New Visitor Centre on St Michael's Mount
Skellon Studio and Planning Unit were commissioned by the St Aubyn Estates and the National Trust to create a new visitor centre at St Michael’s Mount in the Old Barge House on the harbour front. The brief was to create a space where visitors could be welcomed, orient themselves and plan their visit, learn about the history of the Mount and gain an insight into island life. A key requirement was also to give disabled visitors, who would be unable to reach the more rugged upper limits of the Mount, a meaningful experience of its geography and history. We also needed to be mindful that the Barge House is prone to flooding!
Our approach was to create a simple, elegant installation that felt at home within the refurbished building. The main wall display consists of a simple graphic presentation of a variety of information about the island and the life of the island community. In the foreground to this display, three other evocative displays bring the Mount to life: a display of postcards showing the Mount through visitor’s eyes over the years; a table top model of the Mount cast from copper; and a film that captures the life and seasons of the Mount through a day and across a year.
Drawing on its past life as a boat store our design solution was to use ash timber frames for the graphic displays of information and postcards. Hand-crafted to an exceptional quality by exhibition contractor Scena the frames hang off the walls allowing the main graphics to be quickly hinged up and fixed from the ceiling, saving them from the rising tides. Slotted into the frames in a rhythmic system of layering and tonal change, the graphics provide interesting facts, a historical timeline, sections on the gardens and the castle, ’must sees’ and other information to help visitors plan their day. We thought it important not to overwhelm visitors with too much information, but provide glimpses of what the island had to offer. By providing a hierarchy of content, visitors have the opportunity to dwell for some time to take in more extensive information, or engage with it quickly and still gain valuable insight into the Mount.
The model of the island made by local artist Tom Leaper gives visitors a real hands-on chance to sense the rugged form of the Mount as a totality This is also of value for physically disabled visitors who can’t go up the Mount, and functions as a three dimensional map of the island for visually impaired visitors.
If the model gives visitors the chance to get to grips with a sense of the unchanging form of Mount, the film made by Light Colour Sound, shown on the end wall of the Barge House, gives them a sense of the Mount through time. The film captures the raw beauty of the island through spectacular imagery filmed throughout the seasons, within the structure of a single day. It also gives visitors a chance to see some of the work that goes into running the Mount and how it feels after the visitors have left the island. Full accounts of the life of the Mount are given alongside the film on graphic panels that show portraits and interviews with key characters from the Mount including the local builder and head boatman.
Finally, to tell the history of tourism on the Mount, we came up with the idea of a two-sided postcard display. Through historical postcards, visitors can see how the Mount has changed over the past 100 years, and by reading the backs, visitors can see messages that tourists to St Michael’s Mount and Cornwall wrote to their families and friends, giving a historic perspective to their own visit to the Mount.
Katherine Skellon is an interpretative designer with over 20 years of experience creating museums and exhibitions in the UK and internationally. Having worked for some of the top museum design companies in the UK, Katherine set up Skellon Studio in 2014.
Katherine has experience working on a vast range of projects both small and large that includes The Crown Jewels, Tower of London; National Maritime Museum Cornwall; Oculus, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (Arts Fund Prize winner 2012) Alongside her practise, Katherine has been active in exploring the thinking behind museum design, teaching exhibition design, presenting at conferences and leading workshops aimed at investigating and progressing questions of how museums effectively design the experiences visitors gain. Katherine formed Skellon Studio with the aim of bringing these two sides together, creating her own platform from which to enable museums to explore new approaches to museum and exhibition design.
Skellon Studio is currently designing a temporary exhibition of the Great Fire of London for the Museum of London, opening in July 2016.
Planning Unit is a leading London-based creative design studio founded in 2011. Our core principles are: branding, graphic design, digital and environmental space. Whether working for a global brand or local start-ups, we focus on discovering and expressing the unique voice and vision of our clients. “We look to unify a ‘experience ’ creating a seamless visual experience — from installation, through design and into the digital experience — taking our branding experience into the exhibition environment.”
Planning Unit have worked with Clients such as The BBC, The V&A, Play Station, Salomon, Taschen, Adidas and Nike.
Written by Katherine Skellon and Jeff Knowles