Bedford galleries to get design overhaul

The first phase of an extensive overhaul of Bedford’s applied and fine arts museum and galleries is underway, following a number of architect and design consultancy appointments.

Exhibition consultancy Designmap has been contracted to come up with three different design schemes and costings for the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, while Devon group Imagemakers has been engaged to develop the adjacent building, the Bedford Museum.

London architect Inskip & Jenkins is restoring a third building – the Bedford Gallery – which has been unused for the past 35 years. The second phase of the development will encompass detailed design and build, dependent on funding and planning.

John Moore, director of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery & Bedford Muse ums, explains the aim is to unite the three physically separate buildings, though how the project will pan out is still unclear, again due to funding and planning issues.

The first phase – the restoration of the Bedford Gallery – is being funded with a £2.5m grant from the Depart ment for Communities and Local Government. Although some funding for the second and third phases has been secured already, Moore says, additional sources may still need to be identified.

The gallery, which describes itself as a ‘mini-Victoria & Albert Museum’ and houses a collection of decora tive and fine arts, is due to open next year. The revamp will mean extra space for exhibitions, events and corporate hospita lity, as well as storage for the collections.

Designmap clinched its six figure contract last month, following a rigorous public tender process and a threeway, unpaid creative pitch.

The gallery has briefed Designmap to create proposals and a set of cost options for the permanent exhibition design, exhibition graphics and interactive elements, as well to develop content and recommend use of space for the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery. Appoint ment to the next phase, which would include detailed design and build, will be dependent on the success of the first.

Explaining the consultan cy’s approach to the exhibition design, Designmap director Daniel Sutton says, ‘It’s a pretty eclectic collection of applied arts, span ning most of the major design movements of the past 150 years, from Rococo to Modern ism. Cecil Higgins was a local benefactor. We’re looking at a chronological approach but mixing it with elements [that show] the character of [Cecil Higgins].’

One of the main considerations for the museum, Sutton says, is budget, and Designmap’s aim is to achieve a V&A standard of interior design, but with the budget constraints of a provincial museum.

‘We’re going to achieve this with a clever design, effectively using materials and being involved in the process of content development,’ he says.

Involvement in the content development can help achieve a tighter design, according to Sutton. The complexity of the space will also mean that coherence between galleries and rooms, as well as smooth visitor navigation, will be key considerations of the project.

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