Metaphor (designers)

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IndustryDesigner and Masterplanner
FounderStephen Greenberg and Rachel Morris
Area served
ServicesVisioning, master planning, architecture, design, story-planning, text writing, content research, financial sustainability, brief writing, facilitating workshops, consultation and working with funders.

Metaphor is a London-based, global design firm that was founded in 2000 by Stephen Greenberg and Rachel Morris. Metaphor specialises in the re-presentation of museums, palaces, forts, landscapes and country houses through masterplanning and design. They work all over the world.

Over the last 50 years as museology has developed, so museum professionals have become more aware of the uses of design in making museum exhibits.[1] Metaphor’s directors, who come out of architecture and novel writing, have developed new ways of seeing museums, breaking down the differences between exhibit and non-exhibit spaces and emphasising atmosphere, storylines and theatre. Also part of these new movements in museology is the way that Metaphor take a holistic view of museums, looking at everything from the big vision to the map in the visitors’ hands.[2]

Metaphor’s projects illustrate these new movements.


V & A[edit]

Metaphor's work in museums began with the strategic masterplan of the V & A in 2000. Future Plan delivered a phased 10-year plan, looking at all aspects of visitor experience, events, branding, retail and other revenue. Since the design, these plans have been implemented in a number of stages, most recently the courtyard garden. They have completed a further 25 projects supporting the rolling out of Future Plan.

Grand Egyptian Museum[edit]

Metaphor was the masterplanner and lead designer on the Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza, Cairo from 2003 and 2011. It is one of the largest museums planned anywhere in the world.

Ashmolean Museum[edit]

Metaphor redesigned 32 permanent galleries at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, opening in 2009. The experience is enhanced by the creation of associative links and sight lines, by the way that objects are placed and windows created between galleries, so that the entire world feels wrapped into the experience. It was a critical success.

Richard Dorment, from The Telegraph said "The galleries are quirky and unpredictable, full of nooks and crannies and yet completely navigable even to the dyspraxically challenged, like me. That’s as much to do with the layout by the exhibition designers Metaphor as with the architecture".[3] Jonathan Glancey wrote in The Guardian that "in this enchanting museum . . . the contents of each gallery can be glimpsed from the one before, through openings and windows. So you get pulled along. And, wherever you walk, on whatever crisscrossing floor or bridge, you will be lured into ever more galleries, each presenting more of the Ashmolean’s rich collection…".[4]

The Museum of the Order of St John[edit]

In 2010, Metaphor masterplanned, renovated and displayed the Museum of the Order of St John in Clerkenwell. It tells the story of the Knights of the Order of St John, the Crusades and their later history.

Holburne Museum[edit]

The Holburne Museum in Bath[5] reopened in 2011 after a complete re-design. Metaphor displayed the central collection as if reflecting the mind of its eccentric 18th century collector. The galleries are 'marvellous cabinets of curiosities...the sheer tantalising array is a browser's delight'.[6]

Olympic Museum[edit]

In 2013, Metaphor redesigned the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, a museum of the renewal of the Olympics by Pierre de Coubertin and the Olympic Legacy. They also designed and curated the Parc Olympique, including new routes, sightlines, welcome sequence and lighting.

Current Projects[edit]

Metaphor is currently masterplanning the National Museum of Scotland.

Metaphor is currently masterplanning the National Railway Museum.

Metaphor is currently masterplanning and re-designing Shakespeare's Globe.


V & A[edit]

In 2007, Metaphor designed the Surreal Things exhibition at the V & A, experimenting with different modes of display and interpretation to create a powerful, theatrical experience. Stephen Bayley, writing for The Observer called it "comprehensive, fascinating, engaging and instructive".[7] [Rachel Campbell-Johnston], writing for [The Times], said 'the psychological mood starts to possess you'.[8]

The exhibition was redesigned to appear at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, running from 2007 to 2008. It was seen by 575,000 visitors, making it the most successful V & A touring exhibition ever.[9]

British Museum[edit]

Metaphor first worked at the British Museum when they designed the hugely successful exhibition on Michelangelo in 2005. At the time, it broke the museum's audience records, with 160,000 people seeing it.[10]

The First Emperor: China’s Terracotta Warriors at the British Museum in London, was a critical and commercial success. Metaphor used the curved walls of the Round Reading Room to hold projections, acting as a theatrical backdrop. Rachel Campbell-Johnston said that "exhibition designers and curators have to work hard to create a sense of spectacle. But they succeed brilliantly. The museum’s great Round Reading Room has been temporarily adapted into an atmospheric show space".[11] The exhibition was seen by 850,000 people, 37% of whom had never been to the British Museum before.[12]


Metaphor has undertaken a number of projects in the wider cultural and heritage sector, including with National Trust properties, Historic Royal Palaces and Wordsworth Trust.

They have used innovative and bespoke interpretation in landscapes and historic houses to great effect.

Clients have included Hampton Court Palace, Fountains Abbey, Wordsworth Trust, Hardwick Hall Country Park, Coughton Court, Winchester Cathedral, Winchester College and Tyntesfield.[13]

Lectures and writing[edit]

Metaphor's director's Stephen Greenberg regularly lectures and teaches at universities around the country, recently including University of Nottingham, University of Leicester and University of Cambridge. He has also lectured at numerous museum conferences around the world.

Metaphor's director Rachel Morris regularly speaks at conferences, most recently at the Museums Association Conference Cardiff 2014, entitled 'The Collection in the Cloud' on virtual museums and the concept of a museum space.[14]

Metaphor curates a website called The Museum of Marco Polo which seeks to explore 'What is a Museum?' and the changing relationship between the physical museum space and the virtual visitor. It includes the History of the Museum, an explanation of how The Museum of Marco Polo came to be located on the island of Buyukada, near Istanbul. It is illustrated by the award-winning[15] graphic novelist Isabel Greenberg.



  1. ^ MacLeod, Suzanne (2005). "Introduction". In Suzanne MacLeod. Reshaping Museum Space: architecture, design, exhibitions. Routledge. pp. 9–25. ISBN 0-415-34345-3.
  2. ^ Galangau-Quérat, Fabienne (2005). "The Grande Galerie de l'Evolution: an alternative cognitive experience". In Suzanne MacLeod. Reshaping Museum Space: architecture, design, exhibitions. Routledge. pp. 95–107 [104]. ISBN 0-415-34345-3.
  3. ^ ...[1] Richard Dorment, The Telegraph, November 2009 ...
  4. ^ ...[2]Jonathan Glancey, The Guardian, October 2009...
  5. ^ "Transforming Bath's Art Museum: Progress". Holburne Museum.
  6. ^ ...
  7. ^ ...[3] Stephen Bayley, The Guardian, March 2007...
  8. ^ ...[4] Rachel Campbell-Johnston, The Times, March 2007...
  9. ^ ...[5] Metaphor, Surreal Things Bilbao...
  10. ^ ...[6] Metaphor, Michelangelo...
  11. ^ ...[7]Rachel Campbell-Johnston, The Times ...
  12. ^ ...[8] Metaphor, First Emperor...
  13. ^ ..."[9]"Metaphor, Heritage...
  14. ^ ..."[10]" Museums Association Conference 2014 Guide, pg. 23...
  15. ^ ..."[11]"Rachel Cooke, The Observer, November 2011...


External links[edit]