Site Visit – Object selection

We returned to the Silk Mill to select a handful of objects with varying storage requirements. The archive includes small treasures as well as gigantic relics of industry.


We outlined our needs to curator Daniel. We needed a range of sizes, handling requirements and storage requirements. For security reasons, Daniel must accompany us in the archives although we wouldn’t have been able to select a more suitable range of objects without him. The image above is a thread counter, a relic from the working days of the Silk Mill.


As seen in the image above, the Silk Mill had previously displayed their collection of bicycles using bent pieces of clear acrylic to support the wheels. The information was then cut onto the surface of the acrylic. In varying states of decay and disrepair, the bicycles pose an interesting question for our display/storage solutions. Some had exquisite details in the handlebars, seats and gear mechanisms.


We took the chance to collect data and measurements from the archive. The objects that were selected were then measured and photographed so that they could return to the archive and we could work without constant need for them.

151007_In the workshop

In no particular order:

More photographs can be found in our LIVE ARCHIVE – SELECTED OBJECTS

Selecting these objects will allow us to develop specific responses in our designs as well general strategies for dealing with similar handling and conservation requirements.

Studio Meeting

05.10.15 In the Studio

A group meeting was called in the Arts Tower here in Sheffield to further develop our initial ideas and to review the brief as currently understood. As the tasks become more clearly defined, we can begin to break up the jobs and organise our workflow.

BRIEF redrawn

It is important to revisit these diagrams to ensure a thorough approach to our design development.


Remote Research – Museum Visits

New to SSoA this year are our Collaborative Practice peers. Emma practices in London and so is well placed to visit and understand the capital city’s museum Zeitgeist. Below are her reflections on her first round of museum visits:

All images can be found in our LIVE ARCHIVE – Museum Visits

It has been interesting to visit the museums that many of us know well, and look at the methods of display, rather than purely focus on what is displayed.

Sir John Soane’s Museum

Firstly I visited The Sir John Soane Museum. This tackles the issue of housing many objects, of different scales in a confined space. The spaces are laid out as they were when John Soane lived in the house, so some of the rooms are sparse and domestic, whilst others act as cluttered museum spaces. Most of this collection is to the rear of the house, where he could display a large number of items to his students.

An interesting effect created by the museum is the contrast between small, dark spaces and larger, lighter spaces. In the smaller spaces you are forced to look at items in detail, but you are then drawn out into the wider space where the overall effect is dramatic. In the open spaces your eyes focus on the larger items initially, and then take in everything else around it. The John Soane Museum also uses a simple technique of placing thistles on furniture, so that no-one sits on them.

Hunterian Museum
Hunterian Museum

The Hunterian Museum was another large spectacle made up of smaller objects and the lighting detail helped to turn the room into a glittering display. The cabinets are arranged in a circle, and viewable from both sides. The lights within these are directed towards the central space, so that when you are in the middle, all of the lights are visible and sparkle through the various glass containers. The focal point of the exhibition (a skeleton of an Irish giant) is place at the opposite end of the space to the entrance, which leads people through the central space.

Foundling Museum
Foundling Museum

The Foundling Museum has a layout which leads people around the exhibit, caused by the linear shape of the displays. Visitors are therefore more likely to look at every item, rather than be overwhelmed by the whole exhibit at once. The dinosaur exhibition in The Natural History Museum also uses displays to weave people around the room. Here is it used form a story of events, which visitors are led through.

The Foundling museum also has a small room on the upper floors which is devoted to the composer Handle. The room is cosy with chairs which have high sides and speakers within them, so that people can listen to recordings. The room also has a window into secure storage rooms where books containing Handle’s work are kept.

British Museum
British Museum

The British Museum uses very traditional techniques of display. Items tend to be housed in traditional glass cabinets, or behind low railings. There are also many signs which tell people “do not touch” or “do not photograph”. It would be interesting to find methods of display, which do not require these distracting signs. In certain areas the cases are more sleek and modern due to details such as lighting. In an exhibition of Korean pottery, the lights created a similar glittering effect to the Hunertian museum. The light are positioned on vertical poles and are directed sideways at the objects, so when the cabinet is looked at from an angle, the whole wall lights up.

A technique used in many exhibits at The British Museum is to create a large coherent display or centre piece from small objects. For example in the “Africa” display, there was a large, twisting sculpture made up of pots, which makes these small items more of a focal point. Hanging large objects from the ceiling also creates varied and interesting displays.

A small, temporary exhibit within The British Museum was an interesting example of using a consistent display technique. A metal, box-like framework was used for each display, and items were displayed on one side of the framework, or within it, which creates a coherent exhibition.

Science Museum
Science Museum

The Science Museum, is known for it’s interactive displays. One display had a drill, powered by a lever. The drill itself was inside a perspex box, but the lever protruded from it, so the drill could be used safely. Another display used large magnifying glasses, which you could move to see ice forming. The use of magnifying glasses or mirrors could add interaction to any delicate items.

The Science Museum also has exhibits which are very relevant to what will be shown at Derby Silk Mill. For example there are large industrial items, protected by railings, next to large cabinets full of small, intricate items. In one space they have made a small, low-lit room within the space, which houses lots of smaller objects connected to James Watt. This is a similar technique to the John Soane exhibition, which forces us to go up to and focus on the smaller items.

Another detail is the integration of benches into the displays. There are long wooden benches running down the centre the spaces, with glass boxes within the benches, and onto of them. This helps to create a more interactive display.

The Science Museum also played with the notion of a “do not touch sign” in one display. They had a pole which looked like an electrical device in the centre of a room, with the words “do not touch” circling it. The temptation was too much for most, and I saw many people going up to touch the pole.

A consistent detail across much of the museum was glass fins, which were primarily used as support for larger display cabinets. In some areas it also seems to divide up the long cases, so people could concentrate on a single item. The use of this across the displays also helped to create a coherent exhibition.

Natural History Museum
Natural History Museum

The Cocoon in The Natural History Museum is an spectacular addition to the museum. It is an eight storey structure which houses millions of plants and insects. Visitors can ramp down inside the cocoon, and peer through windows into the store rooms behind. You can also see into a small library, which has simple, curved wooden shelving. These techniques allow visitors to see how large the collection is, and see people sorting these items, without everything being on display.

Precedents and Initial Ideas

After considering everything that we had seen at the Silk Mill, our group reconvened to discuss our initial ideas.

Some interesting precedents included display/storage walls that can easily be manipulated by users to curate their own display.


Revisiting the brief brought up key requirements for the units and the objects that they intend to hold.

151012_NKT_SK cabinet concept 2

We developed our ideas individually to try and create various design strands. Whilst some group members looked at the spaces in the museum, others studied modular unit designs.

151012_SS_room sketch


LIVE ARCHIVE – Precedents

LIVE ARCHIVE – First Initial Sketches


To get a grip of who is involved with the greater development project of Derby Silk Mill we investigated the stakeholders to draw links and possibly unearth requirements that we had not previously considered.

The exercise allowed us to consider gaps in the brief as well as identifying people/groups that could benefit from our research.

Stakeholder Diagram

First Site Visit


First Site Visit – Live Archive

Today we visited Derby Silk Mill for the first time to meet Daniel and the archive. Located about 20 minutes on foot from Derby Station we approached the museum via the city centre walking through Cathedral Quarter’s Victorian Market Hall.

Derby market

Derby Silk Mill (formerly known as Derby Industrial Museum) is currently working towards reopening as Derby Silk Mill – Museum of Making in 2019/2020.

You can read more about this at the Derby Museums website along with further information about the Mill itself via Wikipedia

DSM Workshop

The ground floor of the Mill is the only floor currently open to the public, with the museum archives and offices on the floors above. A traditional workshop sits adjacent to a ‘clean’ workshop space which sports a suite of computers and modern fabrication tools such as a 3D printer, laser cutter and vinyl cutter.

DSM Workshop 3D Printed

Steve, originally an industrial pattern maker by trade, now heads up the workshop, providing support and advice for visiting makers and the museum staff. As well as the digital fabrication tools, there is a range of more traditional workshop machines.

DSM Workshop Lathe

This lathe above is for turning metal although it currently is used for timber. There is a real sense of self-making here at Derby Silk Mill, wherever possible, workshop jigs, storage and tables have been made in-house such as this sandpaper tidy below:


As well as the pragmatic, the workshop aims to produce everything required and related to museum furniture, storage and signage. The results of many an experiment can be found all over the workshop.

DSM Workshop tools

In the back of the workshop you can find a flatbed CNC milling machine which has been used to create the bar/shop as well as activity stations in the main museum space. This machine could be the key to creating easy-to-assemble, fixture free, modular storage units.


DSM Workshop CNC

The current display units have been made in the museum workshop and sit alongside other permanent exhibits. Derby’s rich industrial past is difficult to represent in a space such as the Silk Mill. A lot of the collection has varying spatial requirements ranging from small units to entire hangers.

DSM Display RR Engine

With our heads spinning with possible fabrication methods and speculative designs, Daniel took us behind the scenes of the museum into the archives. We knew that the museum had a large repository of objects and artefacts but nothing could quite prepare us for the reality of the situation.

With approximately 250,000-300,000 objects, records only exist for roughly 128,000 of them and 20 are currently on display.

DSM Archive Bricks

The first floor British Rail archive was mixed in with other industrial relics such as this POS for various brick types above. The further we ventured into the collection, the clearer the scale of the redevelopment task appeared. Objects become mixed indiscriminately whilst the collection continues to grow almost at odds with the curators’ efforts to organise them.

You can view more of our journey into the collection through our LIVE ARCHIVE.

Following the Silk Mill, we walked a short distance into Derby City centre to the Nature Gallery of the main museum. The workshop at the Silk Mill had previously created the museum display in their workshop using the same birch faced plywood seen throughout.

DM Display examples (2)

The mix of timber and acrylics really gave us an idea of the possibilities as well as some fundamental expectations for the project.


First Group Meeting

28.09.15 Group Meeting

Excitedly we meet for the first time but it turns out we aren’t fully represented thanks to a typhoon and visa issues keeping some of our international peers grounded!

Our mentors Renata Tyszczuk and Julia Udall give us an introduction to Derby Silk Mill along with their research project Stories of Change (you can read more here at

The first visit to the museum will take place tomorrow, the entire group has an interest in making so it’ll be interesting to see what our individual influences are. In the meantime, we are gathering information and images. From our early discussions there seems to be a wide selection of different precedents and existing projects that spring to each of our minds when looking at the outline brief from Daniel Martin, Curator of Making at the Derby Silk Mill below:

Project Aims for Collections

There is now considerable experience across the country, and abroad, in operating visible storage solutions. The range of approaches stretches from an accompanied-access ‘Discovery Centre’ style solution, as used by Leeds Museums and Galleries, to a fully-accessible gallery-style visible storage solution, as used by the Brooklyn Museum in their Henry R. Luce Center for the Study of American Art Visible Storage Study Centre and the National Railway Museum in their ‘Warehouse’ display.

Through a combination of visible storage and digital access, visitors to Derby Silk Mill will be able to access the entire Collections of Making and Social History during their visit. Utilising digital interaction, users will be able to form their own links through the collections and explore themes and narratives that could potentially provide them with a sense of ownership, both of the collection and of the city they represent.


It is hoped that the outcome of this Live Project will help to inform the direction of the visible storage solution and will form the basis of a wider co-production project that sees volunteers from the city of Derby making the visible storage solution in partnership with the Silk Mill. Put simply, whatever is created as an output of the Live Project should, in principle, be able to be replicated in-house and by co-production volunteers using sustainable materials that can be easily sourced and worked in our workshops. This would ensure a meaningful legacy for the project and provide new, wide-reaching opportunities for co-production volunteers during the capital works.

The project direction may also be influenced by the project architects and exhibition designers, who will be stakeholders in the overall DSMMoM project. This provides an additional opportunity for the students to work on a live brief. This project will involve working at the Makers Space and Workshops at Derby Silk Mill. Students will receive an induction and support from the skilled team.

The design should be consistent with the overall vision for the visible storage solution and that of the Museum of Making as a whole. They must also meet the Benchmarks in Collections Care and Arts Council England Accreditation standard for object display and conservation. The Curator of Making, Daniel Martin will coordinate this. The key requirements concern:

  • Light
  • Temperature
  • RH and moisture
  • Materials
  • Pest control
  • Security
  • Handling and access

The Live Project will help shape the future of a World Heritage Site, and make a difference to the lives of people in the city, Derby Silk Mill and Stories of Change.

(Edited text from Daniel Martin- Derby Silk Mill Curator of Making)