Thoughts on the Nelson

We visited the grand opening of the Bloch Building at the Nelson-Atkins Art Museum on Saturday. The day was perfect for exploring the new building – sunny and warm so when we were chilled from the air inside we could warm up outside then go back in to cool down again. The building is definitely something to see. It's not often one finds natural light inside a museum, and it's not very square… the movement is a bit more meandering than traditional museums. We had a chance to hear one of the architects, which inspired me to connect the building to my own “building” experience (of CSS that is). Queequeg's Content Saloon had a similar list from an earlier visit, mine is not nearly as interesting. After the lecture, we stayed around long enough to hear a medley of opera tunes performed by the Lyric Opera, then skedaddled. Here's my list for anyone interested:

1. Continuity. The architects built the new building thinking to continue the sculpture garden and open grass area, so they connect the sculptures (set in a bed of rocks that run through a glass wall) inside and out, and the field continues onto the rooftop of the building. Library sites require a lot of third party systems that allow different levels of customization. We have to make these different interfaces seamless, the functionality enhancing our site rather than hindering because of restrictions. We need to find “architects” that understand this.

2. Flexibility. The Bloch building allows natural light in through filtered lens. However, curators have the option of reducing the light for collections that cannot be exposed to great amounts of light, or to allow maximum light through to possibly enhance a piece of art. The structure itself allows for growth. Building a site design on CSS also allows for design and layout flexibility. The building itself is a solid clean structure (a well-formed document with clear labels) with the CSS acting as the “shades on the window”. It allows for us to change the colors, layout, add themes, etc at will, without major construction to tear down a wall.

3. Interact. At the Nelson, you create your own path. This is true for the old and new building; the difference between them is the old is a matrix and the new promotes natural flow of curiosity, also known as wandering. This allows the user to make it their own experience. It provides paths for patrons if they wish to follow them, but they aren't necessary. In web design, this is comparable to site architecture. Building understandable site maps and site architecture so a clear path is provided is only the first step. The interactive part is to allow the user to wander through the content on their own interests. So connect the content, use tag clouds (pre-coordinated and user-submitted) and incorporate comments that can lead to discussion.

4. Interact. Yes, I said this already, but I'm talking about the building interacting, not the person. The building reacts to its environment – it will change colors with the sun. It is organic. Web sites need not only to allow users to interact, but it needs to react. It needs to be organic and interact with the environment. That means incorporating dynamically created content using mash-ups, showing response to user interaction, providing content based on that interaction. Think of Amazon providing tips based on search results.

Okay… maybe I'm stretching on all this. But it's true that we need to become more organic in our information building, and CSS, XHTML, RSS, Ajax, etc are all tools that promote these. I'll get off my soapbox now and recommend everyone to go check out the new way to experience art. :-p