Inside ACMI’s ambitious museum design

As Melbourne’s newly revamped screen culture museum reopens, we talk to chief experience officer Seb Chan about building a multiplatform experience that straddles analogue and digital

The Australia Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) is dedicated to all things screen culture, from film to gaming to digital art and culture. After a two-year, $40m AUD redevelopment, the museum reopened this month, unveiling sweeping transformations to the physical space as well as to what’s going on under the bonnet. “Creating this completely rebuilt museum with these three strands of change – programmatic change, technological change, and architectural change, all happening at once – has allowed us to create what I would think is a museum that has new muscles to do different types of things for the world we’re now in,” chief experience office Seb Chan tells us.

“Museums have tried to change little bits of things that end up being bitsy and miss the opportunities that come with doing a wholesale redesign,” he says. “This is the great opportunity of doing the whole thing in one go: it lets you unite a design language across everything.” From the identity developed by North to the striking exhibit design by Razorfish (formerly Second Story), ACMI enlisted an array of partner companies to work on a dramatic overhaul of the museum.

Chan, whose practice is rooted in social theory and change, was heavily involved in the music scene in Australia, putting on parties and illegal raves. “I think like a lot of experience designers, I come from the events world,” he says. He eventually established a career in working with museums and technology, including the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney (“like a combination between the Science Museum and the V&A”) and later the Smithsonian, working with the late Bill Moggridge, IDEO co-founder and director of New York’s Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum.

Chan went on to join the ACMI team under the museum’s director and CEO Katrina Sedgwick, who similarly came from an events background, having founded the Sydney Fringe Festival in 1995 and later becoming founding director and CEO of the Adelaide Film Festival. “I think we’ve been very fortunate in that we have a director that’s come from the festivals world, who’s not come out of museums, and is very much about seeing the museum as a place that allows new things to become possible,” Chan says.

Top: ACMI exterior. Above: ACMI’s identity and wordmark developed by North. Images: Shannon McGrath

JUNIOR GRAPHIC DESIGNER

Milton Keynes