Yann Weymouth Describes the Visitor Experience at the New Dalí Museum

The new Dalí Museum opens on 1/11/11 at 11:11 a.m. in St. Petersburg, Florida. Check out early reviews on ArchRecord.com, in the St. Petersburg Times, in the Tampa Tribune and in many more publications.

Here, Yann Weymouth, design director for HOK in Florida, describes how he hopes visitors will experience the new Dalí Museum, which has been carefully conceived for simplicity, efficiency, security and pleasure of experience:

“We constantly consider the visitor experience when we design a museum. A large number of people visiting a museum will be there for the first time. The architecture must be extremely easy to understand. It can be quite adventurous and stimulating, but the circulation pathways should be clear from the moment visitors arrive at the building.

“Visitors will mostly arrive by bus or car, though some will walk since this museum is near downtown. As they arrive, it needs to be evident where the front door is. At the Dalí Museum, the paths to the front door from the west parking lot are obvious. And the steps, stairs and handrails make it clear that people are going toward a large notch cut into the building.

“The fact that the west side of the building is blank is quite deliberate. First, because the western sun can be brutal in Florida, the museum has almost no windows on the west side. We also wanted it to be a bit of a mystery. People enter through what we call the ‘grotto’ area of the new Avant-Garden, which looks like a corner of the building was removed and is being held up by a giant boulder from Dalí’s native Spain. This provides the first sense that what the visitor is doing is somewhat unusual. They enter across a bridge that is flush with the water level of the small pond and go straight to the entry door. To the left is a rock with misters steaming and water trickling. To the right, growing vertically on a wall, are bromeliads and orchids that engage the visitor’s sense of smell. So there is the sound of water and a bit of mystery as visitors enter through the door.

“On the ground is sequence of LED lights that creates a path that begins outdoors and continues into the museum store. Visitors follow the lights through a boulevard that brings them into the museum store, which has a low ceiling. This reminds ensures that later, that when they leave the museum, visitors know where the store is. The museum store is an important additional source of income for museums.

“As visitors follow this curved path through the store, they are drawn to the light flooding the three-story atrium that they can see from the moment they walk in. They emerge from the store into the atrium, and on the left they can see a café where they can stop for a coffee if they are tired. Meanwhile, they notice the spiral staircase that spirals up into the light and a bank of three elevators. They are being told, ‘Perhaps I want to go upstairs.’ The art galleries are on the third floor because they must be high above flood level.

“The bottom of the stairway twists and morphs into a reception desk. At this point, surrounding the visitors are a 75-foot-high ceiling filled with nice light, a welcoming café and people smiling at them from the reception desk. They know where they are and what they might want to do next: Get a ticket and head up the stairway or elevator to the third floor.

“When visitors reach the third floor, there is a fabulous view out to Tampa Bay through an expansive bay window with a projecting balcony. They may want to take a minute to admire the waters and beautiful Florida scenery, which includes incredible sailboats and sparkling water. To both sides are the galleries. On one side is the permanent collection of 100 Salvador Dalí oil paintings. This is the largest collection of his work in the world and, arguably, the best. To the left is the temporary collection. Then visitors enter the galleries. We worked hard to make this the crowning experience. The paintings look better than ever.

“When it’s time to leave, visitors can stop and relax in the café or garden, or pick something up in the shop. They always have choices and they don’t get lost. And because they have several inviting places to take breaks, they don’t get that exhausted ‘museum feet’ feeling. This is the experience we want to give them.

“Many people have seen individual pieces of Dalí’s paintings in other museums or know him from books. But by seeing so many of his pieces together in one place, they truly begin to understand his work. He is a very important painter. Nearly all our well-known artists have been strongly influenced by surrealism.”

Dalí’ Museum photography: Moris Moreno

One Comment
  1. January 28th, 2011 - 3:40 pm
    jeannette said:

    Great article in NYT today on this! http://travel.nytimes.com/2011/01/30/travel/30headsup-dali.html Congratulations Yann and team!

Comments Post a Comment

HOK encourages comments to be short and to the point; as a general rule, they should not run longer than the original post. Comments should show a courteous regard for the presence of other voices in the discussion. We reserve the right to edit or delete comments that do not adhere to this standard.