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‘Places to ponder and places of wonder’: Muf’s Science Museum gallery

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Muf’s interactive gallery at the Science Museum opens its doors this week

ARCHITECT’S VIEW

The 2,300m2 space includes more than 50 objects, experiences and experiments encouraging visitors to roam through the space guided by what catches their eye, rather than follow a predetermined route. 

The new gallery and entrance halls were created by removing layers of suspended ceilings and partitions that had previously demarcated three separate exhibition spaces to reveal the museum’s large third-floor space. 

Within it, a series of zones represent light, materials, sound, forces, maths, electricity and magnetism, with each marked by a single suspended object. 

The interactive gallery also includes a silver-lined 120-seat theatre with a red quilted undercroft that provides space for two classes of children, three playground slides demonstrating the properties of friction, a Tesla coil giving off dramatic electrical discharges and an 8m-tall working orrery demonstrating the planetary movements of the solar system. 

According to the practice the gallery ‘blurs the distinction between architecture and exhibit’. 

The project is the latest in the Science Museum’s £60 million regeneration masterplan, which also includes a mathematics gallery by Zaha Hadid Architects, a new lecture theatre by Dow Jones and an events space by Duggan Morris. 

The first scheme in the masterplan – a library and research centre by Coffey Architects – completed in March. 

Wonderlab at the Science Museum by Muf

Wonderlab at the Science Museum by Muf

Architect’s view 

Our experience of working in the public realm has equipped us to create robust, hardworking spaces which also deliver a sense of grandeur and delight – using unusual materials and specially commissioned pieces. A treasure trail of 25 crystals set into bespoke timber benches; tactile waiting rails hand-carved by students from the Building Crafts College in Bow; a 5m oak tree studded with magnets – these details are a conscious reaction against the generic bright, wipe-clean, panelled architecture of many schools and public spaces. 

To achieve this rich detail we worked with a diverse array of contractors, artists and makers: Romford car sprayer Luke Jones layered the paint finish to the rotation station; a multifaceted concave mirror was made with Will Yates Johnson; artist Siobhan Liddell was commissioned to produce a set of 13 composite prints demonstrating mathematics at work in nature and a companion set of new tessellations; the hood of the orrery, which depicts the 500 stars nearest to Earth, was developed with Swedish design practice Front; door handles are by Felix de Pass and oversized glass for the Chemistry Bar by designer Arnout Visser, originally of Droog, working with Czech makers. 

We also drew on well-known spaces of scientific discovery and learning for the design of the interventions and exhibits: Faraday’s lecture hall can be seen in the show space; the orrery recalls Joseph Wright of Derby’s famous painting A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery in Derby Museum; and a visit to the still-in-use chemistry labs in Oxford inspired the Chemistry Bar. 

Balancing the realisation of a spectacular gallery with the need to clearly communicate scientific principles, and working to a tight deadline and budget, our ambitious approach has been guided by a determination to create the very best public space possible. For the 200,000 school children who will visit the Wonderlab each year, we have provided dramatic daylit spaces for waiting and eating packed lunches, secret doors to enter the gallery, and throughout places to ponder as well as places of wonder.

Wonderlab at the Science Museum by Muf

Wonderlab at the Science Museum by Muf

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