Here is the Guardian's obituary:
Moira Gemmill, who has died aged 55 in a cycling accident, joined the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, as head of design in 2002. By the time she left at the end of 2014 to take up a post with the Royal Collection Trust, she had played a key role in transforming the institution that bills itself as the world’s greatest museum of art and design.
When she started, the V&A was, in every sense, notoriously difficult to navigate. Different systems of signage abounded and a variety of vested interests prevented any change. But Moira would brook no opposition and in what seemed like no time a new, coherent and elegant scheme by the graphic consultants Holmes Wood was soon rolled out. She was someone who knew what she thought and said what she meant: a breath of fresh air began to move through the museum.
She went on to develop what was called FuturePlan, and we worked together on this for 10 years. The principles were simple: work with and value the architecture and decoration of the V&A’s complex of historic buildings, open up views so that people would know where they were and be tempted on to see what was coming next, bring natural light into the galleries, provide views both to the outside world and to the garden within, which became the museum’s public hub, and find ways to make sense of the sequence and adjacencies of different displays.
It sounds simple, but it was a long, difficult and demanding process, which she led from 2005 onwards as director of projects and design. It also required charm, steely determination, a clear and coherent understanding of the overall picture and the confidence to tell me, as director, and the trustees when they were wrong. She also had to argue away the light-phobic shibboleths so sadly common among conservators and curators.
The more than 40 projects that she realised with architects and designers included two by Softroom, the Jameel gallery of Islamic art and the Sackler education centre, with its cunning reuse of the difficult spaces in the wing named after the museum’s first director, Henry Cole. She also oversaw the reinstatement and reopening of the original tearooms; Ewa Jiricna’s shop, sculpture gallery and exquisite jewellery gallery; great medieval and renaissance galleries by the architects MUMA; the ceramic galleries by Stanton Williams and the ceramic study galleries by Opera Amsterdam, and the elegant fashion gallery by 6a. Away from the South Kensington site were the Museum of Childhood by Caruso St John in Bethnal Green, east London, and the Clothworkers’ Centre by Haworth Tomkins at Blythe House, Kensington Olympia.
This represented a rate of progress easily excelling anything seen at the V&A since the 19th century. And at the same time Moira steered through the competition to design new exhibition galleries on Exhibition Road, won by Amanda Levete, with whom she worked very closely. A great promoter of new talent and an ardent feminist, Moira was the most demanding and discerning commissioner of projects, sometimes quite scary, never letting her high standards drop, but also a funny, kind and supportive colleague and boss.
She loved design for its own sake, but also believed that it served a public purpose: that good design could make life better and more pleasurable for everybody. She hoped that, little by little, the work that she led would transform the experience of those who came to the V&A so that it would feel cared for and tended, light and airy, tranquil and engaging. So the ladies’ loos needed to be lovely. Designed by Glowacka Rennie, they needed an art installation to make them really special, and I was sent to persuade the Paris-based Swiss artist Felice Varini that this was the right location for work by him. Installations, like the Random International studio's Swarm III, were commissioned for otherwise neglected spaces and what might have been an ordinary fire-escape became, thanks to Jim Eyre’s design, the beautiful ceramic galleries bridge. Moira hoped, as Cole had, that those who knew the V&A would become impatient with unnecessary and spirit-sapping ugliness and demand better in every aspect of their lives.
Always immaculately presented, Moira loved London and was the most urban of people. Yet she was born in Campbeltown, Argyll, the principal town of the Kintyre peninsula, and grew up on a remote farm in Kintyre, daughter of Helen and John Gemmill. She always retained a love of the region’s wild landscape, her family and family home, and for all things Scottish, tartan very much included. From Campbeltown grammar school, under the eye of her mother, who taught there, Moira went on to study graphic design and photography at Glasgow School of Art. This was a turning point. Though enjoying extracurricular activities far too much to be a model student, she loved the art school, found herself, and met the circle of friends who remained with her throughout her life.
After graduating in 1981 she moved to Aberdeen, where she helped set up Citygirl, a listings magazine that was lively and fun but eventually went bust. So Moira got a job at Aberdeen Art Gallery and found herself planning and staging exhibitions, under the directorship of the artist Ian McKenzie Smith.
In 1997 she became head of design and exhibitions at the Museum of London, under Simon Thurley. There, working alongside Magdalen Fisher, who became her closest friend, she was responsible for exhibitions including London Bodies, Terence Donovan's London and Vivienne Westwood. She also oversaw long-term displays such as the World City Gallery and a network of “outsites” that showed archaeological finds where they had been discovered.
A Scottish dimension to Moira’s legacy will come in 2017 with the opening of V&A Dundee, a scheme to take the V&A’s name and exhibitions north and create a design centre for Scotland. She also took charge of the V&A’s pioneering relationships with two Indian institutions: the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbaii, and the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, Gujarat. The exhibition programme, which on Moira’s initiative employed so many emerging designers, gave rise to more V&A exhibitions travelling to more places around the world than from any other museum. An honorary fellow of the RIBA, a judge of the Architect’s Journal Women in Architecture awards and chair of the V&A Illustration Awards, Moira excelled at finding ways to ensure that the winners she wanted got the recognition she knew they deserved.
As director of capital programmes at the Royal Collections Trust, Moira had been looking forward to the opportunity to work on Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace and Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh. Brave, brilliant and beautiful, she was the brightest and best of a generation that transformed the V&A.
She is survived by her parents, her brother, Andrew, and sister, Jennifer.
Moira Gemmill, design director, born 18 September 1959; died 9 April 2015