Like many large-scale museums in big cities, the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts has been expanding since 1990, acquiring adjacent buildings and adding more and more space to the enfilades of its existing rooms.
A former tenement housing complex built by a wealthy merchant family Stulovs in 1914 was included into the museum complex in the 2000s.
We were tasked with an almost impossible assignment: to transform this historical monument – a collection of former private rooms and corridors – into a contemporary museum, the so-called House of Text.
Not being able to move or demolish a single wall or to alter a layout, we still had to create a space for an ever-changing trove of extremely diverse exhibits related to textual materials – books, magazines, manuscripts, scrolls, documents, etc. Although, we already had broad experience in designing public libraries, this “meta library” presented a unique challenge. We had to turn the building, initially designed as purely private and domestic (with all its infrastructural and spatial limitations), into a public cultural institution.
In contrast to other museums, which measure their success by the number of visitors per year, the House of Text introduces another logic: it is a slow space for lonely visitors, allowing for time being spent with the exhibits in different ways by working, reading, meditating or simply looking out of a window.
A painting-like image of a person sitting at the table, lit with the natural light – both at home and away from home – became very central to the project. We tried to imagine a democratic public place capable of distilling a very personal, solitary experience and offering the level of concentration, which would be very hard to achieve in a private space so exposed and overly connected today. This museum, which has no permanent collection and is envisaged as a container for many temporary shows, should establish a special link between a visitor and an exhibit: that of a focused and not rushed exchange.