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Shiny New Box Syndrome

May 2, 2018

The museum world has been blessed or blighted depending on your point of view with the shiny new box syndrome.  Perhaps the most dramatic case was the Millennium projects that peppered the UK nearly 2 decades ago.  Lottery funding was directed to developing major new attractions, including The Public in West Bromwich, the National Centre for Popular Music in Sheffield and of course the mother of all shiny new boxes, the Millennium Dome in London.


The Millennium Dome, a shiny new box that is actually more hemispherical!


The National Centre for Popular Music, Sheffield


The Public, West Bromwich










Many of the more successful projects were those redevelopments of existing sites, such as Norwich Castle, the Great Court at the British Museum or Thinktank, Birmingham’s new Museum of Science & Technology in the Eastside of the city.

Funders and major stakeholders have a soft spot for major projects which create shiny new boxes. It’s a  great way to make a statement, and an opportunity to create a legacy for future generations.  Unfortunately the long term viability of many of these new sites has not always been sustainable.  Many of the millennium era projects failed to live up to their long term ambitions. Once the capital investment had dried up, the often heroic visitor number projections and ambitious income targets proved hard to realise.

Successful projects were often extensions or redevelopments of existing organisations which had a better understanding of their business and greater revenue support from their community.  In Birmingham and Norwich it was significant local authority support that underpinned these projects.  While the British Museum’s Great Court formed part of a much larger plan to move the British Library to a new site and provide public access to the heart of BM site.  In all three cases these institutions were able to draw upon national if not international collections and expertise to utilise their new spaces for the public benefit.


Thinktank, Birmingham’s Science Museum, which is actually a box and quite shiny too, and going strong after nearly 20 years!

Some notable millennium era shiny new box successes have included the Eden Project in Cornwall and The Deep in Hull.  In both cases they survived the post millennium environment.

From → Funding

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