The study examines two exhibition spaces in two separate museums that host the same subject. These are the Parthenon (Duveen) Gallery at the British Museum in London and the Parthenon Gallery at the Acropolis Museum in Athens. Both museums possess and exhibit significant architectural parts of the temple of the Parthenon, originally built on the Acropolis Hill in 5th century B.C. in Athens. Both museums have assigned an individual gallery in a prominent location in each museum to the Parthenon, reflecting the importance both museums attribute to this subject.
However the methods of display of the mostly marble architectural fragments in each museum are very different. One of the fundamental differences is that at the British Museum the exhibits are arrayed along the exterior walls of the hall with the visitors moving in the centre of the gallery, whereas at the Acropolis Museum the exhibits are located in the centre with visitors moving around them. The present study will attempt to examine and compare how the two museums present their respective material and how visitors respond to each museum’s spatial layout.
For this purpose the method of tracing visitors’ routes was applied in the two exhibition spaces. Points where visitors stopped were monitored and time spent in motion and in stasis measured. Some interesting conclusions were drawn from these measurements regarding the visitors’ behavior in each space. Furthermore visibility polygons were drawn for each exhibition space. A visibility polygon or isovist for a particular point in space is defined as the area visible from that point revealing the extent of human visual experience from that point.7 Consequently the relevant isovists models were constructed for each space. These depict the changing visual awareness of a moving visitor in the particular space and may provide important clues for the overall museum visit experience.
Audio guides are often available to museum visitors and they provide the curators’ view on how the exhibits should be seen and understood. The present study will examine the British Museum audio guide for the Parthenon Gallery and will try to describe how its employment determines the exhibition experience. The proposed route in the gallery, the stopping points and the time spent at each stopping point when using the audio guide were monitored and contrasted against the relevant behavior of non-audio-guided visitors. The paths followed by independent visitors were found to be quite different from the one prescribed in the audio guide. Also the times spent in front of particular exhibits were at variance from those required by the guide.
An isovist model of the route of the audio guide was constructed and compared with the isovist model of a linear route around the gallery. Another element was introduced in these models that of time spent at each stop point. It was represented with the thickness of the material for each isovist.
It was found that the route proposed by the audio guide is much more complicated. It takes the visitor from the one side of the gallery to the other, back and forth repeatedly, without following the layout of the exhibition. It is worth noting that the total time required when using the audio guide in the gallery is 75 minutes while the average time of monitored individual visitors was approximately 7 minutes. The logic behind the complicated audio guide route may be to prevent visitors from queuing in front of exhibits.
At the time of writing the Acropolis Museum in Athens has not issued an audio guide for its Parthenon Gallery. Individual (un-guided) visitors there were also monitored. Their paths here were also mostly linear around the perimeter of the gallery. (The exhibits here are in the centre). It should be noted that most visitors stayed on a peripheral path between the “colonnade” and the exterior glazing. High up between the steel columns the metopes are on display, whereas the continuous frieze is located at eye-level on the interior wall. Few visitors paths ventured inside the colonnade to closely examine the frieze.