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De Matos Ryan picked to design National Railway Museum’s Wonderlab

The workshop national railway museum
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De Matos Ryan has won the contest to design the £3 million child-focused Wonderlab gallery at the National Railway Museum in York

The practice, which is currently working on the V&A’s Museum of Childhood in east London, was selected ahead of Hayhurst & Co, Dutch practice Opera Amsterdam, London outfit Studio C102, and Tate Harmer for the Science Museum Group-backed commission.

The team will create a ticketed 1,466m² interactive exhibition aimed at seven to 14-year-olds, but open to all, featuring ‘powerful and memorable experiences’ and focusing on engineering. It will be built within the museum’s existing ground-floor engineering workshop (pictured).

Charlotte Kingston, the head of interpretation and design at the National Railway Museum, said the interactive exhibition would be ‘fun and inspring’.

Explaining why the De Matos Ryan team had won, she said the jury had been impressed by the practice’s ’initial concept which made use of the height [almost triple height] and the natural light’.

She added: ’Their final visual had three images on it: a workshop, an Apple Store; and work by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. This mix of premium band and colour really summed up what we were after.’

’We are aware that engineering can be seen as a very male profession, so we wanted to make the space welcoming to all, especially young girls.’  

The National Railway Museum opened in 1975 on the 8.1ha site of the former 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.

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

Visuals of the concept designs are not expected for another couple of months.

The announcement of De Matos Ryan’s selection closely follows news that the museum had chosen Feilden Fowles to design its new £16.5 million Central Hall entrance and exhibition spaces scheme.

Architect’s view

Trains, locomotion and simple engineering concepts have always held a special place in children’s imagination and Wonderlab at the Railway Museum will be designed to inspire much needed future generations of engineers and inventors.

The new Wonderlab vision will excite, inspire and challenge young minds, bringing to the fore an awareness in sustainability and energy use.

Our design approach will explore the concept of ‘Motion’ in its different forms as evoked by railway engineering. In particular, we are intrigued and inspired by the perception of relative motion experienced in relation to static volumes, surfaces, textures and light.

Our design looks to create an engaging and intuitive interactive open plan workshop environment, stimulating social interaction, dialogue and learning around interactive exhibits, appealing to a cross-generational audience, but clearly focused on captivating the target audience.

Our approach will promote an inquisitive, iterative, open and broad dialogue-based creative design process that is truly collaborative and designed to physically, culturally and socially bring together existing and new audiences and seamlessly stitch new and old within the reimagined engineering workshop at the National Railway Museum.

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