'Would you like to see the Wellcome Wing?' asks Sir Neil Cossons with evident enthusiasm,almost before I've had time to sink into the stylish leather sofa which contrasts with the austere grandeur of'the sort ofSelfridge's building'which houses the office from which he directs the Science Museum.It neatly establishes that we will talk about his achievements at the Museum before we raise the subject ofhis appointment as chairman-designate ofEnglish Heritage.He's obviously known and liked on site,and knows and likes MacCormac Jamieson Prichard's design.
On the walk there he confesses it is his first major building project since an unhappy experience at the Liverpool Museum in the 1960s where an arrogant city architect left little scope for curatorial input.He also shows an affection for the South Kensington institutions.'That's the Foster medical school [at Imperial College].I like it and it's lovely inside',he points out,'and there's the funny lid'(by John McAslan) on top ofthe library,which expanded the space for the amalgamated Science Museum and colege collections.
For at least 13 ofthe 14 years he has directed the museum,he says,the western extension has been under consideration.
Much to his delight,the Wellcome Trust and the National Heritage Lottery Fund rescued it from a PFI mire.The full £48 million has been raised and,when open next June,the new wing will add about 30 per cent to the museum's display space,allowing it to cover contemporary science adequately.
The briefcalled for a 450-seat IMAX auditorium.'Richard was the only architect who said,'let's glory in its shape''.It perhaps re-visits post war British architecture's one big idea - think ofthe Royal Festival Hall - but here the enigmatic form and blue-tinted light will contrast intriguingly with the counter-intuitive intellectual concepts which are the themes ofits exhibitions.When Cossons teases his architect with a reference to a 'horrible 1960s skiffle group Richard MacCormac and the Gerberettes',it's less a reference to the building's traces ofthe Pompidou than respect for the design and its theatrical way ofre-configuring the relationship between viewer and object.A second MJP project between the Wellcome Wing and Queen's Gate,a Centre for Science and the Public, will be another architectural mission statement for the museum.