Half a Billion and Counting: The Building and its Collections


The following programmatic Guidelines are presented as a starting point from which designers are encouraged to extrapolate and edit as they see appropriate. The total number of art and artefacts in the UK is difficult to count, but with over 2,800 institutions, most having tens of thousands of objects, and many institutions storing objects that register in the millions (the Natural History Museum in London alone has 70 million specimens), it is not impossible to conceive of a total number of objects and artefacts in the UK as being somewhere around half a billion.

Every year in the United Kingdom the country’s cultural and heritage sites post notices in relevant professional journals seeking suitable placement for items that need to be removed from collections. These notices represent thousands of artefacts and artworks in need of disposal. These artefacts cover a vast range of material properties, cultural importance, and physical condition. The primary function of Manchester Letherium is to serve as a repository for these unwanted objects, providing them with long term storage.

As a fully accredited collecting institution under UK regulations, Manchester Letherium will be in a position to legally transfer deaccessioned objects from all UK institutions offering materials for disposal.

The MLC estimates that a conservative annual acquisitions quota for the Letherium would follow a constant trajectory of 1000 objects annually.




Deaccessioning Rationales

  In general, the deaccessioning of objects and artefacts from cultural institutions is pursued for four main reasons. Each of these (listed below) can be used to paint a portrait of future collections of the Letherium, and as such may imply a specific type of storage requirement, each with its own particular storage needs.

Artefact storage, HVAC/climate control, and total area for the project are to be established by designers for each of the designated areas listed below.


Aluminite: a radioactive mineral
  1.Dangerous Materials
Institutions may not be equipped in terms of facilities to provide storage for a wide variety of dangerous materials. These may range from mid-19th century spirit collections preserved in alcohol, to medical/bio hazardous materials (pathology samples from medical collections), to mineralogy collections with naturally occurring radioactive properties. Taxidermied natural history specimens are often preserved with soap derived from arsenic. Mold and mildew build up on any form of organic material can often occur in a wide variety of objects as well.
Click here to read about one institution's problems with radioactive mineral storage.


Mold Damage
  2. Damaged, Decayed, or Devalued Materials
Subject to the vagaries of time and inappropriate, non environmentally sound storage practices (often long before they enter any institutional collection) damaged and/or decayed materials are often first to be deaccessioned in the attempts to relieve pressure on overcrowded stores. Devalued materials whose “worth” has, for various reasons, been significantly diminished in the eyes of its collecting institution are also available for successful re-circulation within alternative contexts.

Shrunken Head
  3. Culturally Disputed Materials
These may be culturally sensitive ethnographic materials (sacred objects of any number of indigenous peoples, collected mainly in the 19th century) which institutions may wish to deaccession for ethical reasons. Repatriation (return to bands, tribes or spiritual caretakers) is the usual method for transfer of objects of this nature. Protracted legal, research, financial and political obstacles often make this type of deaccessioning much more complex than in the above cases.

Butterfly Redundancy
4. Rationalisation of Reduntant Collections
Objects and artefacts deaccessioned for this reason are often in excellent condition and have few problems associated with them from an academic/conservation point of view. They are listed for disposal most frequently because museums and galleries restructure (either intellectually or physical) and may wish to focus their attentions on specific strengths in their collections. Other reasons for rationalization of collections may include artefacts which are found to be outside the areas of competence of staff curators, or of little academic value. Multiple examples of similar objects (one museum may, for example have 25 copies of the same photograph) would also fall under this category.

Facility Use: Suggested programme guidelines

  By virtue of their deaccessioned status the objects, artefacts, and archives which enter Manchester Letherium begin a new life quite separate from the regulations which characterised their previous existence. Freed from conservative research and preservation strategies that originally governed their caretaking, the collections of the ML are open to new uses, studies, interpretations, and categorisations.

The collections of the ML, in their diverse nature and unique condition, will support an extremely dynamic and experimental research agenda that will, in turn, encourage a wholly different user group than existing cultural models.

Below is a list of potential questions competitors might consider in determining the character of the building and the nature of its internal programme:

  • Will the ML support and invite public interaction or will it act as a closed research-oriented institution? What innovative models for each might be proposed that will connect directly to the ML’s unique collection of materials (dangerous, damaged, devalued, disputed, or re-rationalised)?

  • Will the ML move in aesthetic/curatorial directions involving artists and creative practitioners as researchers? Will it support scientific activity? Will it accommodate research of an historical nature? Is there a need for reading, teaching, laboratory, studio or residential space?

  • Will there be a need for exhibition, display, interpretation, education, or performance areas?

  • What commitments will/will not be made to accommodate environmental and conservation needs? Alternatively, what commitments will/will not be made to support scientific study of decomposition, decay, or organic breakdown?

  • Are there other separate but complementary programmatic concerns that could possibly enter the project scheme - such as on-site parking, publicly accessible object/archive storage, municipal lost-and-found, retail opportunities, community resources, residential living, etc.?

ML: Home