Our Changing Planet is the first exhibition by BMT that explores the Anthropocene. So our first task was to understand what that is…
“…an unofficial unit of geologic time, used to describe the most recent period in Earth’s history when human activity started to have a significant impact on the planet’s climate and ecosystems.”
The initial conversations started in late 2019, working towards opening in time for Easter 2020. The proposal was to take an enormous empty space and turn it into a brand new permanent gallery within the museum, that would be realised in two stages. The plan was to bring together collection items chosen from the thousands in the Museum Collections Centre to explore the timeline of climate change from the beginning of man.
Work began on the initial title of the gallery, design styles, helping the curators to develop themes of the different time spans and how to create a non linear timeline, filled with facts, images and objects.
This large and complex exhibition was well underway when it hit the extra challenge of being delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, changing the whole design brief. So, not only was Design Penguin tasked with creating an accessible and engaging permanent exhibition, we and the museum team also had to totally rethink our original approach to ensure it was “Covid-friendly” and ready to open as soon as visitors were allowed back through the doors.
We built SketchUp models of the space and met the whole team, most days on Zoom, with a team that was rotated in and out on Furlough. We loved our trips out to get on site in the museum but it was so odd and quiet, masks on and standing 2m apart. Meeting with the team to work out the visitor flow, measure up and plot out the space with tape on the floor. The Collections Centre visits to select objects with curators, was a particular highlight. We designed and planned walls with integrated cases, and stand alone units, all bespoke to with lighting and security. The stand builders and Museum’s Tech Team were brilliant to work alongside and oversaw the designs and worked out how to get it done.
As the gallery was aimed at older children and adults, the design had to be inviting and stimulating to an age group that is often difficult to engage with at Thinktank. At the same time, the interactives that are normally a mainstay of the Thinktank displays needed to be rethought. Using a mix of graphics and materials, the spaces were made to feel animated, with displays both accessible and fun whilst exploring the complex subject of how human beings are affecting the planet. And all Covid-safe!