On the site of the world’s first factory, Derby Museums is transforming the historic Silk Mill Museum as a Museum of Making, by involving members of the community to reinstate the intrinsic local history and innovation once discovered in the rich foundations of the building. The Silk Mill Museum has re-emerged as a collaborative space curated and designed by the community in a radically new approach to re-imagining a museum.
In 2012, responsibility for the museum was transferred to the newly established Derby Museums Trust, who had the task of creating a space and experience that could reignite the public’s interest. The Trust appointed architects Bauman & Lyons to assist with the general refurbishment of the ground floor of the building and commissioned design practice Studio TILT to support the engagement with the community in codesigning and comaking this space.
Studio TILT became the ‘Makers in Residence’ for the project. Working closely with the museum team, they developed a programme for the design, fit-out and programming of the space using their highly acclaimed codesign method.
The Re:Make project enabled participants from Derby and beyond, to become ‘citizen curators’. By encouraging people to take an active part in the design and delivery of their museum, they reconnected with the city’s roots in creativity and engineering. Participants had the chance to connect with others, share and develop skills and get hands on experience in making, in order to build community, confidence and potentially lead to new opportunities.
Every aspect of the museum’s design and curation was a part of the codesign workshops, with exploration into the function and form of everything needed for a flexible museum space – from service offerings and furniture to exhibition cases and fittings.
Studio TILT synthesised the outputs of the codesign process to produce an overall scheme for the space. The plans created a comprehensive family of furniture, fittings and products to enable this radical new concept for a museum. An overarching vision for the space informed by the process, reflecting the 18th Century Enlightenment and the Museum’s Vision. Derby Museums aim to expand perspectives of what a museum is and can be is at the heart of the Silk Mill’s renaissance: to cultivate ideas, test and innovate.
Prototyping and Comaking
The first comake activity was the production of the onsite ‘Prototyping and Project Lab’, where all the ideas could be brought to life. Volunteers helped to model, test, make and assemble the various design elements using industry standard parametric design, CNC routing, laser cutting, 3D printing, alongside equipment for woodwork, metalwork, textile, plastics, and electronics. A programme of skill sharing, outreach and demonstrations were implemented alongside the comake, bringing schools and companies in to take part.
The diversity of people participating was remarkable, involving many different ages, occupations and interests. There were children coming along with their parents, professionals, retired people, unemployed people and those unwinding after work.
Over the course of the codesign, thousands of volunteer hours were contributed. In addition to growing a resilient community, exchanging skills and building networks, those taking part improved their sense of wellbeing. During the project, representatives of the University of Derby measured cortisol levels amongst volunteers before and after codesign and comaking. The results showed significant boost in peoples’ immune system afterwards, leading to the conclusion that participation in creative and social activities is stimulating and can provide health benefits.
The new Silk Mill ground floor museum space is an interdisciplinary, multi-dimensional and inclusive space, mixing materials, shapes, making processes and object installations to create an experiential museum space.
The dynamic and flexible space, include objects from the museum collections, presented alongside the work of the community of modern makers and the items in the shop. The café focuses the social centre of the space at the entrance, leading through exhibits, to the workshops and prototyping labs. Overall the space can accommodate coworking, events, conferences, school sessions, and training. The collaborative design and make process led to an enthusiastic anticipation amongst the public about the next stage of the museum’s development. It has reignited many peoples’ passion for the space and succeeded in making it relevant in the local community’s activities once more.