Museum of Australian Democracy

A living museum of social and political history

Rollout was commissioned by EDM Studio to work with them and Ralph Appelbaum Associates to design and produce wall treatments for ‘Australian Democracy: 2000 Years In The Making.’ This was to be a 10-year installation project for the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House.

This partnership came to fruition after EDM and RAA had conducted a rigorous evaluation process that our product and processes were the best to handle a project of this scale, with it’s unique requirements of adaptive design skills and precision production techniques. This is the story of how Rollout was chosen and how the project unfolded.

Creative Partnerships

First let us introduce you to our friends and partners on the project.

EDM Studio was the orchestrator of this multi-faceted, continent spanning project.

Darran Edmundson writes "this project was a leap outside of EDM's comfort zone in terms of both scope and difficulty. With overall responsibility for the design/build of three full galleries on a pressure-cooker schedule and within the constraints of a heritage environment, choosing our production partners carefully was the difference between success and failure. With designers in New York, Rollout in Vancouver, and the museum in Australia, a client fear was the "tyranny of distance". Rollout, RAA and EDM used this to advantage, using the disparate timezones to create what felt like an around-the-clock design/production/shipping/hanging cycle. Rollout was very much a partner in this project rather than a supplier. Which is exactly what was needed."

Ralph Appelbaum Associates are planners, designers, and producers of award-winning museum exhibitions. Founded in 1978, and are currently the largest interpretive museum design firm in the world with offices in the USA, UK and Asia. The firm is best known for large-scale, permanent museum projects requiring a marriage of complex educational content with physical environments that are at once compelling and smoothly operational. RAA New York designed the project installations with Rosanna Vitiello as lead designer.

Josh Dudley states, "RAA was honored to be selected to design the core exhibition in Australia's first "House of the People." Given the limitations of working in a heritage structure, relied primarily on graphic applications to the interior of what had been the Parliamentary library. Art Director and lead graphic designer Rosanna Vitiello quickly landed on a bold yet respectful graphic approach to convey the innovations Australia pioneered in their democratic institutions."

Skin Deep Design installed all of the wallpaper for this project with precision and care. Skin Deep Design, lead by Warwick and Lee Anderson, was originally set up for theatre and opera set design and construction and specialized painting. They have designed and constructed many sets for well known Australian Opera directors, many of which required specialized wall treatments from paint through paper and other inventive surfaces. Over the last twelve years they have also been involved in many internal designs and fit outs of restaurants, bars, exhibitions and domestic applications. They have used quite a range of wallpapers and are always looking at new or different surfaces and finishes to inform their own creative and design possibilities.

Unique Challenges

Jonathan Nodrick says, “The project had many design and production challenges and was one of the most complex and ultimately rewarding that Rollout has been a part of. I thoroughly enjoyed working with our team to push the technology and processes required for such an interesting and important installation. We are stepping in to new territory where wallpaper can excite, inspire and educate, while still looking great.”

The project combined the practical challenges of working in a nationally listed heritage building, where anything that was put on the walls needed to be removed easily and without causing any damage. It was required to also consider the academic demands of creating compelling graphics that reflected the intellectual rigor of the installation. The creative process also involved some pretty unique communication challenges with conference calls linking participants from Vancouver to boardrooms in New York City and Australia.

Due to these requirements EDM and RAA were looking for the one company that could work within expedited timeframes, provide a product that was environmentally friendly, class ‘A’ fire rated, easy to install and remove, and that could work with digital images of varying formats and quality. They needed a combination of responsive design intelligence and high-quality output and did extensive product testing with materials from around the world before ultimately choosing Rollout.

At Rollout we feel our process is unique in that we can bring our design skills to bear on a project immediately. We use water based pigments on papers made exclusively for digitally printed wallcovering that are as good as commercial vinyl UV or solvent printed products. However, our papers are less damaging to the walls on which they are applied and also less toxic and damaging to our environment.

Warwick Anderson of Skin Deep Design sums it up nicely by stating, "This project involved considerable investigation of products which were suitable for use in a heritage building. We found the Rollout wallpaper met all requirements, being durable, forgiving and the inks we fairly stable and did not run when worked. In fact we were able to remove one whole drop (due to colour irregularities on the wall behind showing through the yellow paper), removed the glue and dry it out and then reapply it to the wall with no damage visible at all - the sign of a good product. On ascertaining the expansion in the paper we were able to accurately fix the paper over long wall runs to position the imagery exactly. The final result proved to be a dynamic background for the exhibition."

Digital Image Management

Clearly with a project called ‘Australian Democracy: 2000 Years In The Making’ we would be dealing with many different images form many different eras and sources. In order to create wallcoverings that had a clear and consistent graphic effect across the breadth of the installation we had to employ extensive digital image management and precise colour correction while providing RAA with high quality quarter scale samples that could be used during the proofing phase and then blown up to full scale for the installation. These complex pieces had to be designed and printed here in Vancouver, shipped to Australia and to fit the installation architecture to the exact millimeter. It is a point of pride for Rollout that we can work with any image a client has to make wallcoverings that have a feeling of cohesion throughout without the flaws and artifacting typically encountered when using low-resolution images or archival photography.

Rollout's digital image specialist helped with executing pro graphics and maximizing our technology to be able to handle the massive files required for the project. We also developed a technique with us to knockout, colour correct and resize digital files of many different quality levels, colour spaces and resolutions into large scale prints without loss of detail on multiple files from multiple sources. These included stock and archival images of drawings, etchings, paintings and digital imagery to high end studio portraiture.

Information Design

For the project we thought of our wall treatments as a kind of digitally printed Greek chorus. In Greek dramaturgy the purpose of the chorus was to give background and summary information to help the audience follow the performance. The chorus would comment on themes, and show how an ideal audience might react to the drama. In this sense we thought of our work as a subtle compliment to the exhibition as whole, there to articulate what the main characters, in this case the informational displays, could not say. The museum believes that democracy should be "reflected in the balanced range of narratives and experiences presented" and aims for the installation to be "a space where groups can share ideas and experiences in a heritage building that was once the hub of Australian democracy." We hope that our work with EDM and RAA helped the museum achieve these goals and we are proud to have been a part of such a noble project.

Additional Links

Democracy Museum Opens in Canberra
Ralph Appelbaum's Influence on the Museum World is Clearly Evident
Australian Democracy Exhibition on Flickr

Photos: John Gollings Photography