We have been developing, designing and delivering experiences for museums and visitor attractions around the world since 1986. Our core philosophy is based around a user-centric perspective, where visitor behaviour and narrative intersect to define spaces and the types of experiential interventions that might take place within them. Since this is the reverse of how interior design is usually commissioned, we call it ‘design from the inside out’.
This standpoint gets fullest reign in those projects where their involvement can lead or shape the architectural workflow, especially in our capacity as interpretive masterplanners. It is in these circumstances that we are able to truly ‘think big’.
Any institution that embarks upon a masterplanning process has already taken a huge and vital step – it has signalled the need for an agenda for change. The best masterplans seek to fully embody the vision, mission and mandate of an organisation – they define principles more than solutions, and they aim to outlast current leadership, governance and operating practice to retain enough ‘float’ for an as yet unknown distant future.
It is in such a context that we were one of a handful of firms invited in 2015 to develop an interpretive design approach for a new Hans Christian Andersen Museum. Within recent years, the City of Odense, Denmark, has embarked on a transformative urban regeneration project, removing a modern highway that severed its historic core, and opening up a new public realm. This presented a chance to give the existing museum, in Andersen’s boyhood home, opportunity to expand into a flagship tourist attraction, harnessing the worldwide appeal of his stories and becoming the physical and emotional core of the re-energised city.
Over a period of four months, we worked in close dialogue with the museum team in a content study competition – mapping the curatorial intent to the various user journeys to create an ‘experiential score’ that would then provide the template for every aspect of the new museum. Our competition-winning proposal brought Andersen’s stories to life, inviting visitors to suspend their disbelief and heightening their sensibilities. At its core, it taps into a fundamental aspect of fairytales – they are journeys where the line between the everyday and the transformative is blurred.
Our concept provided the inspiration and brief for an international architectural competition for the new museum – the submissions were judged, in no small part, by how well they supported and responded to our concept. The eventual winner, Kengo Kuma Architectural Associates, conceived a building that wraps the architectural structural around the exhibition concept, creating an elegant and magical symbioses. From their appointment through to the museum’s opening, we worked side by side with Kengo Kuma to develop the building and visitor experience as a single, integrated entity.
Today, the museum is an exemplar of designing ‘from the inside out’. Press reviews attest to that. The Frankfurter Allgemeine write that ‘the experience is particularly beautiful where the installations react to the architecture and thus to the environment [for example, when] the basement opens horizontally into a garden that is at the same height, like a sunken garden.' While Jane Jegind, Odense’s alderwoman for urban and cultural affairs, described the new museum as 'an interconnected whole that clearly captures the spirit of Andersen and brings out the essence of the City of Odense at the same time... [it] is both ingenious and magical.'