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Case Study: Churchill Museum

Client: Imperial War Museum
Agency: Nick Bell Design
Award: Yellow Pencil / Environmental Design / Exhibitions, Museums & Installations / 2006

With its unique subject and historic location, deep within London’s Cabinet War Rooms, and its radical design approach, the Churchill Museum was always going to be special. The aim of the museum, which covers more than 9,000 square feet, is to represent the life and work of Winston Churchill.

But this is no hagiography. From the outset, there was a collective desire to do more than simply tell Churchill’s life story; the team wanted to give a real and honest insight into the man himself, revealing both his private and his public personae, his talents and flaws, his triumphs and controversies.

This is the first museum in Britain solely dedicated to the life and work of a politician and, as such, had no precedent to help or hinder its progress. The award-winning Churchill Museum was officially opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 10 February 2005, two years after the project was first mooted.

Casson Mann initially responded to the Imperial War Museum’s tender notice in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU). It was one of six design companies invited to take part in a paid pitch before finally winning the tender to design the exhibition. Casson Mann’s previous work for both the Science Museum and the V&A, the two projects the museum team visited before making their final decision, was clearly a factor that impressed. ‘In design terms we thought their concept was the best-thought-out solution – and we also felt they were a team we could work very well with,’ recalls Churchill Museum director Phil Reed.

A strong client-creative relationship can mean the difference between the success and failure of a project but no two relationships are the same and how this strength is achieved differs, not only with each project but also depending on the individuals involved. On this occasion, both sides quickly moved towards a frank and honest relationship founded on mutual respect. ‘We had a lot of rigorous conversations and debate about things and we didn’t always see eye to eye by any means, but they always had enormous faith in our skills as designers and, likewise, we had a lot of respect for where they were coming from in terms of the research, the content and the stories,’ explains Roger Mann.

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