Wellcome Reading Room
Wellcome Collection, London 2012–15
A museum, library and event space – a hybrid public space that encourages physical, intellectual and social participation between the collection and visitors.
The Wellcome Trust is the world’s third wealthiest charitable foundation and one of the largest providers of non-governmental funding for scientific research. It runs the Wellcome Collection, a public venue based in a 1930s neo-classical building at 183 Euston Road, London.
We were selected through an invited competition to create a double-height gallery on the second floor to host both the Wellcome Collection and the Wellcome Library, a public space that blurs the distinction between public gallery and academic research library.
The room combines the spatial intensity of the building’s most dramatic space with the user-led indeterminacy of social media. The historic space has been enriched by sampling the character of two of Wellcome Collection’s past spaces. By literally juxtaposing these two contrasting environments the room challenges visitor’s associations and expected behaviours to create a permissive space that actively encourages engagement. High quality facsimiles sit alongside collection objects and contemporary art on plinths and in cases, allowing visitors to rummage through the collection.
"Perhaps it's a comment on recent trends in interactive museum design but the space feels hugely innovative, exciting and participative, with scarcely a touchscreen, web portal or QR code in sight. It will be surprising if this model of going back to the collections with plenty of analogue pursuits in a comfortable space won't be replicated by other museums."
Museums Journal, July/August 2015
The aim to create a socially participative gallery required an extensive brief development and testing process. As the designs evolved we led a series of public testing events at Wellcome Collection which allowed designers and curators to explore 1:1 furniture prototypes and their impact upon the artefact/visitor relationship. These validated Wellcome’s intentions and usefully influenced subsequent designs.
Digital tools allowed for samples of artefacts to be realised in traditional materials. We collaborated with a range of European designers and manufacturers to create bespoke timber profiles, cast bronze table feet, light fittings and fabrics, imbuing designs with the stories of Wellcome’s past.
We continue to work with Wellcome Collection on the evolution of the Reading Room, responding to the evolving needs of its collection and visitors.
"It has to be one of the nicest new public spaces in London"
- AJ Retrofit Award Best Cultural Building 2016
- Blueprint Awards Best Public-use project nomination 2016
- SCONUL Library Design Awards nomination 2015
- New London Architecture, Best Public Building nomination 2015
183 Euston Rd, London NW1 2BE
Base build architect
Wilkinson Eyre Architects
Base build contractor
The Reading Room at The Wellcome Collection
Edwin Heathcote in the FT
Bringing libraries back to life
Veronica Simpson in FX magazine
Wellcome Collection Reading Room
Christopher Turner in Icon
Londonist Out Loud: A Library For The Mad?
Listen to interview with Dr Simon Chaplin, Director of Culture & Society, Wellcome Trust in the Londonist
Ken Arnold, Head of Public Programmes, Wellcome Collection, on commissioning exhibition design
Interview with Pamela Buxton in Blueprint
Barbara Keiser in Nature
Wellcome Reading Room
World of Interiors April 2015
Reading Room, Wellcome Collection, London,
Mark Carnall, Museums Journal, July/August 2015