James Latham helps museum tell stories of change

James Latham has provided 450m2 of HONEXT for The Fitzwilliam Museum’s ‘Real Families: Stories of Change’ exhibition.

The carbon-neutral fibreboard was used as the finishing material for the show’s temporary installations, replacing a large proportion of the painted MDF typically used for this purpose.

The Cambridge-based Fitzwilliam Museum hosts a number of temporary exhibitions every year, working with specialist designers and fit-out professionals to create bespoke installations for these shows, providing a structure and set on which to position exhibits.

Copyright: University of Cambridge – The Fitzwilliam Museum

It was no different when it came to planning autumn 2023’s ‘Real Families: Stories of Change’ installation, which charts the evolution of the family unit over half a century.

The Museum commissioned Shaun Ihejetoh of West Port Architects to develop a concept that would provide the perfect backdrop to a curated selection of paintings, sculptures, and curios dating from the 1600s to the present day. Importantly, his vision also had to be delivered in line with the attraction’s official Sustainability Action Plan.

Shaun would need to work in a lean way to reduce waste and select carbon-neutral materials where possible, and contacted James Latham’s expert specification team, who had introduced him to HONEXT earlier in the year.

Since then he’d become fascinated by the board’s composition, particularly the fact that it is manufactured from 100% cellulose waste and fibre residue (a by-product of the paper industry).

He was also impressed by its workability, especially how it could be easily cut to any shape or size on-site, using the most basic tools. Not only that, he was also taken by the ability to bond multiple sheets together and carve them out to achieve 3D structures.

Although he’d previously worked with the material on a small scale, he wanted to see it in a larger application, and this exhibition provided the perfect opportunity. Following a consultation with the Museum’s senior team, the green light was given to use it as the finishing material for the exhibition’s installations.

Seeing is believing

HONEXT was also selected for aesthetic reasons, as Shaun felt the boards, with their soft, light brown tone would evoke the exhibition’s underlying theme of the home, fostering a sense of warmth and familiarity in visitors.

Copyright: University of Cambridge – The Fitzwilliam Museum

To bring his vision to life, Shaun worked with The Moule Partnership to fabricate a massive 450m2 of HONEXT before applying it to the show’s installations. This resulted in 70% material coverage across the space’s temporary structures, with the remaining 30% composed of painted MDF.

Following application, Shaun and the client were surprised to discover the HONEXT panels served an additional, functional purpose, providing a perfect backing material for the show’s exhibits due to its moderately-hard, easy-to-pierce surface. This meant pictures could be hung with minimal effort, yet remain in position without risk of falling off.

Shaun says: “This was the first opportunity we had to use HONEXT as the main finish on a project. Essentially, everything in the exhibition has been designed around the material. While I’ve been aware of its impressive performance qualities, particularly as an acoustic panel, it was great to discover its aesthetic potential. It achieves a visually interesting backdrop, which doesn’t dominate, but allows the various exhibits to stand out. The success of this project has given me the impetus to test HONEXT even more, as a best-in-class, universal finishing material.”

The ‘Real Families: Stories of Change’ installation ran throughout autumn 2023 and concluded on 7 January 2024. Following the exhibition, the HONEXT panels will either be repurposed or recycled.