Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Moira Gemmill's revolutionary approach will become her legacy

Rory Olcayto
  • 1 Comment

Moira Gemmill spurned celebrity architecture in favour of new talent and ideas, says Rory Olcayto

British architecture has lost a truly inspirational figure in Moira Gemmill, who died last week in a cycling accident on Lambeth Bridge in London. Moira, until her departure last year to lead capital programmes for the Royal Collection Trust, was in charge of the V&A’s FuturePlan, the ambitious strategy to reinvigorate the world’s first design museum. She was tasked with enlivening faded galleries with new architecture and design. How she went about this, however, is what set her apart from most of her peers. Instead of deferring to starchitects, as is the case with most top-tier museums, Moira turned to emerging talent, some untested in gallery design. As anyone who has visited the V&A this past decade will know, the results range from the good (Glowacka Rennie’s Grand Entrance WCs), to the very good (Softroom’s Jameel Gallery), to the absolutely brilliant (MUMA’s Medieval and Renaissance Galleries).

Moira worked with former AJ editor Stephen Greenberg’s proposal to use the budget set aside for Daniel Libeskind’s Boilerhouse Yard ‘Spiral’ – abandoned a year before her V&A tenure began in 2005 – on 50 smaller projects throughout the museum estate. It is only now, in retrospect, that we can see how revolutionary, and against the grain, this simple move was. Sadly, it is not one that has been much copied by big clients in the cultural sector but, at the very least, it should form part of Moira’s legacy: the woman who spurned celebrity architecture in favour of new talent and ideas.

Moira was also a great supporter of The AJ, working with us to produce a FuturePlan book, and also as a judge in our Women in Architecture Awards since their inception in 2012.  The news of her tragic death has been a great shock to us all. Our thoughts are with her family and friends.

Under surveillance

The relationship of former AJ editors and the V&A doesn’t stop with Stephen Greenberg: Kieran Long, who was AJ’s editor between 2007-09 and is now the museum’s senior curator of contemporary architecture, design and digital, has overseen the current V&A exhibition All of this belongs to you, which Owen Pritchard reviews this week (p59). Reaction has been mixed but, whatever your preconceptions, one object’s inclusion makes this show important and worthy of your serious consideration: the Guardian laptop destroyed on government orders because it contained National Security Agency data leaked by Edward Snowden. What has this got to do with architecture you ask? Everything. Twenty years ago architects were among the more vocal critics of the exponential spread of surveillance cameras across our townscape.  Today, our perceptions of privacy have shifted: satellites track the phones in our pockets, we share personal data with global corporations simply to access a little free Wi-Fi and surveillance cameras are more numerous than trees on our streets. So what does spatial privacy mean now given every move we make is logged? Should architects make places that mitigate this? Enable it? Do nothing?  You tell me.

rory.olcayto@emap.com Twitter: @roryolcayto

  • 1 Comment

Readers' comments (1)

  • Architects, planners and their clients can work to make places safer. 'Secure by Design' is the ACPO initiative supported by the Security Service to promote safer designs. We live in a country that is awash with illegal drugs, a host to organised crime and gangs and prone to attack by radical groups who recognise no rules of warfare. Even the Russians are back with a vengeance. The irritation of surveillance is a small price to pay when compared with the carnage suffered by previous generations to preserve and protect our nation and it freedoms.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.