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Science Museum, Exhibition Rd, London, UK

Issue 80 August / September 2014 : Retail : Museum

Collider Exhibition: Architect: NISSEN RICHARDS STUDIO Bicycle Tour: Exhibit Designer: EMILY PUGH Fabricator: MILLIMETRE

Lighting design practice Studio ZNA was drafted in on two new installations for London’s popular Science Museum: one permanent, one peripatetic, both recreations of high speed circuits, given a theatrical scheme.

London’s Science Museum sits among the giants of Exhibition Road. Huddled alongside the V&A and Natural History Museum, it forms part of a tourist triumvirate that together pull millions of visitors to South Kensington each year.

Last year, over three million of these walked through the doors of the Science Museum, drawn in no small part by the powerful presence of interactive multi-media and immersive lighting schemes, engaging and enthusing visitors of all ages. Following in this vein, and as part of a programme of constant evolution, the museum’s design team brought in lighting design practice Studio ZNA to work on two new features: a permanent bicycle-themed ceiling display for the main entrance and a temporary exhibition exploring the work of the CERN particle physics laboratory in Geneva.


The new bicycle feature is one element of a refreshed entrance hall, part of a masterplan to improve visitor experiences throughout the site. The installation, entitled Bicycle Tour, takes a small cross section of vintage pieces from the museum’s extensive archive collection and incorporates them into a dynamic swirling structure that traces the history of cycle design. Suspended from the ceiling, it adds visual interest for those queuing for tickets, without restricting floor space.

The piece was conceived by exhibition designer Emily Pugh, working alongside Zerlina Hughes of Studio ZNA and an in-house project team headed by Kristin Hibbs. Pugh created a 3D paper model of the Bicycle Tour structure, a stylised velodrome track-cum-timeline, that allowed the team to agree on a workable design before it was sent for fabrication in mild steel, rolled aluminium and maple veneer by Susex-based firm Millimetre. By considering lighting early in the process, it was possible to integrate luminaires into the structure.

“We got our chosen manufacturers, Precision Lighting, involved at an early point in the concept to work up the detail for integrating into the suspended, curved mounting system,” says Hughes. 30 Monopoint Oculus 11 LED fixtures were built into the design. Fitted with sculpture lenses, the luminaires have beam widths of 14° and 30°, controlled with Precision’s Glare Guard. Each delivers a lumen package of 350lm at 5.5W and a colour temperature of 3000K.  A custom Monopoint connection system was engineered to fit perfectly into the steel tubing structure.

“The installation is located in the entrance foyer to the museum, which has high levels of daylights entering through the adjacent window wall,” Hughes explains. “We knew we needed a local source with enough punch to highlight the suspended bikes in a dramatic way without being a source of glare for the viewer passing beneath. In the evening the installation would have a significant presence during late opening and also form the evening prime views from Exhibition Road.”

Additional ERCO Optec spotlights, on discreetly mounted side track, add a soft wash light, completing the Bicycle Tour tableau. Due to its main entrance location, the piece was only allowed a very limited window for installation. To ensure minimal disruption, the entire structure was assembled and tested off-site before being brought to site.

“The communication between all parties and the rigorous offsite testing meant that there were no hitches when we got to site and the project was delivered on time and within budget,” says Hughes.
The piece has proved an instant success, particularly with large groups of visitors, as Pugh notes. “It is marvelous for school parties and half-term queues,” she jokes.  “They all have a good look at it instead of wandering into the shop.”


In addition to its work on the Bicycle Tour, Studio ZNA was also among the practices who responded to a tender invitation from the Museum to create a scheme for the new Collider exhibition. Hosted at the Science Museum from January to May, before heading out on tour around the world, Collider details the work of the CERN particle physics laboratory.

Visitors explore areas including facsimiles of CERN’s Control Room and a huge underground detector cavern, encountering ‘virtual’ scientists and engineers, snooping around a researcher’s workbench, and examining genuine artefacts from CERN. The Science Museum developed the £1 million exhibition with an award-winning creative team including architect Nissen Richards Studio, playwright Michael Wynne and video artist Finn Ross. Nissen Richard Studio acted in the role of artistic directors, creating a workshop structure in which the museum curators, project managers, playwright, filmmaker and designer could engage in brainstorming sessions that culminated in a detailed story board for each section.

Lighting plays an important role in creating a dramatised version of the CERN complex, developed after team visits to the real laboratories in Geneva.

“We designed lighting in each zone to have an architectural reality to the corresponding space in CERN, so it was almost a case of a series of stage or film sets being developed,” explains Hughes. ‘Office’ areas within the exhibition, are illuminated by suspended fluorescents (for example, Fagerhault Tenº Line) and more functional tunnel areas are given practical luminaires (Zumtobel Tecton with vane louvres and Siteco surface mounted can luminaires) or ceiling mounted light panels.

Onto this ‘character’ lighting was layered display lighting: Selecon Accent Beamshapers to illuminate graphics and information, as well as add key accents and colour; Concord Beacon Muse to light external objects; and Precision Lighting Pico 1 Surface LED spots - machined from aerospace-grade 6063-T6 aluminium - in the showcases. “In the showcases we used a mini LED spotlight in aluminium and were keen that these were seen as part of the mechanics of the case since this was in keeping with the pieces of amazing engineering on display,” says Hughes.

Luminaires were DMX controlled and programmed - using a Que server system supplied by Paul Simson of Enliten - to work alongside the AV to dim at certain points or highlight certain features in a timed sequence to support the narrative of the exhibition, whilst also helping to direct visitor flow.

Recreating the high-contrast aesthetic of CERN’s tunnels while also meeting access and legibility guidelines was a significant challenge for the team, but one which was successfully achieved, as the Science Museum’s curator of modern physics, Alison Boyle notes: “It was an interesting challenge to create something atmospheric, a world that was unfamiliar to our visitors, while having to adhere to the safety, legibility and aesthetic requirements that you have in a museum. It is a careful balance. The light levels are low to create the right atmosphere but allow visitors to see all the content properly.”

As the exhibition will now tour until 2016, the ability to easily transfer and recreate the scheme in new locations was also an essential element of the design. Fixtures were selected for their ability to deal with different ambient conditions and for the ease with which each piece could be reinstalled. “Everything is designed to be packed up and taken somewhere else,” says Boyle. “It’s really important to replicate the show as closely as we can. We are lucky that we are underground in the Science Museum but that might not be the case everywhere else and the lighting has to do the job of convincing you that you are 175m below ground.”

Collider is now showing at MOSI in Manchester, UK until October, before it continues its world tour.


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