Wonderlab National Railway Museum | ©Hufton Crow

By Anat Talmor, Design Director at De Matos Ryan

Establishing an interactive gallery aimed at encouraging children, particularly young girls, to engage with engineering phenomena is crucial for introducing them to the world of STEM and addressing the pervasive underrepresentation of women in these fields. Wonderlab: the Bramall Gallery at the National Railway Museum, part of the Science Museum Group, aims to do precisely that by encouraging a love of STEM learning in a playful, fun and engaging manner.

Designed by De Matos Ryan, the gallery is an integral part of the National Railway Museum’s transformation programme. The new, interactive gallery embodies the Science Museum Group’s vision to inspire futures, building creative STEM confidence and igniting the engineering curiosity of future generations.  It will equip and inspire the target audience of 7-14-year-olds with the skills and aptitudes needed to meet and embrace the potential engineering challenges and opportunities of the future. By fostering early engagement in engineering, Wonderlab aims to inspire a future generation including female engineers, and contribute to closing the gender gap in STEM, ensuring a more diverse and inclusive future for these critical fields.

The concerning gender gap in STEM persists across both educational and professional realms. In the UK, only 31% of core STEM students are women, with an even more pronounced disparity in specific disciplines such as engineering where female graduates constitute just 21% of the cohort. Recognising the importance of the issue, the UN’s General Assembly, in 2013, adopted a resolution on science, technology and innovation for development, in which it stated that full and equal access to, and participation in, science, technology and innovation for women and girls of all ages ‘is imperative for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.’

To this end, hands-on experimentation and creative exploration will excite and challenge young minds, bringing awareness to sustainability and energy. The gallery’s 18 bespoke interactive exhibits showcase different engineering and railway concepts and processes. Visitors are encouraged to think like engineers and develop skills as they design, build and test in a permissive and playful manner. For example, Feel the Force, designed in conjunction with the National Railway Museum and Unusual Projects, explores design streamlining, drag and force through physically experiencing aerodynamics. These learning opportunities deliver the Science Museum Group’s vision to think big, reveal wonder, share authentic stories and ignite curiosity no matter the visitor’s background, access requirements or level of knowledge.

De Matos Ryan’s design celebrates the iconic former railway workshop in which the gallery is located as an adventure landscape. It communicates engineering phenomena and inspires creative confidence in a safe and stimulating environment. To achieve this, the gallery is conceived as a new engineering playground with no prescribed journey. This encourages self-guided exploration and allows visitors to discover the space at their own pace. The gallery provides opportunities for gatherings, interactions and engagement between visitors and various hubs within the open-plan gallery.

Charlotte Kingston, Head of Design Exhibitions and Communications, National Railway Museum comments, ‘De Matos Ryan fully embraced the creative challenge of Wonderlab – to transform a heritage railway workshop into a beautiful and accessible interactive gallery that would inspire the next generation with the creativity of engineering and railways.’

To create the 18 bespoke interactive exhibits, a process of testing and prototyping involved more than 1,300 individuals, including experts within the rail industry, education, local community groups and members of the public. The Science Museum Group’s Audience Research team conducted 16 months of prototype testing, working directly with families and schools visiting the museum. Prototyping was essential to make sure that visitors were engaged by and could use and understand the exhibits. The team learned from visitors’ experiences, finding changes which improved the exhibits and ensured that the gallery meets the needs, wants and expectations of audiences. With accessibility at the core of the design, SEND specialists and interest groups were engaged to ensure that the gallery is entirely inclusive and welcoming for all.

About the author

Anat Talmor is a Design Director at De Matos Ryan. Before joining the studio in 2016, Anat worked for several other award-winning practices including David Chipperfield Architects, Sergison Bates and Allies and Morrison where she was an Associate. Anat has significant experience on a variety of projects within the museum, cultural and educational sectors.

At De Matos Ryan, Anat has been responsible for key design development, coordination and delivery for the British Library’s new Membership programme project, Young V&A Museum Base Build, Camden People’s Theatre, Wonderlab: the Bramall Gallery at the National Railway Museum in York Base Build and exhibition Design and is currently working on the Tullie House Museum redevelopment in Carlisle. Anat is passionate about working with the community and has led many of the practice’s extensive and ambitious co-design programmes engaging with local communities for cultural institutions.

Anat studied architecture at Cambridge University and qualified as an architect in 2000.

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