The Intricacy of Textiles A Reappraisal of Textiles in Architectural Museum Settings

Open Access
Abdel Galil, Farah Ahmed
Graduate Program:
Master of Architecture
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
April 02, 2015
Committee Members:
  • Ute Poerschke, Thesis Advisor
  • Christine Lee Gorby, Thesis Advisor
  • Architecture
  • Textiles
  • Museums
  • Culture
  • History
  • Contemporariness
  • Display
  • Techniques
  • Intricacy
Textile artifacts act as barometers to trace the ever-evolving, and often-conflicting, identities and rituals of a society. The intersection of culture and contemporary architecture through textiles is most evident in museum settings. Developing display techniques and architectural venues for historical textiles in museums is to be achieved. Hence, an architecture that transpires in the present while participating in the rendition of the past is reconsidered. A study of the textiles that prospered throughout the Egyptian timeline belonging to the Pharaonic, Ptolemaic, Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic epochs, is conducted. Analysis and critique of three nineteenth century textile theories - by architects John Ruskin, Gottfried Semper, and Owen Jones - are carried out with the purpose of generating a more communicative, non-traditional approach to textile representation. Each of these theorists has a drastically different approach of relating textiles to architecture, to the very initiation of civilization, and to other forms of arts and ornamentations respectively. From the ideologies of the authors, one could assert that the specificities, techniques, and tales of the textiles are those which communicate their significance and meaning. Revealing textile semantics would enable new ways of refining and developing their displays. The haptic dimension is a factor if considered, many textile characteristics would be revealed. These tactile qualities are unfeasible to discern just through visuality. Consequently, the current role and the architecture of the museum are challenged. Once textiles’ subject-related matters are answered. The larger architectural milieu is then considered, which brings space syntax into discussion. The spatial discourse and adjacencies of textile exhibitions shape the experience of visitors. Through the different spatial typologies and genotypes, museums are categorized into two broader models: “congregational” and/or “organizational.” The spaces that constitute the whole classify a museum archetype. Textiles preservation and conservation techniques as well as museological practices are also introduced. Through the focus on the Egyptian inventory in the two case studies - The Egyptian Textiles Museum in Cairo and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (MET) – the spatial layouts, architecture, display techniques, as well as lighting strategies of the exhibitions are studied based on the theories developed throughout the research. As curation processes and museum management strategies may differ from one institution to the other, especially if from different cultural backgrounds: Western vs. Eastern, they are further explored through personal interviews with curators from each institution. The differences and similarities in the two case studies are then assessed through a comparative analysis. Moreover, a proposed series of textile exhibitions as an addition to the MET is used as a test design to further explore some of the discussed theories. Beyond the technical preservation and conservation measures, the concept of whether textile exhibitions should function as blank vessels of history or as living artifacts that reflect the contemporariness of existence through the translation of the subjected culture is debated. The thesis concludes with summarizing the concepts and findings developed throughout the study. The resulting outcome - guidelines to be employed when designing textile museums - focuses on elucidating design characteristics and museum practices that translate and manifest textiles through an architectural creation.