Royal Botanical Gardens Kew seeks design partner for Science Engagement Centre

The new exhibition space must cater to Kew’s 20,000 visitors per day and encourage them to become more actively invovled in its sustainability and biodiversity efforts.

Royal Botanical Gardens Kew (RBG Kew) is looking to appoint an exhibition designer to assist in the development of concept and vision for its proposed Science Engagement Centre as part of a wider £10 million project.

Customer insight surveys suggest the narrative around Kew’s science and biodiversity work is not always absorbed, with a significant number of visitors recognising it more as a garden attraction than a leading scientific institution that employs over 470 scientists, according to RBG Kew. The new centre is part of efforts to improve public understanding of its mission and the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss.

Authenticating botanicals using a rotary evaporator at RBG Kew. Photo credit: Ines Stuart-Davidson

With this in mind, the institution plans to create a new Science Engagement Centre (SEC) in the Banks Building to inspire and educate visitors in plant, fungal and horticultural science. Topics covered in the new space will include: global sustainability and conservation issues, why biodiversity matters and how it is threatened, what Kew and global partners are doing to solve the nature emergency and what visitors can do to support the critical work.

The brief details that the space will engage visitors through “stunning and informative temporary and permanent exhibits, innovative programming, talks and seminars, and digital experiences”. The spaces within the centre will be defined by three key audiences.

RBG Kew has initially proposed two seasonally changing and flexible exhibition rooms, one for family audiences “featuring hands on components and discovery-based learning” and the other targeting adults and featuring “more academic/challenging” content. In the evening, the Science Engagement Centre will evolve to appeal to the previously hard-to-reach young adult audiences for “after dark encounters with Kew science” that highlight “the interface between art and science”, according to the brief.

“Cutting-edge audio-visual experiences” are a must, says RBG Kew, as is the adaptability of exhibition space, so that Kew staff, contractors or other artists and designers can easily change it for a seasonal programme of themed exhibitions.

Authentication at RBG Kew

In regard to the interpretive approach, the brief mentions “visitor focused and layered interpretation techniques” that serve to provide “an entry point into Kew’s storytelling for as many different users as possible”. To further engage visitors, RBG Kew suggests finding ways that reveal “the typically inaccessible”, from experts and hidden histories to “the voices of those not typically heard in botanic gardens storytelling or rarely accessible habitats, plants and fungi”.

The brief continuously mentions a desire to inspire “personal action towards a more sustainable future and ongoing support of Kew”, which includes supporting return visits through a sense that “there will always be more to see and experience”.

The designers should also “mindfully approach IDEA” (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access) and ensure that as many different learners as possible can access the experience fully.

The chosen design studio must consider that Kew receives up to 20k visitors a day with an average dwell time of 3.5hrs, meaning the visitor flow through the building and exhibition space will need to be carefully mapped out. RBG Kew also asks that the exhibition space and design is linked to the external landscape, “bringing the outside in and vice versa”.

Expressions of interest must be submitted by 12pm on 9 August 2023. As studio will be appointed on 30 August 2023. Find out more about the opportunity here.

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