The Great Pagoda, Kew Gardens
Historic Royal Palaces | 2018
Historic Royal Palaces undertook a major project to restore the Great Pagoda at Kew Gardens to its former glory and reopen it to the public. The restoration included reinstating the original colour scheme and recreating the dragons which had originally adorned its roofs. Inside, HRP wanted to tell the history of the Pagoda by way of sensitive interpretations that were in keeping with the spirit of the Pagoda.
In 2015, Skellon Studio entered an open competition to prototype discreet ideas for the interpretation. We had so many ideas that HRP took us on as the sole exhibition designers.
We proposed automata as a major part of the interpretation because the Pagoda was built in 1762 in the heyday of British automata-production, which wealthy Chinese (and the Chinese Emperor) were keen to buy. We also felt that automata could retain a sense of the magic and intrigue that the Pagoda evokes.
Through an evolving process, we worked with HRP to hone the interpretation, select and commission automaton-maker Fi Henshall to produce two major automata that told the stories of the Pagoda, and select and commission Lucille Clerc to illustrate the history on the walls.
One automata shows the architect William Chambers on his visit to Canton where he studied the pagodas, and the other shows the royal family strolling through Kew Gardens looking at the follies he designed.
Aside from the story of the building itself, HRP wanted to tell the story of the Pagoda's use as a smoke-bomb test site during World War Two. We were pleased they were brave enough to cut through the floor to reveal the bomb drop.
In developing the exhibition, we collaborated with:
Margot Lombaert: Graphic Design
Fi Henshall: Automata
Lucille Clerc: Illustration
Sebastian Cox: Cabinetry
Richard Glassborow: Interactive Consultancy
The Great Pagoda, HRP
Photos by John Chase and © Historic Royal Palaces / Richard Lea-Hair