Inside the museum – outside the exhibition: A study of museum entrance halls
A great number of academic studies is concerned with research on visitor behaviour in museum spaces. They ask questions such as “What do they do?”, “Where do they go?” or “How long do they stay?”. Different methods from dance theory to numerical formulas are used to find answers. However, these studies almost exclusively relate to the rooms that accommodate the museum’s exhibits. It is this papers intention to add towards the knowledge on a less studied space inside the museum but outside the exhibition: the entrance hall. The researcher is interested in the design of these spaces and how they affect the behaviour of visitors. A comparative ethnographic approach with the use of multiple methods (thick description, tracking of visitors’ paths and taking field notes on behaviour) was used to generate data in two museums in Hamburg, Germany. The study found entrance halls to be complex spaces with many features influencing the behaviour of visitors. The results from a covert observation of 60 individuals were visualized in maps that show each visitor’s path. In these maps, a coherence of the entrance halls design and the way people move can be found. The study also found evidence for visitors’ intentional use of space as proposed by Hooper-Greenhill (2006). Two basic visitor types were identified. The researcher called those who moved on clear routes with none or only minor detours determined visitors. Visitors who took longer paths and wandered around the space, taking their time to explore different elements and features were called discovering visitors. This paper concludes with a set of recommendations for arts managers and museum professionals. It would like to emphasize a need to pay attention to the design of spaces in general and of entrance halls specifically as they might easily be classified as less important, functional rooms that do not relate to the organisations artistic or educational mission. Finally, the researcher reflects on the choice of methods. Although they generated interesting insights, some adaptions should be made when a similar study is conducted in the future.