Visiting the UN in Geneva?don’t miss this expo next door!

This museum is one of the most-overlooked travel spots in Geneva. Its a sometimes confrontational and tense story of the work of the ICRC around the world, and it tells this story through the voices of real people and their lives. Full of tactile and sensory experiences, it’s a must visit for any traveler on the UN-visit circuit. It’s just around the corner from the UN, so makes for an easy visit in the same afternoon.

The Musée international de la Croix-Rouge et du Croissant-Rouge (MICR) International Red Cross & Red Crescent Museum, Geneva, is one of the most comprehensive expositions on human rights and the humanitarian realities of past decades. Great for kids and adults, the permanent exposition presents a vivid  walk through humanitarian actions and events of the past decades and the role of the Red Cross therein.

But it also stands out for some of the great visitor experience techniques & social interactions that are in place. This case study focuses on a quick review of some of these ideas to inspire your own museum. For more information about the content of the museum and the permanent expo please check out the Museum pages here

1. Architectural detailing designed to tell a story

Architecture is intentionally and obviously built into the museum to tell the story of “The Humanitarian Adventure”. The museums permanent exposition is divided into three areas, with each space clearly delimited by a different architectural feeling and world, developed by architects from different cultural backgrounds. The three categories of the exposition are Defending Human Dignity (designed by Gringo Cardia, Brazil), Restoring Family Links (designed by Diébédo Francis Kéré, Burkina Faso), Reducing Natural Risks (designed by Shigeru Ban, Japan).

For me as a visitor the most prominent is the museum permanent exposition entrance features the tell-mark paper and wood detailing and constructions of Shingeru Ban, a Japanese architect known for his constructions and designs in paper, as well as his humanitarian response providing recycled tubes to quickly help house and protect victims of natural disasters (see the image below). Accompanied by a short text, the description reminds us of humanitarian relief in the face of natural disasters, copied below:

Reducing natural risks. 
Humanity has progressed by refusing to accept the inevitability of the phenomenon that endanger it. In the face of natural disasters and epidemics communities take actions to prevent the worst, to save lives and to preserve resources.
Architecture by Shingeru Ban, in partnership with the City of Geneva, 

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Below, a view of the “Defending Human Dignity” space in the room of “Prisoner’s items”,  a stark contrast to the other spaces in the museum and clearly marking the journey through the exposition and the humanitarian “adventure”.


2. Human connection – the “witnesses”

As you enter the exposition, from the first hall to the final exhibit, you are reminded that this is about People, Humanity, and Individuals. It is not a mass event, it is personal. The entire exposition is accompanied with an audio guide, with visitors stopping to “speak” with witnesses, augmented reality images of people telling their stories. This is no longer an abstract message about wars, displacement, or relief efforts. It is personal, with details of people and families that put you in the time and place. Below, an image from the “Chamber of Witnesses”, a silent room with life-size images of people, almost real against the wall, who accompany the visitor through the entire museum journey.


3. Numerous physical and tactile experiences throughout the exposition

The exposition is accompanied with a range of tactile experience, from the entrance into a hallway of links – for the theme of “Restoring family links“. Another example is an interactive wall with lights that respond to your human touch, The Colours of Dignity.


Above, the chains entering the exposition space around “Restoring Family Links”. This experience is somehow surreal, with literally chains hanging from the ceiling, that you walk through as a reminder of the links of family. The sound of metal reverberates around the hallway as you pass through into this part of the exhibition, very much grounding you in the moment.

Below, the “Colours of Dignity” an interactive wall that responds to touch, in association with EPFL+ECAL LAB.

4. Social media engagement before, during, and after

Finally, the museum has made efforts to call the visitor to action. At the entrance in the Atrium entering the museum there is a display of statues titled “The Petrified Ones”, by Swiss sculptor Carl Bucher (created in 1979) a reminder of human rights violations during armed conflicts. Rather than setting these aside as untouchable, the visitor is encouraged to engage with the statues, to take a photo and to share it with the @redcrossmuseum instagram.

Later during the exposition there is a section to leave your email (subscribe to the mailing list).

And there are several postings related to an app for the “We’re all Human” call for action. Visitors are invited to take their photo against a full-size photo wall (below, right) to become part of a “human chain for dignity”.

This is brought outside the museum with an app where you can take your photos with friends and contribute further to the human chain – check out the application “We’re all Human” on the App Store or Google Play.

5. The only downside was a bit of naming confusion

The Red Cross Museum instagram and facebook are both active sites (although there is a bit of confusion between the the names to follow and this was a big miss). The visitor may be refering to the museum via its French acronym (MICR), via its English short phrase “Red Cross Museum”, or via the English acronym of the organisation (ICRC).
This provides a lot of options for someone looking up the museum.

The chosen name “Red Cross Museum” should be signalled more prominently so the visitor knows who to follow on social sites @redcrossmuseum @icrc