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AEA Consulting: The Platform

AEA has worked on the operational and functional planning of cultural building projects from the early 1990’s, and our work has been informed by a very simple perspective: buildings are a means to an end and unless you are clear about the ends, you are going to end up with the wrong ‘means’. The most useful – if sometimes unpopular – thing you can do in planning is to encourage clarity with respect to ultimate intentions.

We have in the process become keen and, we hope, objective observers of capital investment trends in the sector over the decades. Infrastructure projects are long in the making, and sometimes slow to adapt to wider changes in society – not too different from other sectors. But the ends toward which the cultural sector aspires are evolving rapidly, with increasingly ambitious social and economic agendas baked into them. In some cases, like in Shenzhen, China, cultural investment aims to address the city’s low density of modern public cultural facilities while building on the district’s place as a hub for international design, innovation, and experimentation. In others, like Destination Crenshaw in Los Angeles, cultural infrastructure is built, in part, to promote small-scale economic development opportunities in historically disadvantaged communities through public art commissions and equitable design practices.

We try to monitor those changes as objectively as possible. First published in 2016, AEA’s Cultural Infrastructure Index seeks to measure investment in capital projects in the cultural sector globally. Initially comprised of museums, performing arts centers, and cultural hubs or districts, and projects including new buildings, renovations, and expansions, AEA has expanded the infrastructure category to include multifunction arts venues, and projects to include adaptive reuse.

Changes in the patterns of audience behavior, deep if belated concerns with respect to environmental impact, digital developments and the increasing emphasis on inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility will have a profound impact on the character and scale of investment in the coming decades. We will continue to monitor these.

In this issue of The Platform: Dispatches, we highlight our focus on cultural infrastructure and the factors that contribute to its evolution. 

2021 Cultural Infrastructure Index 

Now in its sixth edition, the Index seeks to measure investment in capital projects in the cultural sector globally. Our analysis this year finds that $11.2 billion worth of new physical assets were completed globally in 2021 across 211 projects. A further $6.5 billion of investment in 174 projects were announced. This was a record year for the volume of both completed and announced projects (and by some margin!), jumping up 103% and 34% from the previous year, respectively. Project budgets bounced back from a dip in 2020 – caused in part by Covid-related delays – by $5.5 billion ($5.7 billion to $11.2 billion), the highest annual value of completed projects since AEA began tracking in 2016. Announced capital investment did not keep pace, however, falling by $1.7 billion ($8.2 billion to $6.5 billion) as median project values dropped 24% from $40.0 million to $30.5 million.

Explore more AEA's findings in the 2021 Cultural Infrastructure Index.

Read past Cultural Infrastructure Indexes

2021 Cultural Infrastructure Index


This week’s roundup focuses on Cultural Infrastructure news and practice. The below articles have helped inform our team's understanding and work of leading cultural infrastructure projects around the globe. 

Some articles may be behind a paywall. 

When considering new cultural infrastructure projects, careful planning is required to establish and improve long-term efficiency and effectiveness. Today's environment has added challenging questions that need to be asked under the general rubric of 'feasibility'. The COVID-19 pandemic, climate emergency, and other societal and technological shifts are raising new questions that are equally critical to a project's success. AEA's engagement in cultural capital projects over the last 30 years has taught us many things along the way, and we believe that this moment has added additional dimensions of feasibility. (AEA Consulting)

Eileen Kinsella of Artnet News writes about AEA Consulting's 2021 Cultural Infrastructure Index highlighting the highest number of completed and announced projects since the Index was first published in 2016, and that museums remained the dominant building type, accounting for 51 percent of announced and completed projects. The article follows with six other key takeaways from the 2021 Cultural Infrastructure Index, including regional activity, the rise of adaptive reuse projects, and which architectural firms have been the most active. (Artnet News

“There are people in Beirut who are not eating, who are in terrible difficulty – is it really relevant to speak about architecture in this situation?” said artist Annabel Karim Kassar. “The answer is yes, it is. Because especially in countries in deep economic difficulty, you have to keep alive a part of memory, culture and heritage.” (Bloomberg CityLab)

The U.S.-based Brookings Institution has established a new infrastructure planning and spending tool aimed at enhancing the place-making framework for spending decisions. (Construct Connect

Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios has produced a free carbon review tool designed to estimate the whole life carbon of a building to inform decisions prior to detailed design. This makes potential carbon impacts clear to the client, architect, and the design team from the outset of the process. (Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios

Jing Culture & Commerce features AEA's 2021 Cultural Infrastructure Index, writing about the continued development of cultural infrastructure in China and further highlighting key takeaways from the report, including the social value that adaptive reuse and storage facility projects bring to communities. (Jing Culture & Commerce)

A decade in the works, the 11th Street Bridge Park in Washington, D.C., has yet to be built. But it could be a model for how to create public space while lessening the effects of gentrification. The park would repurpose the old infrastructure to create a new civic space, a park and cultural hub, connecting the wealthy, predominantly white neighborhoods of Navy Yard and Capitol Hill with historic Anacostia and Fairlawn, both of which are majority Black and low-income. (The New York Times) 

The National League of Cities and the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies convened local and national arts leaders in May 2022 to discuss art, culture, design, and heritage. This blog post showcases how arts and culture investments are meaningfully contributing to communities and bolster local leaders’ public service goals, including arts-infused civic infrastructure. (National League of Cities

Felix Salmon of Axios writes about AEA's 2021 Cultural Infrastructure Index highlighting the addition of adaptive reuse projects and the completion of these types of projects at a collective cost of $1 billion in capital investment last year. The article also reports on how adaptive reuse projects contribute to environmental sustainability and the preservation of older buildings. (Axios

The strategies on show range from the ad-hoc to the forensically planned. One German architect, Arno Brandlhuber, invited friends to bash out holes in the concrete walls of a former underwear factory near Potsdam using a sledgehammer, to create the windows of his gritty new weekend home wherever they saw fit. (The Guardian)  

“MVRDV has created a mechanism by which collections, as well as such functions as conservation and exhibit preparation, are condensed, stacked up, and made visible. They have eschewed both the idea that the museum is also a temple of culture and that it should therefore have a grand entry and circulation core, and also have eliminated display spaces used solely for that purpose,” says Aaron Betsky. (Architect Magazine

More than a decade since it broke ground, the long-awaited Taipei Performing Arts Center opened to the public in Taiwan's capital last week. After years of construction delays and debates over a budget that has climbed to 6.7 billion New Taiwan dollars ($223 million), attention can finally turn to the dozens of productions being staged this fall -- and to a venue that is radically rethinking the way theaters operate. (CNN)

AEA Consulting is a global firm setting the standard in strategy and planning for the cultural and creative industries.

We are known for our candid and impartial advice that draws on deep knowledge of the cultural sector as well as robust research and analytical insight.

Since 1991, we have successfully delivered more than 1,200 assignments in 42 countries, helping clients around the world plan and realize vital and sustainable cultural projects.