Cities embrace and express cultural, social and ideological agendas that are central to urban experience Cities are structured to orchestrate particular relationships between people and place, creating routines of movement, spectacle and memory. Throughout history, settlements have been formed around individual iconic buildings that codify meaning, which is either deliberately constructed or construed by the observer. The contemporary city has increasingly represented a paradox between two positions. On the one hand urban environments are being reordered to support the social life of cities, and on the other they are driven the need to engage with the global economy, corporatisation and international tourism. Brett Steel argues that this has led to a condition of ‘hypervisuality’, which has created a shift from ‘place making to promotion and place marketing.’
Museums have become a key part of this processes, with contemporary museum architecture frequently traded as a symbol of cultural capital in the global ‘iconomy’, an image economy in which symbolic exchanges between people, things, ideas, interest groups, and cultures take predominantly visual form. However, museums are also involved in the development of broader cultural narratives that convey and interpret meaning, and they also create spaces of social engagement. This paper considers how three leading international museums have provided alternative was to understand the iconic role of museums as civic buildings. It examines how the British Museum, the Museum of Scotland and the Jewish Museum Berlin each question the role of iconic architecture in creating cultural meaning as part of the conceived, perceived and lived civic experience.