Culture shift: the changing costs of exhibition spaces

Sarah Giles


Exhibition spaces are changing, bringing new design and delivery challenges for culture, museum and heritage organisations.

We surveyed showcase, lighting and audio visual equipment suppliers to predict medium-term price changes and identify how best to improve the integration of these features into exhibition space construction plans.

With showcase, lighting and audio visual features an integral part of exhibition spaces, effective project delivery strategies must take the changing costs and unique installation and operational requirements of each feature type into account.


Showcase suppliers are improving product designs with low-reflective, high-security glass with a sleek, ‘frameless’ look to enhance the viewing experience. Visitors increasingly interact with the showcases through the use of smartphone apps and real time dynamic interactions. An increase in material costs of 1.5 percent annually is expected as a result of this in the medium term.


Despite providing clear benefits to clients in terms of lighting quality, reliability and energy usage, LEDs are a key driver in the escalation of lighting costs. The cost of these is ten percent greater than older technologies such as tungsten and fluorescent lighting. This price gap between the old and new is expected to reduce over the next three to four years and LEDs should eventually fall in line with the costs of fluorescent lighting due to the increase in the supply and ranges available.

Audio visual

The audio visual (AV) market is seeing a reduction in the cost of hardware as competition increases and cheaper technologies are more widely used. This change in the market can exaggerate expectations of costs. AV specialists confirmed that the cost of hardware is reducing but the cost of installation and design has increased over the past three years. Overall costs for AV installations are predicted to rise by ten percent per head each year as AV becomes more integral to overall design and the way people interact.

Overall costs for AV installations are predicted to rise by ten percent per head each year.

The reason for the stable increase in the cost of AV is partly due to the slowdown in demand. AV systems are being replaced less regularly than other exhibition technologies. Technologies have been developed to last longer and generally a lower cost of ownership can be achieved through the use of such developments as hybrid laser phosphor light source projectors. Clients will therefore experience much lower costs with this type of lamp replacements, through overall savings in energy usage, operations and maintenance costs. It should be noted, however, that despite the longevity of the hardware improving, clients in exhibition spaces may need to reconsider the maintenance of software and regularly evaluate the content provided through the AV systems.

Benchmark cost data

To provide an insight into the costs associated with exhibition space fit-outs, data has been gathered from Turner & Townsend’s delivery of exhibition fit-outs. The data gathered refers to fit-out costs of low, medium and high technology exhibition spaces and provides a range for the visitor’s experiences.

Low technology fit out

Galleries and spaces that have very little AV equipment fit into this category. Exhibits and objects tend to be displayed in showcases with minimal environmental control. The visitor will not interact with the displays, just absorb the experience. Lighting will be limited to track and spot lights, illuminating key elements. The benchmark data shows the average cost for this level of fit out is circa £1,900 per m2.

Medium technology fit out

A medium technology space will have an element of AV equipment and the visitor will be able to interact with the experience. Lighting will include track and spot lights, but would also include an element of feature lighting. Objects will be displayed in showcases with some environment control to each. The benchmark data shows the average cost for this level of fit out is circa £3,000 per m2.

High technology fit out

The visitor will be faced with an intense AV experience in a high technology gallery. The majority of displays would be interactive and the visitor would expect a hands-on experience with key exhibits. High technology galleries tend to be flexible spaces to allow corporate evening events, adding an immersive dimension to the design of the space. The benchmark data shows the average cost for this level of fit out is circa £4,300 per m2.

General considerations

There are several practical measures which should be applied to the installation of showcases, lighting and audio visual equipment:

  • Clean, dust free environments and emphasis on co-ordination with adjoining trades are vital to the successful installation of this specialist equipment
  • These three trade packages often demand a large percentage of overall costs of an exhibition fit out. A direct contract with specialist suppliers or employment via a specialist exhibition fit out contractor will allow for adequate time and cost apportionment to successfully deliver them
  • It should be noted that with a direct contract certain coordination risks will increase. By taking control of the design, the client will also take responsibility for successful coordination to avoid clashes with other trades
  • As technology’s longevity improves, clients are reminded to consider the cost of updating content and software as well as focusing on the installation and operational costs of equipment.
Culture, heritage and museums