Curatorial, Digital and Brand Strategy for Rutherford's Den

A strategic design framework for the restoration of Rutherford's Den, Arts Centre of Christchurch NZ

Project Details

A strategic and curatorial framework for the $2m restoration of the Rutherford's Den science gallery as a major visitor and education attraction based within the Arts Centre of Christchurch, NZ.


Dr. Sarah Barns: Curatorial and Strategic Lead

Michael Killalea: Creative Director

Elin Matilda Andersson: Graphic Design

Blac & Co: Interpretation design

Sago Architects:* Architects

Esem Projects were selected by the Arts Centre of Christchurch as lead consultants for the delivery of a Creative, Digital and Curatorial Strategy for Rutherford's Den.

Having sustained significant damage during the Christchurch earthquakes of 2012-13, the Arts Centre commenced an ambitious program to not only restore the incredible heritage buildings of the former University of Canterbury, but to also rethink the role of key spaces within its precinct. Rutherford's Den is a a gallery established in recognition of one the University's most noteworthy students Lord Ernest Rutherford, otherwise known as the father of nuclear physics.

It was here, in the rooms of 'the Den' that a young Rutherford first undertook curious experiments into the nature of electromagnetism, before going on to achieve breathtaking success, leading such world-changing experiments as the Gold Foil Experiment, leading to the discovery of the nucleus, and leading the team at the Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge, who first split the atom.

We were invited by the Arts Centre to reimagine Rutherford's Den as one that could tell a story not only of Rutherford's life, and the importance of the site to his early education, but also as a place in which to interpret some of Rutherford's early experiments through fresh eyes, and to give this story new life, in a rapidly-changing city open to experimentation, innovation and creativity.

Our work over an eight month program resulted in a rebrand for Rutherford's Den, along with a strategy for exhibition design and interpretation and educational focus areas. We led a multidisiplinary team of interpretation designers and architects to also deliver designs for a refurbishment, taking into account the significant heritage value of the building.

Following the delivery of the Strategy the Esem team were invited to deliver and produce the interpretive and digital interactives that would constitute the core exhibits of the re-imagined Rutherford's Den.

The newly restored Rutherford's Den was opened in August 2016.

Read about the Interpretation and Digital Interactives we delivered for Rutherford's Den.

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