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Department of Architecture

A Cinematic Musée Imaginaire of Spatial Cultural Differences: on 4 & 5 July the inaugural workshop took place to launch Professor François Penz’s CineMuseSpace AHRC research project

The anthropologist Prof Philippe Descola (Collège de France, Paris) came to our Department together with Prof Eugene Y. Wang, the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor of Asian Art at Harvard University, Prof Andong Lu from Nanjing University, Prof Philippe Bonnin (CNRS, Paris) and many others.

The AHRC funded research project A Cinematic Musée Imaginaire of Spatial Cultural Differences [CineMuseSpace] proposes to enlarge André Malraux's idea of the Musée Imaginaire [Museum without Walls] to display, compare, contrast and communicate spatial differences deeply embedded in the cinematic image, in order to generate a greater level of understanding and engagement amongst different cultures. Space is an expression of how societies see themselves while films, as spatially organized narrative constructs, reveal with unique immediacy architecture as experience.   Our aim is to generate a novel understanding of deeply rooted societal differences by unlocking culturally significant architectural records folded away in the film medium.

Central to the research is the construction of a cinematic ontology of spatial cultural differences that will focus on films representative from both the Western 'naturalism' tradition [Europe/USA] and from the Eastern 'analogism' tradition [China/Japan].  This distinction is based on Philippe Descola's ontologies, an anthropological approach to images from different cultures (La Fabrique des Images 2010) that can usefully be extended to cinema.

CineMuseSpace research project will span 24-months. It is an interdisciplinary research project, involving architecture, film studies, museum studies, cultural studies and anthropology.  It is led by Prof François Penz (Department of Architecture, University of Cambridge) as the PI, with Dr Suzanne MacLeod (School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester) as Co-I,  together with Prof Andong Lu (School of Architecture University of Nanjing) and Dr Simone Chung (School of Architecture, National University of Singapore) as international Co-Investigators –and with Maureen Thomas (DIGIS) as film consultant.

The CineMuseSpace research project will span 24-months and involves the following steps:

1. The construction of a ‘cinematic ontology of spatial cultural differences’ focusing principally on floors, walls, doors, windows and stairs, eliciting how such basic elements of architecture are cinematically practised and revealed in films from both the Western 'naturalistic' and the East Asian 'analogistic' traditions.

2.   The elaboration  of a 'cinematic taxonomy of everyday life',  for both traditions, focusing on everyday lives in everyday spaces, focusing principally on the filmic representation of the home.

3. Following from that, our cross-cultural cinematic ontologies will be screened inside purpose-built innovative installations at our three partner museum sites: The Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, Manchester, National Museums Liverpool and The Art Museum of Nanjing University of the Arts.

4. For each installations, we will seek to evaluate the visitors’ engagement and appraisal of the concept of spatial cultural differences while also advancing a novel exhibition development process which utilises leading-edge approaches in museum studies and draws academics and curators together in a research-led design process.

5. Finally, catalyzing a conceptual paradigm-shift in the understanding of other cultures commensurate with the latest advances in digital technologies, we will implement an innovative online virtual version of CineMuseSpace, leaving a sustainable methodological framework, a lasting resource that can be expanded over time.


The project incorporates plans for a variety of outputs, intended for both specialist and public benefit. There will be a series of workshops in the UK and in Nanjing, a major conference in Cambridge at the end of the project, three public exhibitions accompanied by an exhibition catalogue. Aside from the lasting resource of the online version of our CineMuseSpace,  the core outputs will consists of the exhibition catalogue,  one edited book and two major peer reviewed journal papers.

Tom Duncan, co-founder and Director of Duncan Macaulay ( will be Museum Installation Consultant.