As part of a wider regeneration of the Exhibition Road revitalisation as the ‘cultural heartland of London’, the Science Museum will undertake a redevelopment designed by Wilkinson Eyre Architects which incorporates a new facade, new galleries, lifts and SkySpace - a cavernous rooftop space and 'destination cafe' dedicated to cosmology.
“I really like the concept that there’s so much going on in the museum that they’re kind of fighting to get out,” says Paul Baker, Wilkinson Eyre Director and architect for the project. He is describing the Beacon, the glass and light façade set to burst out from within the existing columned entrance. Acting like a lighthouse for the Museum, the Beacon will allow the building to be acknowledged from either end of Exhibition Road and create an entrance to inspire and excite visitors. Its underbelly will act as a screen entertaining and enticing visitors.
The redesign is an extension of the partnership between Wilkinson Eyre and the Museum which has developed over the past 15 years as they have collaborated on the ‘Museum of the Future’ framework devised to bring the museum through into its centenary year. “We’ve enjoyed working with Wilkinson Eyre in the past as they are one of those firms that work in a space between art and technology,” says the Museum's Head of Creative Direction, Tim Molloy. “They bring a vivacity to engineering which we very much enjoy.”
The redesign celebrates the Museum’s centenary year and is seen as an opportunity to pull the museum into the 21st century. Molloy explains that it is also a chance to change perspectives:“We’ve always been known as a museum that’s interactive, really for the last 100 years. Where you can see things as well as do things. That’s something that has been commonly misinterpreted as being about kids...that’s something we want to change to show that it’s about creating conversation.”
On a functional level, the new design will resolve acknowledged movement issues upon entering and within the building. “The building is made up of a long thin sequence of spaces culminating in the welcome wing. The idea was that we created some visual identity between floors. As you go deeper into the building you kind of lose the identity of the different floors,” said Baker noting that the visitor tends to work across the ground floor. “The way we worked here is we made a computer model of the building. We looked at the shapes and relationships all down the building and worked out how we could manipulate them.”
Part of this manipulation is the inclusion of three new lifts which encourage upward circulation. The entrance will also be opened up with multiple entrances reducing the bottleneck effect previously suffered.
The project will be progressed through several stages commencing with the creation of the Beacon and culminating in SkySpace which will commence circa 2013. Before these works can commence, however, the big push is on gaining funding for the project. Molloy advises that despite current economics, he is confident about this challenge: “I’m always very positive about recessions. I think a period of restraint is very good for creativity. It allows you to reflect and allows us to be future focused…One of the things to guide us out is science and technology and we are confident that this is something that people will invest in.”
Niki May Young
Take a trip through the new Science Museum in this animated flythrough