Twenty years since it first opened in 1988, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum needed to change in order to reflect today’s world. It closed in 2011 and reopened in May 2013.
The new permanent exhibition The Humanitarian Adventure is arranged around three themes: “Defending human dignity”, “Restoring family links” and “Reducing natural risks”. Beyond the troubled periods of history or present-day conflicts, these three topics concern each and every one of us today and, from a wider perspective, will affect our future for decades to come.
In order to underline the universal spirit of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the three areas were designed by renowned and committed architects from different cultural horizons: Shigeru Ban, Japan, Pritzker Architecture Prize 2014 (“Reducing natural risks”), Gringo Cardia, Brazil, (“Defending human dignity”) and Diébédo Francis Kéré, Burkina Faso (“Restoring family links”). Overall coordination was conducted by Atelier Oi, Switzerland, which was in charge of creating the educational and service areas.
Each thematic area is radically different from the next. This difference is highlighted by the specific features of the materials that were chosen to reflect the subject (hempcrete for “Restoring family links”; cardboard for “Reducing natural risks”) and enhance the impact of the most important objects on display, which include, in particular, the initial Geneva Convention and the files of First World War prisoners of war (in Unesco’s Memory of the World Register), as well as objects made by detainees.
The primary question that focused the team’s thinking was: what distinctive contribution can a museum make in the era of the internet and instantaneous information?We chose 3 topics: emotion, testimonies and visitors’ personal experiences.
EmotionEmotion is intended to serve as an entry point to the information. Visitors pass through two stages, both visual and architectural:- A sensitization stage, during which they undergo a powerful emotional experience that leaves its mark on their memory;- An information stage, during which they receive explanations linked to the thematic area.The Chambers of WitnessesIn the first room, visitors find themselves face to face with life-sized video projections of 12 men, women and children from all around the world. Victims, humanitarian workers, researchers … all stare at them in silence.This encounter seeks to awaken the sensitivity of visitors to the leitmotif of the new exhibition: that human relations lie at the heart of humanitarian action. Visitors meet the life-sized witnesses towards the end of each thematic area, where they illustrate the key elements of each topic by telling the story of their own experience. Visitors have to activate the witnesses’ testimonies – otherwise they remain silent.Each witness speaks his native language which is simultaneously translated into one of the eight languages provided by the audio-guides.
Visitors’ Personal ExperiencesIn each of the areas, interactive devices encourage visitors to become actively involved in an exploration of humanitarian action. They can gain understanding about ways of reducing natural risks by taking part in a serious game, “Hurricane”, or can symbolically affect the course of events by changing the shapes and colours on an interactive wall.
On the other hand, facsimiles of certain documents have been created, such as index cards of First World War prisoners, so that visitors can pick them up and thus gain a deeper understanding of how missing people were traced. They are literally holding someone’s destiny in their own hands.
The Place of Art
Some works of art have been included in the journey throughout the exhibition. The aim is to allow visitors to absorb the themes into their own experience by developing personal interpretations. The “théâtres optiques” created by Pierrick Sorin show a real sense of prevention, but with a welcome touch of humor.
On the Spot
At the end of the exhibition, the area “On the Spot” presents current activities of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement on computers and includes a huge interactive chronology that extends from 1863 to the present. The listings include:• armed conflicts which caused the death of more than 10,000 people and/or which affected more than one million people.• epidemics and disasters that caused the death of more than 10,000 people and/or that affected more than one million people• significant events in the history of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement• cultural and scientific milestones.
Parallel to the transformation of the permanent exhibition, two new buildings were constructed. One is immediately adjacent to the Museum’s original building and communicates directly with it. It hosts the temporary exhibition hall, the conference centre, The Humanitarium, and new offices. The second building houses a restaurant and has been constructed on the Museum’s roof.
The new buildings created more extensive storage space to accommodate the fast-growing collections that have accumulated since the initial opening of the Museum.
The Museum’s Foundation is a non-profit institution. The entire enlargement and transformation project was funded from private sources together with donations from the City of Geneva and the Association of Geneva Municipalities.
In 2015, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum was rewarded with the European Museum of the Year’s Kenneth Hudson Award, “for the perfect balance it has found between the sharpness of its message and the multitude of nuanced ways it is expressed, and for the creation of a compelling case from selected stories which tell of humanitarian crises but also of hope and perseverance.”
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