London – A neon speech bubble sign outside of London’s 63 Wells Street, in Fitzrovia, alerts Cartoon Museum visitors they’ve arrived at the right place – from there, they can peer inside a smash-shaped window to get a glimpse of what waits for them inside. There they’ll find the museum’s collection of 6,000 original British cartoon and comic pieces, as well as a library of 18,000 books. But those aren’t the only cartoons they’ll see: the graphic space – designed by Sam Jacob Studio – is a three-dimensional strip in its own right.
Museums are getting more and more immersive, outlining a variety of creative ways in which institutions can increase visitor engagement. Santa Monica’s Cayton Children’s Museum, with its interactive neighbourhoods for tykes, and the experience-based programme at Amsterdam’s Fashion for Good Museum, are two such recent examples covered by St-W. The Cartoon Museum’s approach opts to make its visitors feel connected by making them the subject of an amusing spatial storyline – the design of each room gives way to an experience in itself. ‘It has always been our aim to send people out of the museum happier than when they came in,’ explained Oliver Preston, chair of the Cartoon Museum.
Appropriately, Sam Jacob’s work for the institution doesn’t take itself too seriously. He wasn’t only inspired by the subject matter’s visual playfulness, but the way the illustrated stories are organised, too. The building includes two main gallery areas, a learning studio and a shop, as well as offices and a space for archives. A vibrant red stairwell leads down from the street level, lined with portraits of iconic characters. The exhibition spaces are laid out like the frames of a cartoon strip, with different routes and circuits to reflect the twists and turns of a compelling story. Naturally, there are humorous surprises, too: a fake bookcase with a secret door, super-graphic wall treatments and exaggerated decorative elements at every turn.
‘I’ve always been interested in the relationship between drawing and architecture,’ recalled Jacob. ‘So to be able to explore ways in which graphic, 2D ideas can be translated into physical space and material things has been a joy.’