“It could spark a revolution”: the design of the post-COVID exhibition

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As museums and galleries begin to open, we take a look at how the exhibition design has been adapted to immediate needs and how it could change forever.

The Design Museum was scheduled to host Kraftwerk and The Chemical Brothers on April 1. The coronavirus outbreak put an end to that but not before the creation of Electronic: From Kraftwerk to The Chemical Brothers. The last temporary exhibition at the Musée de Londres is a transfer from the Musée de la Musique-Philarmonie de Paris, initially organized by Jean-Yves LeLoup. According to the Design Museum, it will transport visitors through “the people, art, design, technology and photography that have shaped the electronic music landscape” by evoking the experience of being in a club.

Nightclubs and exhibitions trying to evoke nightclubs are not a viable concept in an age of social distancing. But when the museum partially reopens on July 31 with the exhibit, it is hoped that new measures will keep visitors and staff safe (and provide peace of mind). This will in part be achieved through a new “Safe and Sound” policy which details how the museum complies with government guidelines. All visitors will wear masks, the capacity of bicycle parking has been doubled to make it easier for people to cycle to the site and there will be hand disinfection stations.

Core, by 1024 Architecture at the Parisian edition of Electronic

The museum also aims to halve the number of visitors to the exhibit at any given time. This goal, while safer for visitors and staff, clearly poses problems for ticket sales. To cover the potential shortfall, the venue opens later in the evening, until 9 p.m. each day. To keep pace, all tours can now only last an hour and a half. The Design Museum’s director of hearings, Joséphine Chanter, says the delay is “largely self-regulated.”

The scenography of the exhibition was modified during the confinement to reflect these new needs. All interactive screens, those using iPads for example, have been removed. Any touchscreen that would be used by hundreds of people a day is no longer a possibility. Visitors will also need to bring their own headphones for the sound elements of the exhibition. (This development is reminiscent of trends in aircraft inflight entertainment systems, where the use of personal devices is likely to increase.) There is also now a one-way system throughout the exhibit; there will be no spaces where people can pass each other. This will be aided by ground graphics that encourage social distancing, designed by London-based Studio LP.


A “quieter pace”

Virtual studio of composer Jean-Michel Jarre

The museum’s chief curator, Justin McGuirk, told Design Week that the lockdown gave the team an opportunity to “think” about how the guidelines would affect the show. “Spatially, a key factor has been creating more space around objects,” he says. This means that some experiences and some items have been removed. An “interactive battery experience” has been removed, for example.

McGuirk hopes the changes won’t take anything away from the experience, but may make it “smoother.” “I actually think one of the possible opportunities is that it creates a slightly quieter experience for the visitor,” he says. They could, he said, reduce clutter and “pinch points” where visitors crowd around the work. “It might sound more intimate and exclusive.”

MR 808, the interactive drum, which will no longer be present

When the museum reopens, Electronic will be the only major London exhibit to open for the first time, according to McGuirk. There will likely be a period of trial and error as institutions determine what works and what does not. “I don’t suppose we have to rethink exhibits forever,” McGuirk believes, but that this is an interesting “test bed” for new ideas. “Museums will watch each other closely to see what works and what doesn’t,” he says.

Only Electronic will be open when the Design Museum reopens. In October there will be a Margaret Calvert retrospective on the first floor around the balcony galleries. A one-way route will probably be set up for the Calvert exhibition. Beazley Designs on the Year opens later in the year, a showcase for innovative design concepts. The exhibit was designed in containment and uses scaffolding to showcase the projects. Each object is given a 1.5m grid, which means visitors will be aware of the distance throughout. “Social distancing is built into the design,” adds McGuirk.


Find a “linear route”

National Trust Sutton Hoo exhibit, designed by Nissen Richards Studio

Nissen Richards studio manager Pippa Nissen told Design Week she had worked on “design in” solutions for temporary exhibitions to show clear routes as well as reconfigure permanent spaces with clear routes. signposted. Nissen has been working on a referral solution for The Wallace Collection, when the London art venue opens on July 15. She describes “adapting a museum to be able to open” a “ridiculously fun” process.

Finding a ‘linear route’ in a space is handy for smoother and socially distanced journeys, but it’s also about ‘making people feel good’. “As you step into each space, you can assess your own experience,” she says, which means “clear visibility” is crucial. While this type of “spatial configuration” needs to be put in place immediately, Nissen believes that some of it may “spill over” into longer-term exhibition design.

Orientation may not be the only design element affected. COVID could “launch a digital revolution” at exhibitions. The move away from iPads and “low-tech interactives” will see the role of “gesture-controlled interactives” increase, according to Nissen. This would likely include augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), and the ability of technology to alter the spaces around visitors. While the lockdown has made it clear how technology makes cultural institutions available in our own rooms, the ability to transform grandiose venues has been a theme in exhibition design for some time, as we have seen. at the London Design Festival last year.

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Non-Pavilion, a VR installation by Studio Micat, There Project and Proud Studio at the V&A for last year’s London Design Festival

“Information layers”

It’s not just about what happens in a place, but how the whole experience can change. Nissen suggests that the change could push towards “information layers” where the onus is on the visitor to take control. “Maybe you collect things that you dig into later,” she says. Objects can still be displayed “clearly and beautifully”, but there may be less information presented in the exhibition itself. This would of course call for social distancing and shorter visit times, if the current lockdown measures continue.

There will likely be a shift towards even more organized experiences. By creating linear routes through familiar spaces, people can encounter spaces differently. But for temporary exhibitions, there will be fewer built-in choices. This is echoed by the electronics of the Design Museum – the times when visitors had a choice throughout the exhibition have been removed. “It’s going to be a lot more about having someone’s pre-designed experience than spaces that are too full of choice,” suggests Nissen.


A shift towards sustainability

History of the Norwegian Book, at the National Library in Oslo

Like all areas of design grappling with a virus that lives on surfaces, materials will be a high priority going forward. The Nissen team re-examines longer term projects and ensures that any material used is “very durable” as it will need to be cleaned often and thoroughly and not be affected. There is an opportunity to be ‘playful’ with this aspect of design if used with care, like wood and metals. They can be used visually, for example, and placed out of reach.

All the time spent at home, in virtual meetings, and staring at computer screens, will result in a thirst for materials that show signs of life, Nissen suspects. Whether it’s a metal with an interesting patina or recycled plastics – where you can see it’s recycled. Nissen Richards likes Richlite, a kind of “compacted paper” that can be cleaned and printed to give it visual texture. “Anything other than Forex,” she adds.

There could be a broader shift towards sustainability in exhibition design, says Nissen. The studio is working on two or three projects with some clients and discussing how these incorporate more sustainable features. Designs that can be built and then adapted for different exhibitions, rather than just changing them up every time. The idea of ​​reusing sets in this way was a frequent topic at this year’s canceled Salone del Mobile premiere, where designers discussed possible ways to make festivals more sustainable.

“We can’t waste so much anymore,” says Nissen. One such idea could be to use the center of a room as an “anchor point” to which a modular design part could be attached, with the ability to be positioned in different ways. By moving the model 90 degrees, you can transform the space, from individual rooms to longer hallways, for example. Color, graphics and layers will also play an important role in adapting spaces, adds Nissen.

Thinking both short and long term will be a requirement for designers in the months and years to come. As Nissen notes, “there’s a rule one week and another the next.” The guiding grids that Nissen is working on right now might look “old school” next month. The only thing that seems certain is a need for adaptation.


Electronics: From Kraftwerk to The Chemical Brothers opens on July 13, 2020 at the Design Museum, 224 – 238 Kensington High Street London W8 6AG. Tickets start at £ 16. Please visit website for details.


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