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National Railway Museum reveals Wonderlab shortlist

The workshop national railway museum
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De Matos Ryan and Hayhurst & Co are among five teams competing to design the £3 million Wonderlab gallery at the National Railway Museum in York

Dutch practice Opera Amsterdam, new London firm Studio C102, and Tate Harmer complete the shortlist for the Science Museum Group-backed commission. An overall winner is expected to be announced at the end of this month.

The winner will create a ticketed 1,466m² interactive exhibition for 7-to-14 year olds featuring ‘powerful and memorable experiences’ focusing on engineering. It will be built within the museum’s ground-floor engineering workshop (pictured).

The shortlist announcement comes two months after the museum launched a separate contest, organised by Malcolm Reading Consultants, for a new £16.5 million Central Hall connecting two existing exhibition spaces. The shortlist for that job is expected to be announced before the end of the year.

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 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 Wonderlab commission followed a review of timescales and phasing for the museum’s Vision 2025 regeneration masterplan. It was announced 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.

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.

Instead, the Central Hall project will create a landmark entrance space featuring a 1,000m² gallery intended to boost visitor numbers at the attraction to 1.2 million every year. The government awarded £18.5 million to the scheme last month as part of a £250 million boost to cultural projects across the UK.

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.’

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Readers' comments (1)

  • The Heritage Lottery Fund sometimes works in mysterious ways, and support for improving such a world class collection would surely seem to be a no-brainer.
    After all, in the context of railways the HLF funded the complete reconstruction of the Welsh Highland Railway from Portmadoc all the way to Caernarvon - a canny investment in a very popular tourist region that's created a roaring success.
    Perhaps they'll think again about helping the National Railway Museum.

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