Living on the Ness – Ugly Studios’ Interpretation Diary
November 2015 saw Ugly’s Ian and Simon brave the North Sea’s front-line, to work for a week on location at the mysterious and enigmatic Orford Ness!
The National Trust commissioned Ugly to develop the visitor experience, for the first time since the Ness opened as a nature reserve. In addition to envisioning an interpretation plan across seven separate buildings, we are developing a signage plan and designing a new exhibition space for Summer 2016.
Orford Ness is a strange place; a contrast of strict military control and the wildness of nature and weather. To us, a week’s stay in the National Trust’s Base Camp was a great opportunity – a chance to truly experience its striking and atmospheric landscape.
We pitch up at Orford Ness, catching the National Trust ferry ‘Octavia’ from Orford Quay. After setting up studio in the ‘Base Camp’, we get started with our interpretive planning and design.
A key feature of many displays is the collection itself, and this is a great opportunity to dig into the Orford Ness archives. We make notes and digital copies of any photographs, video or audio at the Ness, taking photographs of items in our pop-up studio.
A freezing cold day, as a haze drifts over Orford Ness, and the Cobra Mist building looms out of the gloom.
Working with the National Trust team at the Ness, we go over any existing content and arrange a plan to help the NT staff develop their text. We can catch up with the staff easily on-site, and have updates and regular chats.
Being on the Ness gives us a great chance to walk around, soaking in the atmosphere – (decommissioned) bomb display included!
Work begins on design for a new exhibition on military history. Sketching out the interior, we work our designs into the space, thinking about layout of content and visitor movement through the exhibition.
This is then developed in 3D via modelling software SketchUp.
The evening saw us taking an eerie – but breathtaking – walk around the site.
We put together further sketches for more of the exhibition space. Being able to wander around the site – and having the expertise of the staff on-hand – is amazing inspiration, and can help us envision how displays will look in the space. And the view from our lunchtime walk wasn’t bad either!
Our last day on the Ness, with one more building left to do.
With detailed concepts, we then present an in-depth proposal for upcoming exhibitions at the Ness, and sign off any outstanding issues for the signage plan, display plan and other exhibition buildings.
For this project in particular, being on site was a natural option. Orford Ness is evocative and powerful, and feeling it first-hand is hugely different from the experience found in a book or website. We have funnelled this into our design and sense of our interpretation and final exhibition.
From the National Trust’s perspective, they could call into our ‘studio’ anytime to ask us any questions they needed and see for themselves how the design process was progressing. All of us had everything we needed readily available and the time to dedicate ourselves to a single project.
Thank you to all the team at National Trust Orford Ness for having us for the week! Orford Ness will be open again to the public in March 2016.