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Specification story: Coffey Architects’ brise-soleil at the Science Museum

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Phil Coffey describes the make-up of a subtle, effective brise-soleil

Architecture is at its best when social activity takes place in incredible light. Growing pressure on floor area, both in section and in plan, lead to an architecture of thinness and reduced head heights. Windows and doors and their treatment are becoming increasingly important in the search for a rich architecture within these reduced depths. 

Flexibility, practicality, materiality and delight can be found in threshold and facade. Coffey Architects is currently exploring the use of materials, light and experience in a number of projects through the use of sliding, folding and static thin screens to engage users with our buildings both internally and externally. We are fascinated by the diversity of screens and filter applications, particularly in relation to connecting users with their environment and providing comfort.



Our Science Museum Research Centre project transformed the Science Museum’s existing Dana Centre into a new library and research centre. The existing main space was tall, with south east-facing, double-height glazing, so reductions in glare and direct solar gain were priorities. One of our central concepts to achieve these is a double-layered, perforated screen. It produces tracking, dappled light as the sun moves across the sky, engaging the visitor with the passing of time and negating library fatigue.

Far from being random, these effects are inspired by two critical moments in the history of science: the Jacquard loom, an important first step in the history of programming; and the apple falling on Isaac Newton’s head under a tree.

The screen consists of two layers of perforated, folded, powder-coated syncopated aluminium panels. Concealed linear LEDs are installed in the void between the layers, their light programmed to correspond with the colour and strength of exterior light penetrating the screen. The perforations are of two sizes. Micro-perforations give an overall translucency and glow to the panels, while macro-perforations of three different sizes create variety and complexity of patterning along the facade while filling the reading room with sharp or blurred inverted shadows, depending on the time of year and the weather. The overall density of macro-perforation changes from compressed to expansive along the facade to deliver light levels appropriate to the different functions of the areas behind: entrance, reception and reading room.

Science Museum Dana Research Centre and Library

Double-layered perforated screen


  • 2mm aluminium folded front panel with M4 tapped holes on return
  • 2mm aluminium back panel, varying sizes with 5mm countersunk holes on external face
  • Two lighting brackets, full-length with holes, riveted and spot-welded, laser-cut and folded, 1.5mm aluminium
  • 25 x 5mm aluminium flat riveted to top
  • White polyester powder coating


  • 4 x4 mm holes, spacing of 4mm


Three different sizes of holes

  • Small cuts: 20 x 20mm (equal to with three micro-holes and two micro-spaces
  • Medium cuts: 52 x 52mm (equal to seven micro-holes and six micro-spaces
  • Large cuts: 84 x 84mm (equal to 11 micro holes and 10 micro spaces)

Top bracket

  • Mild steel 100 x 100 x 8 EA, spaced off ceiling
  • M12 anchor bolt into existing concrete slab
  • Mild Steel 30x30x5 EA cut and welded to 20 x 5mm flat
  • White polyester powder-coating

Phil Coffey is an architect and founder of Coffey Architects. His practice’s Modern Side Extension project was shortlisted for this year’s Stephen Lawrence Prize



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