Museum Kaap Skil, Texel – a place devoted to discoveries made by fishers, divers, and beachcombers, showcasing a variety of treasures from the sea. As a place with reuse values at its core, the case study sheds light on circularity in exhibition design, but also on the practice and stories of beachcombers, technical difficulties, and the sharing and learning from failures.
PROJECT Design and installation of the new (semi-)permanent presentation of the two exhibitions in the main building: ‘Palmwood wreck’ and ‘World Voyage’.
INCENTIVE With the discovery of the Palmwood wreck by local divers, the museum has acquired a distinctive collection of 17th-century objects, including an intact silk dress. A completely new exhibition has been crafted for this purpose.
Furthermore, through ‘World Voyage,’ the museum sought to depict the narrative of 16th to 18th century global trade in a more modern light, accentuating a multi-faceted perspective.
PROJECT SIZE Approx. 370 sqm of exhibition space
LOCATION Main building of Museum Kaap Skil in Oudeschild, Texel (NL), basement (Palmwood wreck) and first floor (World Voyage).
TIME PERIOD 2019–2022
CIRCULAR AND SUSTAINABLE AMBITIONS Maximum reuse and repurposing of the existing exhibition at Museum Kaap Skil. It also included an ambition to use local labor and locally sourced materials in the additional construction.
The following conversation with Marije Remigius, interviewed by Marieke van den Heuvel, is a part of an in-depth exploration of the potential and challenges of circular exhibition design, illustrated by Museum Kaap Skil.
Marije Remigius is an enthusiastic advocate for circular exhibitions. In the Museum Kaap Skil project, she embraced a dual role as a sustainability consultant from Circu-leren and stepping in as a project manager at interior builder Fiction Factory.
MvdH: How do you balance your responsibilities between Fiction Factory and Circu-leren?
MR: I dedicate three days a week to Fiction Factory, where my primary focus lies in fostering sustainability within interior design projects. Additionally, I established my own company, Circu-leren, with the aim of engaging with companies and organizations earlier in a design process, supporting them in defining their circular ambitions right from the outset, particularly during the tendering phase. Often, a lack of understanding of construction processes and materials, even within the design realm, hinders initiating systemic change. Unfortunately, in interior design, it’s not yet common practice for a consultant to be involved in projects from the very outset. However, I’m determined to change this. My goal isn’t just to collaborate with a single builder but to engage with as many stakeholders as possible, recognizing that the entire sector needs to transition towards circular practices. Luckily, Fiction Factory also places great importance on fostering a collaborative community.
In the context of Museum Kaap Skil, I personally became involved through Circu-leren, while Fiction Factory joined the project later in the process. I also took on some project management duties after Thomas, the designated project manager, suffered an unfortunate leg injury. Nevertheless, the initial intention was to keep the roles distinct and separate.
MvdH: When did you begin embracing circular practices in your work?
MR: I experienced a pivotal moment during my sabbatical in 2018 when I delved into circular exhibitions at the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. It dawned on me that much of what I had been creating with Fiction Factory over the past two decades had largely contributed to generating a considerable amount of beautiful waste. Very little of what we had constructed endured, and despite certain modular projects, much was simply discarded. Upon my return, I decided to focus exclusively on circular interior design, particularly within museum contexts due to their high turnover rate of projects. This rapid pace facilitates quick learning and the immediate application of insights, enabling gradual improvement with each endeavor. In addition, the materials in museums are often of high quality because visitors are not allowed to touch anything, rendering them suitable for reuse – though MDF board use remains a challenge.
Over the past year, I’ve become increasingly annoyed by the vagueness embedded in the sustainability ambitions in tender processes. Often, you find a single sentence merely demanding submission of sustainable alternatives for proposed materials. This urged me to be more specific. The 7-Loops concept emerged as a response, based on the seven steps from the R-ladder that are most pertinent to exhibition construction. As I worked on this, an opportunity arose through a grant supporting the development of new sustainable businesses from the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO). Seizing this moment, I collaborated with Opera, Museumgoed [a sustainability initiative specializing in storing and renting exhibition elements, ed.], and Buurman [a company specializing in reclaimed materials, ed.] to further develop the concept collectively.
In the following year, we engaged in the Moonshot project – a second grant – this time in collaboration with Bureau 8080, an advice and project management company in the field of sustainability. This expanded the scope of the earlier research project to encompasses the entire cultural sector, including theaters, event organizations, and festivals. This broader scope aligns with government objectives; however, this expansion showed more overlap with the original research than I initially anticipated. Moreover, the distinctive identity and dynamics of the museum sector occasionally recede within this larger endeavor.
MvdH: What are the results of the Moonshot project?
MR: In the preliminary version of the report, the primary recommendation revolves around addressing circularity comprehensively, with subsidies serving as a steering mechanism for the government. This holds significance as the cultural sector in the Netherlands heavily relies on subsidies. By making sustainability less non-committal, tangible objectives can be established. Naturally, achieving full circularity within the sector will require time.
For us, the most significant outcome of the Moonshot project is the burgeoning community of clients, builders, and designers it has brought together. Despite the delay in the final report, we aimed to maintain the momentum and hosted a FuckUp Night in February 2023 at Fiction Factory. This global event offers a platform to openly share failures. The underlying notion is that failures are more compelling to share than success stories, as they encapsulate vital learning moments for everyone. This event proved highly successful, boasting an impressive turnout and fostering a positive, open dialogue with the audience. Simultaneously, I observe that certain museums still cling to outdated mindsets and reasons why circular initiatives may seem unfeasible, citing factors like limited storage space or higher costs. However, many of these challenges can be addressed collectively. For instance, builders can offer storage facilities, and while circular construction might incur greater expenses, an alternative solution is to construct less.
MvdH: What story did you personally share during the FuckUp Night?
MR: I shared the experience of working on the display cases for Museum Kaap Skil. In the journey of reuse, outcomes frequently diverge from initial estimates, and this project was a significant learning experience in that regard.
[To read more about the shared ‘fuckup’ read the interview with Thomas Kempen, ed.]
MvdH: Your role in the Museum Kaap Skil project centered around overseeing the sustainability trajectory. How did you initiate this process?
MR: In the first session with the museum, we discussed sustainability and circularity as well as exploring ways to integrate these principles. The museum expressed a preference for local labor and materials. However, this posed a challenge as the local supplier we aimed to collaborate with could only provide individual components. Consequently, we decided to entrust the project’s construction to Fiction Factory in Amsterdam while also granting a more substantial role to the museum’s technical department.
To outline the circular aspects of the exhibition, I started by taking stock of both the existing interior and the requirements for the new exhibition. I structured this information into a schedule, encompassing materials and estimated weights. Subsequently, I categorized items into distinct groups: reuse, repurposed, new sustainable, and new default quality. Reuse meant using an element in its existing form, potentially with a fresh coat of paint or powder coating. Repurposing entailed modifications like reshaping display cases through cutting and welding. For the new materials, we pursued options with minimal environmental impact.
Throughout the process, I developed a second schedule that documented the individual products with their precise weight, coupled with a circularity index. Various measurement criteria were employed, such as eco-costs for new materials and the ability for future disassembly of the individual elements. Additionally, I factored in the projected exhibition duration, distributing the impact over a ten-year span. I am presently finalizing the comprehensive report to evaluate the overall impact.
The creation of these two schedules yielded valuable insights by illustrating the ramifications of choices made during the process. My early involvement in the project also enabled me to propose adjustments, such as utilizing more of the pre-existing display cases, an aspect that was initially somewhat underrepresented in Opera’s design.
MvdH: What approach do you employ to unite the various components to calculate impact?
MR: In collaboration with Tess Heeremans from Delft University of Technology, I devised the Inter Matter tool – a method tailored for interior design. This digital tool allows me to categorize and assign sustainability codes to different materials. For assessing the impact of individual materials, I rely on Idemat, an open-source database. Unfortunately, numerous materials are still absent from the database. When encountering such cases, I typically generate a derivative myself. While this process consumes a day, I consider it a learning opportunity and a means to validate my tool.
|Eco-costs are a measure to express the amount of environmental impact of a product on the basis of prevention of that burden. These are the (marginal) costs which should be made to reduce the environmental pollution and material depletion in our world to a level which is in line with the carrying capacity of our earth. Eco-costs represent virtual expenses, as they have not yet been integrated into the actual costs of existing production chains (life-cycle costs). These eco-costs should be recognized as concealed obligations. An alternate term for them is ‘external costs’ or ‘shadow prices.’
The pragmatic application of eco-costs lies in the comparison of the sustainability of diverse products and/or services offering similar functionality. Various systems, such as the Environmental Cost Indicator (ECI), run in parallel, each incorporating varying additional indicators into their calculations. Like eco-costs, ECI is a monetary gauge that aggregates pertinent (though not exhaustive) environmental impacts, encompassing factors like CO2 and nitrogen emissions, resource depletion, and waste disposal. A lower ECI number corresponds to a reduced environmental impact.
Rendering a quantifiable project enables me to comprehend its ecological footprint and facilitates better communication with museums. Moreover, it allows me to pinpoint critical areas within an exhibition design. It’s essential to identify the spots where the most significant impact can be achieved while still allowing room for crafting a distinctive exhibition. At Fiction Factory, we make durable modular wall systems that minimize long-term impact. These systems are coupled with tailored components, to seamlessly integrate features like display cases into the walls. Although some might find the addition of extra structural elements regrettable, my aim remains to attain an eighty percent level of circularity. This ambition allows for greater maneuverability throughout the process, recognizing that perfection is a gradual pursuit.
MvdH: Where do you anticipate the most significant changes will occur in the near future – driven by museums or instigated by designers?
MR: To truly drive substantial progress, my focus is on the designers, as they often shape the vision of what should be built. Museums are hesitant to impose limitations on designers, seeking the best and most captivating outcomes. Nonetheless, I do notice that things are shifting toward each other. Museums are becoming more inclined to pose precise sustainability requirements. A recent interaction with Margrit Reuss, senior curator at the Museums of World Cultures, revealed her advocacy for incorporating greater sustainability elements into tender documents. This has resulted in a more thorough and specific evaluation of submissions for their circular approach. In my view, transformative change should emanate from both leadership and grassroots levels.
Complete access to the preceding conversations on Museum Kaap Skil, and more insights on circular interior design in VOLUME63, THE NOT-SO-EASY GUIDE TO CIRCULAR INTERIOR DESIGN.