Wellcome Collection unveils £17.5 million development plans
Wellcome Collection today unveiled a major £17.5m development project, which will create new galleries and spaces to meet overwhelming demand. The venue welcomed its 2 millionth visitor this summer, shortly after the fifth anniversary of its opening.
Stirling Prize-winning architects Wilkinson Eyre will transform the venue, bringing new areas into public use and adding a dramatic new spiral staircase and interconnected galleries. The aim of the development, due for completion in summer 2014, is to create a truly interdisciplinary and curiosity-driven cultural destination dedicated to inspiring wider and deeper engagement with the connections between medicine, life and art.
Visitor numbers in the five years since Wellcome Collection opened demonstrate a hunger for innovative science-based cultural experiences that is currently underserved. This year has seen the venue's most popular exhibition, 'Brains', bring a 20 per cent increase in footfall, and the busiest summer since opening: talks and events are routinely oversubscribed.
Wellcome Collection was originally designed to accommodate 100,000 yearly visits from the incurably curious. Over the past year, the venue has welcomed 490,000 people to its critically acclaimed programme of events and exhibitions, the Wellcome Library, and its range of event spaces for hire. The development will open up 30 per cent more gallery space and double the capacity for public events.
A major new thematic gallery will hold in-depth exhibitions over a year-long period, with a mixture of semi-permanent displays and exhibits that will be conceived and developed during the run of the show. A dedicated youth events studio will offer an activity space for people aged 14-19 to engage with and produce work that contributes to the Wellcome Collection programme.
The Wellcome Library's iconic Reading Room will be transformed into an innovative public space, bridging the gap between the Library's research community and the public and opening its rich collections to new audiences. This new space will sit at the heart of the building. The research Library will also grow, offering scholars and readers an outstanding environment for study, with an expansion of the rare materials room and new spaces for desks and open-access shelving.
The Hub at Wellcome Collection, a new space for interdisciplinary research, will catalyse research and public engagement collaborations between the brightest minds across specialisms, and grants will be available for group residencies. An events series, Spotlight, will also be established, offering a forum for experts from different disciplines to come together and debate key topics affecting medicine, science and society.
A new restaurant, in addition to the current café, will significantly increase the catering on offer at Wellcome Collection.
Major works on the development will begin in summer 2013, and completion is scheduled for summer 2014. Wellcome Collection plans to remain open to the public throughout the build, with a flexible programme of events and displays.
Clare Matterson, director of Medical Humanities and Engagement at the Wellcome Trust, says: "The phenomenal success of Wellcome Collection over the last five years is a wonderful affirmation of our conviction that adults are interested and inspired by complex themes that make connections across science, history, art and health.
"Each part of our new development adds to the legacy of Sir Henry Wellcome's intellectual curiosity, his research and collections. Our new galleries and spaces will surprise and inspire our visitors with new connections and ideas and respond to the debates they provoke."
Ken Arnold, head of Public Programmes at Wellcome Collection, says: "Our new thematic gallery and youth events studio will give a greater depth to the Wellcome Collection experience and allow us to experiment across our programmes with bold new exhibition and event formats. The spaces will allow us to challenge and inspire the curious minds of our growing number of visitors."
Simon Chaplin, head of the Wellcome Library, says: "Libraries are laboratories for the mind. Our collections explore the place of health in every period of human culture, from every part of the world - from Egyptian papyri to MRI scans. Opening this fabulous resource more widely to the public will stimulate and reward the curiosity of our visitors, creating a new community bound by their interest in creating and sharing ideas."
Jim Eyre, director of Wilkinson Eyre Architects, says: "This project represents an exciting and challenging opportunity to provide new and expanded facilities that will enable visitors to connect fully with Wellcome Collection. The upper floors will be served by means of a dynamic new staircase appearing in the entrance hall drawing people in and up and bringing the many different parts of the building together."