The UCL Institute of Archaeology announced an ideas competition for pioneering new environmentally friendly museums
The competition invites academics, artists, poets, philosophers, museum professionals and the public to ‘radically (re)imagine and (re)design the museum as an institution, to help bring about more equitable and sustainable futures in the climate change era.’
The call for concepts, supported by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Heritage Priority Area which is led by UCL professor Rodney Harrison, aims to identify a range of solutions for how museums can help society transform to a low carbon future, adapt to the impacts of climate change, and safeguard ecosystems.
Eight finalists will each receive £2,500 to develop their concepts which will be exhibited inside the Glasgow Science Centre during COP26, the United Nations Climate Change conference, which has now been rescheduled to take place in 2021.
Emma Woodham, climate change programme manager at Glasgow Science Centre said: ‘The exhibition will make an important contribution to Glasgow Science Centre’s overall climate change programme, which aims to inform, inspire and empower people of all ages and backgrounds to engage with COP26, and take action on climate change in their own lives.’
The competition is organised by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Heritage Priority Area, which is led by Harrison at the UCL Institute of Archaeology. It will result in an exhibition at COP26 accompanied by talks, workshops and other activities encouraging debate around the future role of museums, in times of rapid environmental change.
Harrison said: ‘The competition draws on academic research on the heritage and museums sector undertaken over the past 5 years by myself, Colin Sterling, and others, which suggests the need to develop new approaches to conservation and management of natural and cultural heritage which acknowledge—and begin to work with, rather than against—inevitable forms of (ecological, social and political) change.
‘COP26 provides a significant opportunity for those both inside and outside of the heritage and museums sector to think creatively about these issues, and to present the latest thinking to a wider audience, whilst also highlighting the significant potential for museums to provide a catalyst for climate action to policy makers and others in the international climate action community.’
There is thought to be around 100,000 museums in the world and hundreds of millions of visitors to museum each year, meaning such buildings have a unique opportunity to promote climate change goals. Most museum are however temporarily closed due to the Covid-19 crisis.
Major museum projects currently underway in the UK include the new Museum of London by Stanton Williams and Asif Khan (pictured), AOC’s and de Matos Ryan’s upgrade of the V&A’s Museum of Childhood, AL_A’s £42 million transformation of the Paisley Museum and Art Gallery, and Mecanoo’s £20 million revamp of Perth City Hall.
The deadline for applications is 15 September.
How to apply
Visit the competition website for more information
Rodney Harrison, UCL professor of heritage studies, UCL
Why are your holding an ideas competition for new ‘equitable and sustainable’ museums in the era of climate crisis?
This competition emerges from research on heritage and museums in times of climate change carried out by myself, Colin Sterling and others over the past few years. Our research suggests an urgent need for new approaches to the design and management of museums to work with rather than against inevitable forms of environmental change. We’ve partnered with Henry McGhie of Curating Tomorrow and Emma Woodham at Glasgow Science Centre to turn this research into a design competition and exhibition. Glasgow’s hosting of COP26 provides a significant opportunity for those working inside and outside the heritage and museums field to think creatively about these issues, and to highlight the potential for museums to act as catalysts for climate action, helping society transition towards climate justice and green futures. We recognise that there is a huge amount of radical, transformative thinking already happening across architecture, design and museums to address this subject, and we hope the design competition provides a platform to bring this work to new audiences.
What would you like to see in responses to the brief?
We are open to proposals that completely reimagine the museum as an institution, or that explore new ways for traditional museums to operate. The responses can address any aspect of museum design and activity, and the ideas can be as fantastical or as grounded as applicants see fit. We are not looking to judge proposals on their feasibility, but on the extent to which they unsettle and subvert the very foundations of museological thinking in support of meaningful climate action.
What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?
The competition is free to enter and open to anyone over the age of 18. We would particularly like to hear from smaller emerging practices, and would encourage the formation of new teams made up of different voices and perspectives - designers working with philosophers, for example, or architects and Indigenous groups. We launched the competition on International Museum Day to acknowledge the fact this is a global challenge, and we need to work across borders and across disciplines to imagine new ways forward.
Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?
Eight finalists will be awarded £2,500 each to develop their ideas for an exhibition to be held at Glasgow Science Centre ahead of and during COP26, with talks, workshops and other activities encouraging debate around the future role of museums in times of rapid environmental change. We also aim for elements of the exhibition to be included within the main COP programme, thus reaching global decision-makers.
Are there any other similar innovative museum projects you have been impressed by?
There have been numerous initiatives around climate change in the arts and museums sector over the past few years, and lots of new cultural buildings that aim to be more sustainable. Rather than draw on these precedents, we want the competition to encourage speculative thinking that explores new pathways for the design, experience and management of museums. As society comes out of the initial response to COVID-19, there is an important opportunity to imagine and design sustainable futures, that aim to ‘build back better’.