Natural order

Our brief was to retain the existing collection and support the Museum curatorial team to re-tell the stories around it, to reflect the shift in understanding of the climate emergency and social history of the gallery’s visitors. All on a short timeline with a shoestring budget!

Our first action was a thorough audit of the gallery collection, furniture, and narrative with the client team. From this we agreed what content and product to reuse or repurpose, and how this could feed into a coherent concept and vision. As many of the displays were remaining and large conditioned cases were not viable to re-locate we worked with the client team to develop a comfortable visitor journey and interpretation plan. Our graphic approach reflects the museum’s heritage value whilst respecting the organisation as the modern scientific establishment it is.

We developed a design strategy with four key principles: less is actually more, material is the message, naturally inclusive and active, and always sharing and learning.

Less is actually more

By taking out a large fibreglass piece we created better views across the space and allowed existing impact pieces more prominence. The fibreglass model was given away to a local organisation and so diverted from landfill. Working with the client team’s network to ensure re-use maximised their positive impact socially and environmentally.

Material is the message

As part of our design process, we thoroughly considered the purpose and credentials of each addition, materials were key to telling the story. Structural ‘fins’ made from reclaimed timber and recycled paint both came from local social enterprise businesses and for new applications we used robust materials like recyclable mono-material Eco-mesh and pvc free vinyl to maintain lifespan.

We also maximised the re-use of existing structures to minimise embodied carbon impact by re-locating and re-dressing rather than producing new. The interpretation narrative was improved with new, easily updatable section intro panels and flexible slide stands for labels. This means future updates will be low impact and low cost.

Naturally inclusive and active
We introduced key interventions such as a kids activity area made locally with 100% recycled post-consumer plastic. This was made from spools left over from fabric trade. We also designed the all-new kids’ game ‘whose poo’ to re-invigorate a dark and under used corner and provide fun and engaging education around one of the most important biological functions. Sourcing locally ensured money, work and knowledge remained in the area and carbon emissions from transport were minimised.

We also installed a brand-adjacent set of campaign banners to raise awareness around global environmental and social issues. These were designed, in stark contrast to the vibrant, warm colours of the gallery, in mono black and white to invoke a more serious tone around environmental issues.

Always sharing and learning

We worked closely with Useful Projects to measure the carbon impact of the refit. The total carbon footprint was 2.3t CO2 and Thomas.Matthews saved 1.53t CO2 through good design decisions – a 40% overall carbon saving.
The report is already being used within Leeds Museums as a baseline and sharing the results will allow other museum services in the UK to compare like-for-like exhibition projects. Smaller refits are often done on a shoestring and so measurements from national museum projects don’t necessarily relate.

This project is truly sustainable from start to finish.

The Herbarium Cafe
The cafe represented a great opportunity to display the hidden botanical gems of the museum. We closely collaborated with the museum curators Clare Brown and Rebecca Machin to dig into the museum archives and pick a beautiful selection that came to life in a form of a unique bespoke pattern. We used it around the space bringing walls to live with wallpaper and supergraphics. The Café Herbarium is currently under works and will be ready to view soon.