LONDON – A new venture is unveiled courtesy of the prolific experience designers from London-based studio Bompas & Parr, who endeavour to make food culture widely consumed in many dimensions. In 2007, Sam Bompas and Harry Parr built a business based around their combined skills of architecture, design and storytelling. The duo became very popular very quickly, starting with jelly architecture, moving through alcoholic atmospheres to arrive at theatre shows, 200 course meals and bubble gum factories.

With an inexhaustible tendency to explore and celebrate the world of food, Bompas & Parr’s studio now has 14 creatives: cooks, architects, specialised technicians and designers. Over nearly a decade of food-related productions, the team has also had a chance to contextualise and archive its work. In October of 2015, Bompas & Parr opened a temporary instalment of the first ever British Museum of Food in Central London’s Borough Market. The museum was open for just three months showcasing the history, evolution, science, sociology and art of food. A hefty task for a short-term exhibit, which is why, since then, the team has been working hard to establish a permanent home for the institution, but not following the format of a traditional museum typology.

A museum tends to be a place that not only displays items but cares for them, acquires new items, studies them, and exhibits temporary exhibitions. Bompas speaks on his position of what a contemporary museum is all about, ‘We believe a contemporary museum should be a place, both in the real and digital realms, which people visit to have shared and individual experiences that are otherwise unrealisable. They should be spaces that educate, entertain and inspire.’ 

Not biting off more than they could chew, the designers started with the British Menu Archive before the museum was even a notional reality. The archive was inspired by New York City’s public library menu collection. Like the New York collection, and sees new and old menus being digitised to create a searchable database that allows a peek into history through the stomachs of Britain’s past. The archive featured in the temporary edition of the museum at the end of 2015, along with other food-related wonders: Be the Bolus, video footage of food following the internal pathways of the human body; Choco-Phonica, a room made of chocolate that utilises sound to transport visitors to different chocolate worlds; Atelier of Flavour, artworks throughout the museum which make us question what it is that we eat; and The Butterfly Effect, showcasing the butterfly as one of the world’s key pollinating species that is as threatened as the bee and all too often not discussed.

These exhibits give people a taste of what the permanent museum will be about. ‘Once the new site is open, it will fulfil all the functions […of a traditional museum]. Our focus, rather than being on the acquisition and care of objects, will be on experiences, particularly relating to food. This reflects what we believe the crucial deliverables for a successful museum to be right now.’

A museum that is established along a traditional procurement line would require a curator to establish relationships with artists and seek work to display/exhibit. This development is not a typical client-led project, Bompas & Parr have no funding for the scheme other than their own office’s resources. The benefit of this arrangement is that they don’t have to wait for contributors to get back to them, there are no lead times, if the team want something they make it. As client and designer of the building, they required a strategy to ensure that the museum would sustain its relevance into the future. They were inspired by the London Design Museum that was initiated by Terence Conran and then handed over to Deyan Sudjic for curatorial operations.

‘We have a niche position within the food and exhibition world, one that can’t overtake the museum’s focus,’ comments Sam Bompas, which is why, once the institution is setup, the team intends to quickly make the museum its own entity to ensure its appeal to a wider audience. ‘Over the coming years, hopefully centuries, the aims and purpose of the British Museum of Food will of course change to allow it to remain relevant.’

Bompas and Parr are currently in negotiations for a 20,000-sq-m existing space to retrofit into the new home for the permanent collection. The museum opening is forecast for spring 2017. While Bompas and Parr will continue on the board of directors for the museum it will be an operation independent from their own company’s productions and will continue to develop, collect and display a variety of work that encompasses the experience of food.

Photos courtesy of Bompas & Parr/Ann Charlott Ommedal/Marcus Peel