A pioneering community-curated museum
The vision for Bristol’s new M Shed museum was bold and radical: to completely reimagine, redefine and revamp the concept of a city museum. Working with the M Shed team, we moved away from traditional notions of a museum – static, institutional, backward-looking.
Instead, we created the country’s first truly community-curated museum. One that is designed by the community, not just for the community. One built in response to ongoing conversations with the public. One that interprets objects to make them as relevant to people today as they were in the past.
An expression of the community; part of the city’s fabric
Community ownership was the defining ethos. Working in partnership with the team at M Shed, we began by opening a dialogue with the city. An ambitious and extensive community engagement programme included co-creation workshops, city-wide mail outs and specialist focus groups. From academics to families, we listened to the community’s hopes and dreams for their own city museum.
We developed our design concept – A Storehouse of Memories – in direct response to these conversations. Our interpretive structure positions the museums as a repository of the city’s people – past and present. Their words are heard throughout. Areas of the museum are entirely community curated. Visitors actively participate their own memories of the city, keeping the content fresh and relevant.
Leading the way for others
History is told from the bottom up. Old stories of power and commerce are balanced with tales of the everyday people who make the city what it is – dockworkers feature as much as the rich merchants who employed them. Object interpretation provokes contemporary debates – what can an Inuit coat tell us about race relations today?
The museum is an icon of Bristol’s redeveloped harbourfront. Housed in a 1950s transit shed, once part of a cargo wharf, the building is now flanked by four refurbished cranes and a working goods train that transports visitors along the front.
Today, it is not just part of the city’s identity; it remains a pioneering example of community curation that has set the standard for community engagement projects around the world.
LAB Architecture Studio