Design-centric Lincoln is leader of the pack
Whether it is short memory, blinkered vision or a failure to regard anything that happens outside of London as significant, I don't know. But I am surprised to read that Katherine Skellon believes the exhibition-design course she helped set up at Central St Martins 'is the only one that deals with all the people and professions involved in [exhibition] design' (Technical and Practice, AJ 28.10.04). At the Lincoln School of Architecture (formerly Hull School of Architecture), we have been teaching museum and exhibition design for nearly 60 years, and our MA interdisciplinary design specialising in museum and exhibition design is in its eighth year.
We also get postgraduate students from a variety of backgrounds including exhibition design, fine art, interior design, graphic design, product design, architecture and museum studies. In recent years we have had students from Canada, Barbados, China, Thailand, Germany, the Netherlands, Greece and the UK.
Most of them have several years' professional experience behind them before they come to us. They work side by side with postgraduate architecture and master's students in construction project management, interior design, environmental design, and other disciplines in a multidisciplinary school of architecture. So far we have a 100 per cent employment record.
As far as the opening caricature of exhibition design is concerned, let's be honest: every design discipline has the same problem from time to time.
There are very good reasons why most design - whether it's a piece of graphic communication, a consumer product, a living space, an information system or, dare I say it, a piece of architecture - falls short of someone's expectations. The result is that architects, as much as graphic designers or exhibition designers, occasionally are damned collectively as unworthy or incompetent and in need of a bit of education. None of us, architects or designers, is ever faced with a blank canvas.
Physical, political, cultural and commercial context limits, as well as creates, possibilities. That is the hard reality of practice.
There is an extraordinary range of communication processes at work in the world, not all of them 'narrative' in character.
Some of them need to be embodied in, or facilitated by, carefully designed environments. That's where the exhibition design approach comes into play. Effective communication is the end;
filling or not filling space is simply one of the means to that end - communication is a problem of time as well as space.
Although neither is perfect, I would point to projects such as the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester (Daniel Libeskind and Event Communications/Real Studios) and The Deep in Hull (Terry Farrell and John Csaky Associates) as examples of successful collaboration between architects and exhibition designers. Incidentally, the exhibition design teams for both projects included a graduate from our museum and exhibition-design course.
Dr Geoff Matthews, Lincoln School of Architecture