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Architect About Town

At These Grand Museums, Architecture is Part of the Draw

Written for USA Today's 10Best - Source Article

Often the focus of a popular older museum is on its contents, but in many instances, the buildings themselves are worthy of a visit. Many of the world's grand old museums have illustrious histories, from converted palaces to once having been an imposing seat of government or commerce. Quite often, the world's grandest museums were the vision of great leaders, and were meant to validate the wealth of their country. This is especially true of Europe's museum buildings, designed in neoclassical, Italian Renaissance or the highly ornamental Baroque styles, all representing a renewed interest in the art, architecture and culture of the Classical antiquity.

A few centuries later, on the other side of the pond, many city museums became key to grand civic projects during America's Gilded Age (approx. 1870 -1900). These repositories became the central focus of urban planning projects which attempted to organize the chaos of many American Cities' early growth. They were also philanthropic undertakings of wealthy industrialists during an era of immense economic growth. Buildings in this period were often designed in the Beaux Arts architectural style.

'Beaux Arts' is a French term meaning 'fine arts.' It's defined as a neoclassical architectural style "based on ideas taught at the legendary École des Beaux-Arts in Paris". Buildings in this style are stately, often symmetrical and have rich, Greek and Roman classical architectural.

The museums represented in the accompanying slideshow are only the tip of the iceberg. Great industrial cities around the world have museums which are treasures in and of themselves.

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Joyce Owens FAIA RIBA

Joyce Owens