This case study of the Navigation Pavilion illustrates transformation of an outmoded ‘grand narrative’ display to a theatrical space for showing fair representation—reviving “ordinary” voyagers’ tales excluded from Spain’s imperial maritime story. Reopened in 2012, the new permanent exhibition—Bridge to America—recycled the heritage building and theme of the Navigation Pavilion built for Seville’s 1992 Universal Exposition.
Principal access interventions :
- New access/egress ramp and internal lifts dovetail with the reorganised visitor itinerary.
- The rescripted exhibition narrative—Bridge to America—foregrounds previously neglected social histories.
- An immersive theatrical setting conceives visitors as participatory actors in the historical dramas (general view above).
- Multi-sensory interactive exhibits bring the intangible stories to life for diverse audiences.
- Formerly blocked views of the river and historical port city of Seville were reinstated and integrated into the exhibition to help visitors to contextualise the stories.
Though on the periphery of Expo ’92’s grounds on Seville’s artificial Island of the Cartuja, this particular Pavilion’s unique siting arrangement opens up to panoramic views of the Guadalquivir River against the backdrop of the historical port city on the opposite shore (figs. 1 and 2).
The original Expo’92 Navigation Pavilion was a hybrid of two types of exhibition spaces—a Universal Exposition pavilion with a future museum plan built-in. The Pavilion today offers a dynamic mix of the former’s fun entertainment offer and the latter’s traditionally more serious educational approach. The resulting visitor experience challenges common expectations of what makes a museum.
Find out more :
- The Navigation Pavilion’s website (new tab, spanish)
- The architect’s website (new tab, spanish)
- The exhibition designer’s website (new tab, english)
- The exhibition scriptwriter’s book (new tab, english)
This case study is one of a three part series exploring inclusive design responses to a common dilemma in heritage museum buildings:
How to bring stories to life in museums’ heritage spaces to engage today’s diverse audiences?
The study extends inclusive design thinking to embrace three nuanced interpretations of social inclusion drawn from the museum world. The case studies of three venerable cultural institutions’ efforts to reinvent themselves demonstrate these aspirations:
- Showing Fair Representation at the Navigation Pavilion (this case study)
- Sharing Dialogue at the Ashmolean Museum (new tab)
- Shaping Society at La Casa Encendida (new tab)
Together they reveal an inclusive symbiosis between storytelling and design strategies. Simply put, storytelling held broad human appeal while designers made stories more comprehensible and meaningful for diverse audiences.
The research portrays the Museum as Storyteller, highlighting socially inclusive opportunities of rescripting museums’ heritage spaces as compelling vehicles for narrative to rival other popular storytelling media forms.
Michelle Moore · School of Architecture · The University of Queensland
This case study is distilled from, and includes extracts of, Moore’s PhD thesis—The Museum as Storyteller: Designing socially inclusive narrative environments. Publication details of the thesis with bibliography will soon be available at the following link (new tab)
Heritage significance and attractiveness
During Expo ’92, the Navigation Pavilion was the most visited attraction and voted best pavilion, drawing over two million visitors. The building was heritage listed in 2009 by the Andalusian Government as its conversion into a museum was underway.
Today, the transformed museum’s heritage significance and attractiveness are associated with two very different types of heritage and periods of history.
- One revives intangible stories of Seville’s sixteenth and seventeenth century maritime heritage as the ‘Port of America’
- The other conserves the tangible late twentieth century heritage building, both as a legacy of Expo ’92 and as a clear example of early 1990’s architecture
Effectively, the museum project team tasked with engaging visitors in the intangible stories harnessed the pavilion’s architectural qualities into the new exhibition design.
Access challenges i
Underlying the heritage building’s conversion from Expo pavilion to museum ran a deep narrative shift. From this rescripting arose new socially inclusive design challenges for which few standards, guidelines or precedents existed.
Expo’92’s theme—The Age of Discovery—highlighted the host country’s past imperial power. What’s more, the Navigation Pavilion’s old exhibition resembled a nineteenth century ‘grand narrative’, compelling visitors to complete the evolutionary progress of navigation that highlighted Spain’s exploration achievements.
The museum project team introduced a new metanarrative—Bridge to America. It foregrounded common people’s lived experiences of the Atlantic crossings formerly relegated to history’s peripheries. For example, conspicuous by their absence were: Columbus, who planned his first “discovery” voyage from a local monastery; Magellan, who set sail from a nearby wharf to circumnavigate the world; and the Spanish monarchs who sponsored them. Instead were tales of a long forgotten elderly captain wavering over duty to king and country, common sailors quarrelling over rations and a woman who joined the crew disguised as a man, among others.
Crucially, no collections existed for these pluralist social histories owing to past curatorial tendencies to focus on wealthy or influential figures. Therefore, stories developed independently from objects and finding alternative ways of making them real for diverse audiences became the primary socially inclusive design challenge.
Interviews with the museum project team revealed that each contributed distinct yet complementary storytelling and design strategies towards greater social inclusion.
The Architect ii
The original architect, Guillermo Vazquez Consuegra, had set the scene by creating dialogue between the Pavilion and its historical context in three ways:
- The siting arrangement opened up the Pavilion’s interior, balcony and adjacent plaza to the river and port city where the stories began (fig.1)
- The pavilion’s exterior curved form and industrial materials echoed old shipping warehouses that once fronted the quays (fig.2)
- The atmospheric vaulted and ribbed timber-lined interior resembled a capsized ship’s hull (general view above), recalling how ship repairs were once done
Unfortunately, the Expo ’92 exhibition designer blinded all openings and created walk-in ‘boxes’ for media-rich exhibits rendering these architectural narrative qualities inconsequential for visitors (fig. 3). When recalled for the museum project, the architect ordered the old display’s demolition making way for a new permanent exhibition.
The Scriptwriter iii
Historian Pablo Pérez-Mallaína’s literary portrayals of life at sea, unearthed from Seville’s Archive of the Indies, revealed history’s human face. His compelling, and at times humorous, stories had three inclusive aims:
- Foregrounding peripheral identities
- Making history understandable for everyone
- Promoting learning while having fun
Dismissing the ‘Entertainment versus Education’ museum debate of recent decades Pérez-Mallaína viewed entertainment as an instrument of education.
The Exhibition Designer iv
Lacking a collection at the outset, architect-scenographer Boris Micka stage crafted a dynamic participatory journey where visitors enacted dramas of life at sea (figs. 4-8). To materialise the theatrical setting the exhibition team exercised design principles called ‘Intellectual Ergonomics’ whose key pillars are:
- ‘Harmony’—aiming for an accord between architecture and exhibitions as well as ‘harmony of scale and message’ that respectively use life-sized reproduction objects and simple repetitive operational patterns for interactive exhibits
- ‘Veracity’—meaning ‘veracity of information’ and also ‘veracity of feeling’ to ensure consistency between all the visitor hears, sees, touches and even smells
- ‘Ergonometry’— adopting universal design guidelines concerning human health, comfort and efficient interaction with hands-on play elements
Although labelled ‘Intellectual Ergonomics’, the principles focus on visitor experience, revealing a conviction that eliminating experiential barriers lifts intellectual barriers.
The Museum Co-ordinator v
For the museum’s coordinator, Javier Sanchidrián, storytelling in the transformed Pavilion was inclusive in two ways:
- The pluralist stories represented social diversity
- First person narration by real historical characters created an emotionally engaging journey
He saw this emotional journey as more widely accessible than studying history books, likening it to cinema where the audience enters the character’s skin, feeling first hand their bravery, fear, devotion, loyalty or sheer spirit of survival.
The Navigation Pavilion during Expo’92
The original Expo’92 Pavilion and exhibition design were at odds. Instead of capitalising on the Pavilion’s maritime context and character (figs. 1 and 2) the display presented an introverted visitor itinerary focused on media-rich exhibits (fig. 3).
The Navigation Pavilion transformed
The following ‘walk-through’ the transformed Pavilion shows how the museum project team harnessed the original heritage building’s qualities to engage visitors in the new exhibition’s socially inclusive metanarrative—Bridge to America. The storytelling strategy sought to redress ignored versions of history while making it ‘real’ and entertaining for all.
The Vessel—an integrated narrative space
Today, four exhibition areas occupy the continuous space of the Pavilion’s upper level (fig. 4). For the visitor, the sensation is like being inside a massive wooden hull, an effect that links the exhibition’s stories with its spatial setting (general view above). This high spatial integration renders each exhibition area perceptible from others, lending its images, colour, light and sound to the general theatrical atmosphere.
Area One—Sea of Souls—a multisensorial voyage
Ascending to the upper floor exhibition from ground floor reception, when visitors’ eyes adjust to the semi-darkness they find themselves suddenly transported to the sea—a LED light sea rippling beneath projected tempestuous skies. Like make-believe voyagers they step aboard a timber deck to embark upon an Atlantic crossing. Tacking through this Sea of Souls visitors interact with maritime “props” that activate short films reviving life-sized animated historical voyagers who speak in different languages of life at sea and personal motivations behind their migrations (fig. 5). Reproductions of their possessions are touchable, and the sound of passing storms and the smell of tobacco complete the sensorial journey.
Area Two—Shipping Advancements—touchable objects
Emerging from the sea visitors see a large wall mural painted in infinite shades of blue and encrusted with life-sized touchable reproduction objects. It forms a vivid backdrop for a set of restored model ships recovered from Expo ’92, openly displayed (fig. 6). The models trace technological progress, while the mural depicts parallel human portraits, aspirations and use of inventions from the sixteenth century to the present.
Area Three—Sailing Simulations—ergonomic interactive play
At the above sequence’s conclusion begins a series of ergonomically designed games for practicing sailing skills. The set-up resembles a giant video game. Projected immersive scenes aboard ship are activated by robust full-scale models of apparatus with moving parts that simulate manning the wheel, hauling the rigging or operating the cargo hoist (fig. 7).
Area Four—Seville and the Guadalquivir River—sense of place
Concluding the exhibition, visitors promenade an internal riverside deck from where panoramic views of Seville’s historical port give a sense of where voyagers’ stories began. In contrast to previous simulated exhibits, here the real port presents tangible evidence of stories. Tactile screens illustrate the same viewpoint changing through the centuries demonstrating the evolving relationship between the city, its people and the Guadalquivir River (fig. 8).
The Viewing Tower and Quayside—an accessible lookout
Before departing the site, visitors ascend a separate tower inherited from Expo ’92 offering a bird’s-eye city and river views (fig. 2). The way up is by external glass lifts while descent is via an internal ramp, the latter inspired by La Giralda—Seville Cathedral’s Moorish bell tower. From the dock below by prior arrangement it’s possible to embark a city cruise boat or launch a kayak to tour Seville by water.
- Client: Empresa Pública de Gestión de Activos
- Architect: Estudio Vasquez Consuegra
- Exhibition design: General Productions and Design
- Scriptwriter: Pablo Pérez-Mallaína
- Mural artist: Gabriel Pacheco
Future transformation into a museum was mooted at the Pavilion’s inception. Prior to Expo’92, Seville’s only cultural navigation reference was the Torre del Oro (Tower of Gold), a Moorish military watchtower on the old city quay displaying a small naval collection. Acknowledging the importance of navigation for Seville, Expo’s organisers proposed a Navigation Pavilion with a built-in future museum plan.
Economic recession following Expo saw the museum proposal shelved until 2005 when public pressure rekindled the idea of a cultural facility for the city. Various uses were considered, however, strong maritime references inherent within the building’s siting and expression (figs. 1 and 2) saw the Pavilion’s destiny as a museum of navigation eventually materialise in 2012, twenty years following its initial opening.
Unusually for a heritage building, some members of the new museum project team also worked on the original Expo’92 Pavilion and exhibition. Interviews revealed how attitudes towards social inclusion had changed over the intervening decades to necessitate and influence rescripting of the Pavilion’s narrative, exhibition and spatial settings. Overall, compared to the Expo’92 team, the interdisciplinary museum team negotiated their differences to achieve a more harmonious design result.
The Navigation Pavilion case study shows how rescripting a heritage building into a theatrical space for showing fair representation raises new challenges, particularly when relevant museum collections are scarce. Interviews suggest the project team’s creative journey wasn’t straightforward and following are some lessons learned:
Time appointments for interdisciplinary collaboration
Designers weren’t simply technical facilitators but rather established and drove certain agendas, although not necessarily the same ones. While many inclusivity advancements were achieved, not all ideas were implemented, coordinated or succeeded. Inconsistencies were largely attributed to phased appointments that saw different disciplines working independently, sometimes sailing in different directions.
Exchange views on inclusivity
On balance, the storytelling strategy offered double inclusive advantage, redressing neglected versions of history while making it understandable, relevant and enjoyable for all. However, interviews revealed different understandings of inclusivity among participants indicating that a shared vocabulary was missing. Ideally, the project team should articulate and negotiate inclusion priorities at the project outset.
From showing to enacting stories
Storytelling for showing fair representation eventually translated into enacting stories. Authentic objects were substituted by authentic visitor experiences towards various inclusive effects—physical, sensory, intellectual or emotional. However, visitor surveys revealed mixed reactions to the display’s interactive technology. Some were engaged by it while others passed it by, preferring the model ships or viewing tower.
Deploy the unique narrative attributes of architectural space
The transformed Pavilion emerged as a more complex, full-bodied narrative experience than other media, such as literature’s linear sequence, cinema’s two-dimensional screen or theatre’s static audience. By contrast, the Expo’92 exhibition exemplifies a risk that architecture can become simply a blacked-out container for other media. To deflect this, and maintain the heritage building’s relevance, the team needs to secure and enhance the narrative attributes unique to architectural space.
GENERAL NOTE: This case study is distilled from a chapter in the author’s PhD thesis whose ideas were developed in a previously published conference paper. Respective references are as follows:
Moore, Michelle. 2019. “Interpretation A—Case Study: Designing Performative Space at the Navigation Pavilion.” In The Museum as Storyteller: Designing socially inclusive narrative environments, 63-111. Brisbane: School of Architecture, The University of Queensland.
Moore, Michelle. 2013. “Creating Museum Spaces of Imagination: Conjuring a Cultural Bridge Crossing the Atlantic.” In Sharing Cultures 2013: Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference on Intangible Heritage, edited by Sergio Lira, Rogerio Amoeda and Christina Pinheiro, 391-401. Barcelos, Portugal: Green Lines Institute for Sustainable Development.
i ‘Access Challenges’ is based on analyses of transcripts of the author’s interviews with the project team detailed in notes ii-v.
ii The Architect’ discussion is drawn from transcripts of the author’s interviews with architect Guillermo Vázquez Consuegra held in Seville on 9th-10th September, 2014.
iii ‘The Scriptwriter’ discussion is drawn from a transcript of the author’s interview with Pablo Pérez-Mallaína in Seville on 5th September, 2014.
iv ‘The Exhibition Designer’ discussion is drawn from a transcript of the author’s interview with GPD’s former director Boris Micka in Seville on 9th December, 2011.
v ‘The Museum Coordinator’ discussion is drawn from a transcript of the author’s interview with Javier Sanchidrián in Seville on 4th September, 2014.
vi ‘Processes’ is based on analyses of transcripts of the author’s interviews with the project team detailed in notes ii-v.
GENERAL NOTE: The researcher has colour-rendered the drawings and added/deleted annotations in order to highlight issues relevant to the research.
Banner [Navigation Pavilion post transformation: view of new exhibition Area 1—Sea of Souls], 2012, colour photograph, Boris Micka Associates, Seville, accessed 22 July 2019, http://www.borismicka.com/museum-of-navigation-seville-spain/ .
Fig. 1 [Navigation Pavilion during Expo’92: Site plan of Expo’s grounds on the Island of the Cartuja], 1992, technical drawing, General Archives of Andalusia, Andalusian Government, Seville, accessed 13 April 2018, www.juntadeandalucia.es/cultura/archivos/web_es/detalleExposicion?id=9e1442b0-2d69-11e2-90d9-000ae4865a5f&idContArch=878bdf91-e2e2-11dd-ac81-00e000a6f9bf&idArchivo=762085e1-469f-11dd-bfe7-31450f5b9dd5&idTipo=e2b7fec1-57e1-11dd-ba1f-31450f5b9dd5 .
Fig. 2 [Navigation Pavilion during Expo’92: aerial view], 1992, colour photograph, La Asociación Legado Expo Sevilla, Seville, accessed 16 August 2018, www.legadoexposevilla.org/la-nao-victoria-y-la-santa-maria- las-embarcaciones-mas-visitadas-de-la-expo/ .
Fig. 3 Guillermo Vázquez Consuegra Architect, [Navigation Pavilion during Expo’92: Old Mid-level Floor Plan], 1992, technical drawing, provided for use in this research by Guillermo Vázquez Consuegra Architect, Seville, 10 Sept 2014.
Fig. 4 Guillermo Vázquez Consuegra Architect, [Navigation Pavilion: New Sections for the Pavilion’s transformation], 2011, technical drawings, provided for use in this research by Guillermo Vázquez Consuegra Architect, Seville, 10 Sept 2014.
General Production and Design (GPD), [Navigation Pavilion: New Exhibition Design Layout for the Pavilion’s transformation], 2011, technical drawing, provided for use in this research by GPD, Seville, 9 December 2011.
Fig. 5 Niccoló Guasti, [Navigation Pavilion post transformation: view of new exhibition Area 1—Sea of Souls], 2012, colour photograph, provided for use in this research by GPD, Seville, 4 April 2014.
Fig. 6 [Navigation Pavilion post transformation: view of new exhibition Area 2—Shipping Advancements], 2012, colour photograph, Flickr, Seville, accessed 16 August 2018, www.flickr.com/photos/pnavegacion/24566585112/ .
Fig. 7 [Navigation Pavilion post transformation: view of new exhibition Area 3—Sailing Simulations], 2011, colour photograph, Acciona Producciones and Diseño, Seville, accessed 16 August 2018, www.acciona-apd.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/ENG-009_Museo-de-la-Navegacion.pdf .
Fig. 8 [Navigation Pavilion post transformation: view of new exhibition Area 4—Seville and the Guadalquivir River], 2012, colour photograph, Flickr, Seville, accessed 16 August 2018, www.flickr.com/photos/pnavegacion/26899328814/ .