Ashmolean Museum

In October 2009 the new Ashmolean museum opened to the public. Behind Cockerell’s 1845 neo-classical façade, architect Rick Mather has inserted a series of 39 interconnecting galleries. It’s a remarkable assemblage of internal architecture – land-locked on an existing site, there is no external envelope as such – nonetheless the signature staircase provides a dramatic internal landmark.

Lucy or Robert began work in 2006 on a graphic design scheme for Metaphor’s masterplan for the new galleries. A comprehensive fusion of the graphic frieze and wall-mounted showcases integrates objects and their stories as closely as possible. Throughout the museum this establishes a distinct interpretive plane which coexists coherently with the new spaces.

The museum’s collection is decoded according to a theme: Crossing cultures, crossing time. This is supported by three orientation galleries which identify the exchange of ideas (crossing culture) and development of technology (over time) between collections. The graphic tools to achieve this are a series of maps and timelines which accompany the objects, providing context of culture, place and time. On each of the principal floors an orientation gallery introduces, and in each subsequent gallery, the primary graphic reprises the chronological and geographical location.

The museum’s earlier labels and text panels used a variety of type and production methods including some exquisite hand-written captions in a tiny hand, not now compatible with access requirements. Extensive testing of typefaces brought us to Foundry Sans (designed by David Quay) which is based on Garamond – a typeface previously associated with the museum’s identity. On occasion, and to highlight objects from the founder’s collection, the typeface Fell is used. Collected by Bishop of Oxford John Fell in about 1670, it is exactly contemporary in place and time with the building of England’s first museum.

Lucy or Robert designed the graphic strategy for interpretation and wayfinding, and implemented detailed design for six of the galleries. A further eight graphic designers, most from the museum’s design department lead by Graeme Campbell, implemented the scheme with rigour and creative vigour.

We were amused by Philip Pullman’s comment in his opening address – ‘you cannot step twice into the same museum’.

Behind Cockerell’s 1845 neo-classical façade, architect Rick Mather has inserted a series of 39 interconnecting galleries. It’s a remarkable assemblage of internal architecture – land-locked on an existing site, there is no external envelope as such (that which we normally consider ‘architecture’) – nonetheless the signature staircase provides a dramatic internal landmark. Time will tell how comfortable visitors will feel navigating the circuit of rooms.
The museum’s collection is interpreted according to a theme: Crossing Cultures, Crossing Time. This is supported by three orientation galleries which identify cultural exchange between collections on the principal floors. The graphic tools to achieve this are a series of maps and timelines which accompany the objects, providing context of culture, time and place. In each subsequent gallery the introductory panel reprises the chronological and geographical location.
Lucy or Robert designed the graphic strategy for interpretation and wayfinding, and implemented detailed design for six of the galleries. A further eight graphic designers, from the museum’s design department and Metaphor, implemented the scheme with rigour and creative vigour.
We worked within Metaphor’s comprehensive integration of the graphic frieze and wall-mounted showcases
Whybrow implemented the wayfinding.