Former SEGD Board member Moira Gemmill, a London arts and design visionary who led design at the Victoria and Albert Museum and this year was hand-picked by Queen Elizabeth to oversee renovations at Windsor Castle, died April 9 in a cycling accident. She was 55.
An SEGD board member from 2012 to 2015, Gemmill resigned her ex-officio participation early this year after being appointed Director, Capital Programmes for the Royal Collection Trust, responsible for overseeing major capital projects at Windsor Castle and Holyrood Palace. Prior to her appointment with the Royal Collection Trust, she was Director of Design, Exhibitions, and FuturePlan at the V&A, leading the transformation of the museum’s galleries and facilities as part of its major renovation and restoration program. The award-winning modernization of the V&A galleries has been credited with a major increase in visitor numbers in recent years.
Lucy Holmes and Alex Wood, partners in Holmes Wood (London), worked with Gemmill for more than 14 years. Gemmill was a close friend as well as a trusted colleague and role model.
"We first met Moira when we were shortlisted for the wayfinding project for the V&A in 2001," remembers Holmes. "Her sleek black-clad figure, straight-line hair cut, direct tone, and dynamic presence were exciting and intimidating to meet. It was typical of Moira to give young hungry designers a chance when you didn’t have the track record to prove it but willed potential clients to believe in you. Moira gave us that chance. Moira gave so many people the chance and transformed the V&A into the spectacular museum it is today."
Holmes continued: "Moira was a decision maker--something many clients struggle with. Her drive, passion, and humour were all things that just made you want to be a better designer. She made you better. When we were asked if we could put forward someone for the Board of SEGD, it was a pretty easy decision. Alex and I have worked with Moira for 14 years and during that time become the best of friends. The hole that we are already experiencing will never be filled. We are so very lucky to have known her as designers and women."
Gemmill was instrumental in SEGD’s 2012 International Symposium, moderating sessions held at the V&A and sharing her perspective gained from working with some of the world’s top architects, designers, and engineers on FuturePlan projects. Her presence on the SEGD Board brought an invaluable international perspective.
"You couldn't be in Moira's presence for more than a few minutes on a phone call or in person to realize she had something very special to offer,” says Clive Roux, SEGD CEO. “I have met very few people who were more impressive. Moira had the ability to see through all the issues and bring a sharp clarity to any conversation very quickly. It is little wonder that she was such a big player in the London art and design community, and we were very fortunate to have her input on the SEGD Board."
SEGD President Jill Ayers (Design360, New York) says Gemmill brought a “laser-focused passion” to her role on the SEGD Board. “Moira was invaluable as we planned our 2012 International Symposium, which she generously hosted at the V&A.” And on a recent vacation in Turkey, says Ayers, Gemmill shared her excitement about her appointment with the Queen.
“I will remember Moira for her dynamic presence, her wicked sense of humor, and her sly smile. She was taken too soon, and will be deeply missed.”
Gemmill grew up on the west coast of Scotland and studied graphic design and photography at the Glasgow School of Art. She initially worked in publishing design. She began her museum career at the Aberdeen Art Gallery, where she was responsible for exhibition programming and design. She was appointed head of exhibitions and design at the Museum of London in 1998 and in 2002 moved to the V&A. In 2010 she was made an honorary fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects.
Gemmill was riding her bicycle to work at St. James Palace the morning of April 10 when she was struck by a truck. She was the fifth cyclist to be killed on London roads this year.