The savings bank Caixa d'Estalvis i Pensions de Barcelona, "la Caixa", is the result of a fusion between Caixa de Pensions, founded in 1904, and Caixa de Barcelona, founded in 1844. Due to its origins and its legal character, it is a not-for-profit, charitable and social financial entity, privately controlled and independent of any company or entity.
The Obra Social of Caixa d''Estalvis began with the aim of carrying out public assistance and charitable activities. It is the entity through which Caixa d''Estalvis reinvests part of the benefits generated by its economic activity back into society. Its actions are focused on covering society''s detectable needs in social, educational, cultural and scientific areas.
This special sensitivity of "la Caixa" toward society is reflected in the execution of initiatives that try to address some of the most urgent social needs: affordable housing, granting of micro-credits, violence prevention, entrepreneur support, immigrant integration and environmental protection; activities which reinforce the will of "la Caixa" to strengthen its social commitment and consequentially give a new and firm drive to the cover social needs.
The cultural and scientific initiatives which make up the social vocation of "la Caixa" are developed within an intense programme at its own centres and as well as in travelling exhibitions going throughout Spain.
In fulfilment of its spirit of service, during 2006, Obra Social "la Caixa" has promoted more than 31,000 initiatives in which more than 18.5 million people have participated. One in four Spaniards directly benefit from one of its social programmes.
In 1980, Fundacioacute; "la Caixa" created the Museu de la Ciegrave;ncia with the aim of giving Barcelona a space where its citizens could come into contact with science. It began in one of the buildings of an old religious complex situated in a residential district in the southern foothills of Tibidabo. Designed by Josep Domegrave;nech i Estapagrave; and built between 1904 and 1909, it had housed the Amparo de Santa Luciacute;a, an asylum for the blind where they were taught to read Braille. The building is fine example of Catalan Modernism and is catalogued as historic-artistic monument.
In the beginning the museum functioned as a science centre: the public learned the laws of natural science through manipulation and experimentation with physical, acoustic and optic phenomena.
Soon, more ambitious objectives were set: the Museu de la Ciegrave;nciahad to be a meeting point between scientific investigation, industry and society. It had to be a reference where public comprehension of science could be stimulated and scientific opinion formed. To fulfil this objective there is always a vigorous agenda of activities programmed (conferences, debates, congresses, etc.) and at the same time there is constant renovation of the exhibitions and museography. Visitors must have the sensation that the museum is alive and that its offering is dynamic.
The floor area of the modernist building was not big enough to house the growing number of visitors and activities; between 1986 and 1995, a series of successive additions were built and the exhibition areas in the existing buildings were improved to accommodate new needs.
Finally, the definitive project was decided upon. A structured enlargement that responded to all the functional and technical requirements. Solutions were to be found for the problems of the public spaces and the logistical support areas which in the old buildings required constant adaptation to the difficult existing conditions.
It was a crucial and fortunate moment that had been built on 20 years of accumulated experience, which along with the will of the institution, a skilful team and the necessary land, make possible to carry out such a vast and complex project.
To select the architect to design the new museum, a competition was convoked which was restricted to five teams of young architects with experience in public building design and above all, open to dialogue. One of the main objectives in selecting these teams was to insure that the design and construction processes would be coordinated. The conception of the project had to be a joint effort, a continuous exchange of information, avoiding the imposition of criteria from one side and the other. Museum officials and architects had to work hand in hand.
Of all the proposed projects, there was one that clearly stood out over the rest. The project by the brothers Robert and Esteve Terradas proposed that the largest part of the building area be underground. This allowed for two fundamental advantages: giving the district a public square of some 6,000 m2 and placing value on the modernist building, especially its main faccedil;ade which, given the growth of the city, had found itself hidden from the public eye.
Creating a public square was important since the district, which in the 1980s was mostly residential, has become home to more and more secondary schools and universities whose students and professors did not have a public meeting place. In the Placcedil;a de la Ciegrave;ncia, there are exterior elements such as the sun dial, the terrestrial sphere and the Catacaos (chaotic pendulum) which advertise the presence of the museum.
An underground space conserves energy better and offers complete control over the natural lighting. The lighting of the exhibitions can be regulated starting from complete darkness. This is an enormous advantage if we consider that good lighting is considered 95% of an exhibition's success.
From the beginning, the dialogue between architects and museum representatives continued in search of a marriage between content and container. An accord to adjust needs and enfolding, to take maximum advantage of the characteristics of the building and those architectural elements that, although having a determined structural purpose, may take on a transcendental meaning by embracing unique elements of the museum's design.
Another of the requirements of the architects was to create the greatest transparency in a building that is mostly underground. A museum whose main objective is to provide stimulation for scientific knowledge and create scientific opinion should be transparent and invite people inside. The architects proposed a series of perspectives on the interior of the museum from the Placcedil;ade la Ciegrave;ncia, going so far as to suggest the building of an exterior viewpoint in the permanent hall. The spaces to house activities where located in such a way that the participants in acts, conferences and workshops could see the areas that change most frequently: the temporary exhibitions. In effect, the museum does not rest, there are always new offers.
Another innovation with respect to the traditional concept of museums is that the area that houses the exhibitions does not have divisions. The permanent exhibition with its four large areas: Inert Matter, Living Matter, Intelligent Matter and Civilized Matter share the space with the temporary exhibitions. Visitors can stroll through the hall as if it were a forest and go wherever their curiosity takes them. There is no connecting thread nor architectural compartmentalisations: "Study plans are not fault of Nature".
The accumulated experience of the last 20 years supports our museum philosophy: there is no better medium for transmitting a stimulus than reality itself and the museum is condensed reality. The texts, the audio-visual resources, the computerized supports and the recreations help complement but never substitute the object or phenomena, essential focal points of this new museum proposal.
The emotion of encountering a clay cylinder with cuneiform writing from 2500 years ago (object) or to find oneself suddenly before Foucault''s Pendulum tracing a circumference drawn on the ground (phenomena) cannot be substituted and awakens the visitor''s curiosity. What is this? Who made it? What does it mean? How does it work?
The museum must take advantage of emotion, of the moment when the visitor''s attention is completely focused on a stimulus and open to dialogue. The visitor asks the real object what it explains. The visitor asks the phenomena what it demonstrates. The visitor may turn and talk with another visitor about a discovery. A child asks his/her parent and the parent in turn asks a monitor. Dialogue is the fundamental objective of an exhibition. It is the corroboration of the success of the stimulus. It is the proof that the spark of knowledge has transcended.
Hanging in the enormous bays of the retention wall of the Exhibition gallery are seven large geologic cuttings brought from Berga, Suacute;ria, Olot, Leon, Mallorca, Crespiagrave; and Ituacute;. The effort involved in bringing them here from their landscapes, preparing them, building the support structures has been Hurculean and perfectly coordinated between the architectural and building teams. Next to each cutting, an interactive model reproduces in minutes, using different types of sand, centenary geologic processes. The phenomenon of the interactive exhibit demonstrates what the great stone cutting illustrates, the visitor looks at one and then the other and then, suddenly he/she understands it!
A long experience has been needed to establish these museographical principles. Over the last 20 years more than 50 science exhibitions have been created: permanent, temporary and travelling. Experiments and tests have been made. Errors have been learned from and methods have been perfected to set the procedures to follow in order to use resources in the most efficient way possible.
The will to innovate, experiment with new resources, take on big challenges and try to always go a step further to stimulate and provoke that spark that causes a qualitative change in the visitors has been fundamental in the accumulating of museum experience.
The new Museu de la Ciegrave;ncia, CosmoCaixa was inaugurated September 2004. Since then it has received more than three million visitors. Its architecture and its museum proposal have won it the recognition of society in general and of the scientific community in particular.
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