Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We use cookies to personalise your experience; learn more in our Privacy and Cookie Policy. You can opt out of some cookies by adjusting your browser settings; see the cookie policy for details. By using this site, you agree to our use of cookies.

Competition: National Railway Museum Wonderlab

The Great Hall at York’s National Railway Museum
  • Comment

The Science Museum Group is recruiting a design team for a £3 million ‘Wonderlab’ gallery at the National Railway Museum in York

The lead designer will create a new ticketed 1,466m² interactive exhibition for 7-to-14 year olds featuring ‘powerful and memorable experiences’ focusing on engineering. It will be constructed within the museum’s current ground floor engineering workshop.

The commission follows a review of timescales and phasing for the museum’s Vision 2025 regeneration masterplan. It comes a year after the museum abandoned an earlier search for a design team for a major £12 million overhaul of its Great Hall after the Heritage Lottery Fund rejected a funding application.

According to the brief: ‘Wonderlab will offer a unique, hands-on and immersive opportunity to design, create and test solutions – just like real engineers. Wonderlab will be awe-inspiring, designed to appeal to 7-14 years old no matter their background, access requirements or level of knowledge.

‘Wonderlab will position the National Railway Museum as the world-leader in inspiring young people to engage with engineering and is a critical part of the National Railway Museum’s transformative masterplan — Vision 2025 — which will reposition the museum: as a world-class centre of innovation and inspiration; a celebration of the global significance of the railways; a vibrant centre of learning and ideas-exchange and, an essential part of its community.’

The National Railway Museum opened in 1975 on the former 8.1ha site of the York North Locomotive Depot. It features more than 100 power cars and 200 other items of rolling stock. The museum is the largest of its type in the country and has 750,000 visitors a year.

NRM’s main exhibition space – the Great Hall – was constructed in 1877 as one of nine engine sheds at the York depot housing and preparing steam locomotives for the East Coast Mainline. The enormous structure, which features a giant turntable at its centre, was used to store decommissioned steam trains from 1968 up until its conversion into a museum.

Items on display include Stephenson’s Rocket, the record-breaking Mallard and the only Shinkansen Bullet Train outside Japan. Last year the museum shelved its search for a design team to revamp the 8,300m² Great Hall exhibition space, which has changed little since the museum opened.

The Great Hall scheme was intended as the first phase of a wider regeneration masterplan for the city-centre museum scheduled to finish in 2025 but was put on hold after failing to achieve Heritage Lottery Fund support.

The new space, planned to complete in 2022, will be designed to last 10-15 years and will be ‘fully accessible, both physically and intellectually.’

The deadline for applications is 1pm, 23 September.


How to apply

View the contract notice for more information

Contact details

Science Museum Group
Science Museum
Exhibition Road

Tel: +44 2079424000
Email: melinda.vainoras@sciencemuseum.ac.uk 



Karen Livingstone, Science Museum Group director of masterplan and estates

Karen Livingstone, director of masterplan and estates, in the Science Museum’s Mathematics The Winton Gallery

Karen Livingstone, director of masterplan and estates, in the Science Museum’s Mathematics The Winton Gallery

Source: Image by Science Museum Group

Karen Livingstone, director of masterplan and estates, in the Science Museum’s Mathematics The Winton Gallery

What is your vision for the new Wonderlab gallery?

Wonderlab will be a game-changing experience for museum visitors and will give people a unique, hands-on and immersive opportunity to design, create and test solutions just like real engineers. It should act as a beacon to the rail industry and to the cultural sector and will ensure more visitors leave the museum feeling that engineering is ‘for them’.

Wonderlabs are the current generation of galleries for young people which have been a core part of the Science Museum’s offer since the first Children’s Gallery in the 1930s. Wonderlab London opened in 2016 and Bradford in 2017.

The interactive gallery in York will be developed specifically for the National Railway Museum to give rigorous educational content that explores key aspects of engineering grouped around the themes of power, motion and control. It is also important to honour the engineering legacy of the museum’s workshop where the gallery will be based, both in terms of the interactives chosen and the final look and feel of the Wonderlab environment.

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

This project has an exhibition construction budget of £3m and we will be seeking evidence of creativity, flair and ingenuity to match our own ambitions. The successful Lead Designer will share our vision to deliver a truly exceptional gallery that will leave a lasting impression on future generations of young visitors.

We are looking for the Lead Designer and the wider creative design teams to take an active, holistic approach to designing with sustainability in mind and to match our vision to be ‘open for all’, ensuring we are fully accessible both physically and intellectually.

Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?

The competition to find a Lead Designer for Wonderlab is one of a suite of new opportunities that will be advertised in the coming months as York’s Vision 2025 masterplan progresses to an exciting new phase. Without giving too much away, there will be very significant opportunities to help shape the future of the National Railway Museum into a truly world-leading visitor attraction.

Are there any other recent interactive exhibition projects you have been impressed by?

Our own approach combines the rigour of research and expertise in science communication that SMG is a world leader in, with an approach to commissioning designers and artists that creates an offer, unlike any other interactive gallery or science centre. Our Wonderlabs are based on a unique response to the location and the subject; in York, we will have an engineering emphasis, in London it is maths and physics, in Bradford it is sound and light. This produces a high-quality, designed experience that sets us apart.

Having already developed two highly successful interactive galleries, the team has been invited to share their expertise with museums and cultural institutions as far away as Australia.


  • Comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.