Creative display specialist Leach reveals the journey to deliver the world’s largest museum

With a rich heritage spanning over a century, creative display specialist Leach is no stranger to producing engaging environments that immerse, educate, and inspire visitors globally. But there was something particularly memorable about a project on the other side of the world, that the team embarked on in the year they turned 125.

For the first time, they take Conservation & Heritage Journal behind the scenes of their assignment for the Sheikh Abdullah Al-Salem Cultural Centre…

Long before the destination was even open to the public, the Sheikh Abdullah Al-Salem Cultural Centre was a global talking point within the conservation and heritage sector. As part of the new Kuwait National Cultural District (KNCD), the 13-hectare site was set to become the largest museum in the world.

Inviting the public to explore some of the finest achievements from Kuwaiti, Islamic and Arab history – as well as the scientific and cultural feats of many other countries worldwide – the diverse heritage centre promised to celebrate new and old in its first-class space.

It was perhaps no surprise that the world’s greatest museum talent was hand-selected to deliver this prestigious $1bn project. Approximately sixty specialist suppliers from four different continents were reportedly involved in this vast scheme, including local construction firm Alghanim International who led on the building works; museum fit-out professionals Beck; London-headquartered designers Cultural Innovations; Design Project Management; and the internationally-renowned creative display experts from UK-headquartered Leach.

The much talked about Cultural Centre would comprise 21 very different galleries across a 22,000m² exhibition – and Leach was the only company appointed to work across all 21.

Head of Projects Tom Foster recalls what was involved: “We received a design brief for each of the individual environments, and I remember us being in awe of what the client was trying to achieve – and in a seemingly impossible timeframe. The creative concepts – which ranged from cutting-edge science to natural history – were definitely world-class, and it was always going to be a pleasure to help bring them to life.”

When it came to exactly how to produce the displays for maximum visual impact, the decisions were left in Leach’s capable hands. “This was a story-telling project on an incredible scale,” continues Tom. “So, we thought carefully about the materials and print techniques we’d use for every individual piece of the puzzle. We wanted the displays to be as visually impactful as possible, but longevity was important too. Visitors would be encouraged to touch and interact with the exhibits, so everything had to stand the test of time.”

Multiple suppliers met in London 21 times – one meeting for each gallery – to fuel a truly collaborative approach to the project. “When we’d nailed down exactly how we would approach each display, we returned to our 30,000sqft Yorkshire headquarters to manufacture all graphics in-house,” Tom explains.

Creating large format wallpaper, ultra-illuminated lightboxes, screen-printed backdrops, case labels and mosaic tiling – to name just a few elements – Leach used a total of 175 techniques across the 1,400 graphics they produced during their four-month window. Everything was then carefully packed in 40 crates to make the phased 12-week shipping journey to Kuwait, where a 15-strong Leach team awaited their arrival. Passionate about the quality of the finished exhibits, they flew out to the Middle East to personally install every component part.

 “The schedule was tight from the outset,” reflects Tom. “But we ended up with even less time than we’d first anticipated as delays were encountered elsewhere in the project.

“However, there was no way we were going to miss the deadline we’d been given. So, we worked 9,500 man-hours over a 15-week period to deliver exactly what we’d promised – we even spent New Year’s Eve out there!”

The most prestigious gallery – the Arabic Islamic Science Museum – was the first to open, followed by a number of other awe-inspiring spectacles including the Natural History Museum, Science Museum, and Space Museum.

“A personal favourite is the full-size aquarium with 10m high walkway that allows you to enjoy the marine-life from up in the treetops,” comments Tom. “It is a brilliant space, and as a team we are extremely proud to have been chosen to be involved, despite us being based around 5,000 miles away.”

Leach is no stranger to projects in this part of the world, having completed assignments in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman, to name just a few. “I think our cultural sensitivity, experience of working in a very hot and humid climate, and of course our proven reputation in the ever-evolving heritage sector, stood us in good stead to secure this £2.5m contract,” believes Tom.

“There was something quite significant about winning the work in the year we celebrated our 125th anniversary,” he concludes. “We’re a company with a rich history of our own, but when it comes to delivering projects for the conservation and heritage sector, it’s our progressive commitment to customer service that sees us sought out for even the most complex of briefs.”