The Novium - design offers flexibility for curators

The exhibition design for The Novium museum in Chichester has an open-ended content framework and provides maximum flexibility for curators to change the displays and graphics frequently 


Chichester’s new museum The Novium has opened with a new 1300m2 building by Keith Williams Architects and galleries designed by Event Communications.

The Novium has a vast and broad collection numbering around 150,000 items and is particularly known for its Roman artefacts and social history collections.

The new museum displays the excavated remains of the Roman baths at its entrance, making them an intrinsic and special feature of the building. Above, the new galleries are stacked vertically on three levels culminating with a rewarding view across the city to the cathedral.

Event’s exhibition design is mindful of the architect’s vision – characterised by clean lines and calm interiors – and so uses minimalist interpretation and design styling. The brief was to deliver a new exhibition design system with maximum flexibility in terms of enabling in-house curators to change the displays and graphic approach frequently, and with an open-ended content framework.

The new displays have been organised by the museum’s in-house team with the idea is that visitors will feel they have entered a hidden world of treasures and experiences with plenty of handling opportunities to engage with the objects.

Event’s creative strategy takes a thematic rather than chronological approach. On entering, visitors are greeted with a view of the remains of the Roman baths excavated at the site in 1974. Above the baths, along the back wall an 11m long projection brings to life how the baths were originally used. An attractor loop then entices visitors towards the stairs by screening animations of the artefacts displayed on the floors above.


On the first floor the organising theme is ‘Places’. At the centre of space is a glass cube ‘treasure box’, acting as a room within a room. With a high concentration of object display, the first floor features impressive archaeological finds linked to Roman and Saxon burial rites and rituals. Objects that played a part in places significant to Chichester’s trade, commercial, technology and transport in the past are also displayed here.


On the second Floor ‘Emotions’ leads the interpretation, based on people’s experiences and feelings. With objects primarily around the room’s perimeter, visitors can move freely to explore the stories by opening cases and drawers, through handling and using interactives. Held by clear acrylic supports, objects extend out of the cabinets by varied widths, lending a more dynamic, rather than static element to the displays.

The design of the space offers the chance to ‘get behind the scenes’. Almost as if it’s been turned inside out, the design aesthetic takes elements from archives and inspiration from the stores at the Fishbourne Roman Palace, also in West Sussex. It plays on the idea of discovering the collections for the first time and getting up close to the object. Archive boxes, forming part of the display cases, and labels in faded colours recalling old-fashioned index labels both add to the sense of gaining a sneak peek into the storage of operations of a museum. Practical solutions including a bespoke, highly flexible mount system as well as cost-effective templates, which facilitate the in-house printing of graphics and object labels.
 The new building and exhibitions will ensure the city’s museum is one of the UK’s most exciting regional showcases of local history and contemporary learning.


The Novium team
Exhibition design: Event Communications Ltd
Fit out: The Hub Ltd
Mounts: National Museums Liverpool
Showcases: Meyvaert
AVSW: Centre Screen
AVHW: 21st Century AV
Conservation: Richard Rogers
Project Management: Appleyards
CDM: Harris Porter