bookshop is wooden. The marble may be used as a medium to slow down the traffic speed as the marble flooring can be slippery and makes the pedestrian walk cautiously.
Sign- A variety of signs can be seen in the V&A museum. Since it involves a wide range of activities, events and displays, the signs differ from area to area. There are transparent acrylic sign boxes in the corridors, printed signs on the walls, stone boards for some displays, digital signage and info boards, hanging plastic boards, etc.
Uniform- The material of the uniform given to the security staff is woollen for their comfort in movement around the museum.
Sir John Soane’s Museum:
Since it is a museum devoted to one particular person, the exhibits, decor and arrangement is made using the original artefacts, replicas or representative objects like the stone sculptures, the fireplace, etc. The most captivating material in an unexpected place that we found was the glass paintings on the ceiling in one of the rooms.
White Cube:
This gallery is all about minimalism. Not just the exhibits, but also the cemented flooring, the raw ceiling, modular tube, white walls and the interior architecture of the gallery, all reflect what the gallery is all about.

PEOPLE in museums include the information staff, the security, the volunteers, the event organisers, the visitors and everyone concerned with managing or observing museums.
Braille Guides
One interesting thing that was found in the V&A museum was the Braille interpretation of the surroundings and information for the Blind. This shows the care and consideration for the blind who are curious and want to see and know about the museum.
Uniforms play an important role in representation of the person: what is the job, what is the purpose, etc. Most of museums choose the colour code as Black and White for the staff uniform. In V&A, the staff has only a black jacket as their uniform, but they need to follow the dress colour code in order to maintain their uniformity.
Different museums have different uniforms, but most of them have the same dress code. For example, Natural History Museum has purple in their uniform, V&A Museum’s new uniform will be having orange with black, and so on. The actual reason is not known but from our observation, the uniforms are generally kept black and white or of a basic colour and an additional colour is usually the colour of their logo or theme. This made us thinking that why only staff has a uniform and a dress code, why not the visitors?


Looking after the museums and its collections is a full time job. The team of conservators and curators are dedicated to doing everything possible to preserve the special pieces of work and collections. Even after regular cleaning precautionary measures, the museums have installed dust, humidity and insect control equipment in each room. Sir John Soane’s Museum, being devised in a house, differs a bit in the maintenance procedures from the other commercial museums as it has to protect the architecture as well in a delicate manner. 

Sir John Soane’s expressed his wish in 1833 Soane Museum Act of Parliament, that his house and collection should be kept ‘as nearly as circumstances will admit’ as it was at that time of his death.
Every morning, before the Museum opens, each visitor assistant is responsible for routine cleaning such as dusting flat surfaces and vacuuming. More comprehensive cleaning takes place on Mondays when the Museum is closed, with a team of specially trained visitor assistants, volunteers and conservation staff undertaking jobs such as dusting at high level and polishing mirrors. Thorough ‘deep cleans’ are carried out two to three times a year in specific areas, as part of a rolling programme, by conservators helped by volunteers. These involve using dry and wet methods to clean both the fabric of the room from ceiling to floor and all the objects. A major concern for Sir John Sone’s Museum is the damp in the basement due to excess moisture.

Natural History Museum has an integrated pest management (IPM) department, paper conservation department and insect identification & research department. Since it showcases the history and evolution in the nature, it also comprises of a research and development department. Previously included in the British Museum, Natural History Museum was separated and made one different entity in 1963. They have a team of researchers constantly working on researching, preserving and conserving the existing and new collections of the museum. As different areas have different levels and types of risks due to the kind of atmosphere and materials of the space and exhibits, they have put up white signs with red, green and yellow circles stating the levels of risks of pest infestation. They have put restrictions on eating and drinking in specific areas to prevent an increase in damage caused by the insects.

Pest control:
The most commonly found pest control method in a museum is the insect traps(blunder traps). Pests usually smaller than a spider get caught in the trap. Regular inspections take place to check if any insect has gotten trapped. If yes, the insect is then taken to the laboratory for identification. A complete research is then carried out to find out if the insect is harmless or harmful, if is it breeding, if it is a serious concern for the museum, what is the footfall of that particular species, is the footfall increasing or decreasing, what is the intension of the pest, and what caused the pest to interfere in the first place. This kind of research is very vital for the museum’s conservation. Moths have a different blunder trap that is put at higher levels since they fly. These traps bear a smell of their female mates and deceive the male moths to get attracted towards it to get trapped. Female moths follow the males ending up stuck in the trap. Identification of most common insects can be done and recorded on

Wooden covers attract insects greatly. For a book infected by an insect with the insect still alive, the book is put into a bag an all the oxygen is taken out so that it kills the insect without further damage to the book. Pests are a major threat to the museums, especially to the organic items.
Rodents and bookworms are also a major cause of concern in the museums. Even though they create pretty holes in the exhibits, they are a refusal for us as they refuse what we have.

In areas of artefacts that are not easily destroyed like rocks, the danger with pests is for the labels that written in the historian times that need to be preserved with the artefacts. Beetles are seen to be predictable pests for the museum so they can be prevented to some extent. But actions of modes are very difficult to analyse as they fly and form colonies in the dark. They easily adapt to the environment and destroy things very quickly.

One of the major reasons why chemicals and pesticides do not work well in the museums is because it does not reach the root cause of the problem and only do a temporary job of curing. Eggs remain undisturbed. They hatch at later stages and pests appear again. A well known incident of the Darwin centre is an example of the same. Due the excess amount of bio-chemicals, the collections get destroyed along with the infested pests. The eggs keep generating more pests and it goes on. Therefore the IPM had to be introduced in the Darwin centre after the artefacts were ruined in abundance. The building had to be demolished and that is how the phase two of Darwin Centre was created with a cocoon design encased within a glass atrium symbolising safety and protection
. The 30cm-thick cocoon wrapped in silk lines not only looks stunning, it also has a practical purpose i.e. to protect the museum's delicate collections from attack by pests. The threat of infestation comes from so-called "museum beetles", commonly known as carpet beetles, which are capable of munching through insect body armour. The second phase of the Darwin Centre is the most significant development to the Natural History Museum since it moved to South Kensington in 1881. It is designed to safeguard the museum's dry collections (some 28 million insects and six million plant specimens of which 20 million will be moved in over the next 12 months) and therefore has preserved air inside of about 17-18 degree temperature where insects won’t be able to breed even if they get in.

The insects and pests have their own way and conditions of living. They prefer not to crawl on a floor lighter than their colour. Hence, it is very rare to see an insect near a glass door even. They favour darkness and like staying away from areas of light. That is one reason why most of the insects are found near the corners and edges of the floors or ceilings. They prefer high temperatures and humidity as that is a good atmosphere for them to breed.

Some of the common precautions taken to prevent an increase in damage caused by the insects are eating in the common areas, keeping the food and bins covered, keeping the windows shut, no plants inside the museum area, and using minimum chemicals and sprays inside.
links: ;
Silent spring by Rachel Carson
Integrated Pest management by David Pinniger

Humidity stabilizer:
Humidity stabilizers can be seen in all areas, even inside the glass displays. They are needed to control the humidity in the air to prevent the exhibits from getting affected by the Damp and moulds. Moulds are a major concern as even if it is cleared from the artefacts, if they are not caught in time, the artefacts may be completely damaged and not be mended.
Silverfish is another pest caused due to the increase in humidity. Silverfish affected artwork can be rectified by the Japanese paper mending technique. Japanese paper is flexible in terms of its use, it can be dyed to match the tone of the book and almost give a new look. Books are also mended just to support the structure for durability. The restoration is done not for the aesthetics, but to increase the shelf life.

The traditional design of Natural History Museum had natural ventilators and skylights for power saving natural lights. With time they realised the harm caused to the paintings and art by the UV light. It also creates greenhouse effect that is liked by the pests. This system was revised and improved to create a better environment for the art. Change in the skylights was a good step but false ventilation did not work well for the museum. The natural ventilation method was adapted again with minor improvements that prevented rodents and some other pests, eased the cleaning of the ventilators and kept a minimum fluctuation in the temperature to avoid as many pests as possible. This change worked well. A gap of 1-1.5meters is kept in the walls for proper ventilation. Dry skin, hair, dust, etc still collect in the ventilators that is cleaned regularly but this forms a good method of attracting pests. IPM department is still working on it to find a natural method better than the existing one.

Uniforms creates a feeling of equality among those wearing it. It develops a sense of belonging and a feeling of commonness with each person wearing the same clothing. Uniforms are very important and fosters traits which are very necessary for a person as an individual and an organisation as a whole to thrive and prosper. It evokes a perception of mutual growth and understanding. An organisation with the workforce in a particular uniform gives the customers a pleasant and comfortable feel to approach them more confidently. Moreover, the staff look more united and eager to serve the customers, so the role of uniforms become more important.

V&A museum:
The uniform is divided into 3 levels –
The managers - who are at the highest post do not have a particular uniform apart from the ID card that they have to carry.
The team leader – who are the leaders for a specific function have a full black uniform along with the ID card.
The members – working for the leaders in all the areas around the museum have a combination of white and black as their uniform along with their IDs.
V&A museum is reintroducing the uniforms soon for the staff. They will be having bright orange and black uniform designed by Christopher Raeburn. Their new uniforms will be a representation of the main symbolic colours of the V&A museum.

National History museum:
The purple and black in their uniform is symbolic of their museum graphic colours but during evening events they are supposed to be dressed is full black as that is more formal in appearance. Their uniforms are supplied by the Burlington.

"improving conservation in museums with a mobile equipment incorporated in the staff or visitors' uniform for a more effective preservation of exhibits from dust, dirt, pests and other destructive agents.”
The major refusal that the museums face is by the pests, humidity, and other destructive agents. Functionality of the infrastructure is disrupted over time due to some of the neglected factors by the common man.