When the Queen of England cut the ribbon for the new Wellcome Wing at London's Science Museum last June, she discovered a cool blue environment enveloping multiple floors of futuristic science exhibits. Designed by London-based architect Richard Maccormac of Maccormac Jamieson Pritchard, with engineering by Ove Arup &Amp; Partners In London, architectural lighting by Rogier Van der Heide of Hollands Licht in Amsterdam, and exhibit lighting design by Jonathan Howard at DHA Design Services in London, the new wing of the museum offers a host of contemporary solutions in its own cutting-edge design.

A large column-free space, the Wellcome Wing is designed so that the multiple exhibition floors and an IMAX cinema appear to be floating in a space whose boundaries are infused with deep blue light. The structure is built with concrete columns at the perimeter to support steel trusses using the “gerberette” system first used in the construction of the Pompidou Center in Paris. Each gerberette is a large, exposed metal angle that weighs between 10 and 15 tons, and is made of two pieces of steel plate bent to shape. The gerberettes are cantilevered using steel pins cast into the main columns. Steel trussing is fixed to one end of the gerberettes using smaller pins, while the outer end is fixed to the foundations of the building with tubular steel. This system allows the trussing to have shorter spans so they have a terraced look, which can be described as a grid of stacked trays.

Another major design element is a suspended glass wall which is bathed in blue and casts a deep blue glow over the exhibition space. The wall is a tubular steel structure suspended from concrete cores to support custom-designed tinted glass panels that cast the proper shade of blue as well as control the amount of sunlight that streams in from outside. “The sunlight had to be controlled to within 50 lux on a cloudy day and no more than 150 lux with the sun shining,” says van der Heide. “There is also a restriction of the visible cast of the blue light to within 6m [20'] of the wall, and an external image of blue must be seen at night.”

The wall was designed using a unique system with silver louvers sandwiched between two sheets of the tinted glass, with an external perforated mesh to create a seamless skin on the exterior of the building. The sunlight that falls on the silver louvers is deflected so that enough light is transmitted to light the building but limit the heat coming through the glass. Basically, the sun is the primary lighting source for the wall. “The mesh wall glows blue at night, but looks like metal during the day,” van der Heide points out. “The wall allows a 40% light transmission while cutting out 60% of all sunlight. A special low-emittance coating avoids heat build up.”

To light a series of woven scrim panels set along the concrete side walls, van der Heide chose a monochromatic blue wavelength to give an abstract feel to the edge of the space. Compact fluorescent fixtures with 55W Osram (PLL) lamps at 4000K are used with GAM Products dark sky blue gel (GAM 890). “It is hard for the eye to focus so you can't really see the depth of the multi-layer panels,” he says, adding that the panels could also be used for video projection if so desired.

Van der Heide followed a scientific approach in his design research. “This is a multilayered open space designed to showcase the future and keep up with the pace of science,” he says. “I was asked to create an environment for the exhibits which will constantly change. I had to calculate lamps and reflectors to be perfect for the side walls which are a different blue from the facade, whose color changes with the sun. The biggest challenge was definitely to get the West Wall deep-blue effect right. The enormous contrast range caused by the sun and the desired effect of a softly glowing blue wall did not seem to match.”

In contrast to the blue glow of the exhibition area is a bright orange entry tunnel, designed by Jonathan Howard of DHA, in conjunction with the architects and graphic designers Johnson Banks. The orange effect is created by dimmable, high-frequency 36W fluorescents behind a glass wall, lined with Durotran graphics in the key orange color. The concept for the tunnel is to prepare visitors for the deep-blue void beyond by exposing them to a strong contrasting color as they enter. "The orange light breathes rhythmically, creating a constantly varying light level in the passage, causing a sense of excitement and wonder," says Howard. "It proves a good example of architecture, lighting, and graphics combining to create a remarkable exhibition space."

Access from one level to another in the exhibit area is via staircases lit with bold shafts of light provided by Osram QRIII halogen lamps in Kreon surface-mounted fixtures. These are placed in the stairwells to accent the walls which are painted with Rosco super-saturated blue scenic paint which absorbs a lot of the light. Erco track lighting provides additional light in the stairs. “The blue in the stairs interacts with the exhibits as well,” notes van der Heide. “There is no ambient light in the stairwells, just well-defined narrow-beam lights doing a dotted pattern of pools of light. The exposed metalwork stairs, passerelles, and tension rods are painted aluminum and pick up the light. The whole space is pretty dramatic.”

Inside of this abstract blue environment is a series of exhibits which range from genetics in “Who Am I?” to digital information in “Digitopolis,” and problems of the future in “Futurescope.” The ground floor exhibits and entry area were designed by Wilkinson Eyre Architects, while the upper floors were designed by Caffon Mann, both London firms.

“There is no continuity to the spaces and each had a different lighting solution,” says Howard. “Also, the blue concept made it hard to create a lighting scheme. It is hard to see other colors in blue light, but I couldn't use dramatic, high light levels or I would have washed out the blue.”

To solve this problem, Howard punched narrow spots of color through the blue light to pull the exhibits out of the background. Lighting positions were built into the edges of each floor, or tray. “I didn't want to add positions all over,” says Howard, who wanted to avoid visual clutter in the exhibits. “Many of the exhibits are self-illuminated using internal fluorescent tubes to backlight graphics and walls of digital information.

There are also images and artwork projected in the space and Howard had to make sure all the lighting was dimmable to avoid washing out the projections. The control system uses Dynalite dimmers (from the London office of the Australian company), which Howard finds reliable and likes to use in museum installations. These are controlled by the Dynalite Dynet communication system which is tied into the building-wide system by Delmatic in the UK.

Howard used two primary sources throughout the exhibit areas. First are track-mounted fixtures from Light Projects (powder-coated to match the metalwork if the fixtures are exposed, or black if they are hidden from view) with Osram AR111 lamps. “These provide a tightly-controlled beam,” says Howard, who was confronted with ceiling heights of 18' and higher. Howard also added Pot Blue glass filters from Instrument Glass in the UK (the equivalent of Lee 201 color correction filters). “Unfiltered, the lamps looked too creamy or amber against the blue,” he notes. “Everything looked as if it had been washed with apricot jam, but at 4500K, they look white against the blue.”

In the larger scale exhibits and in the entry area, Howard used ETC Source Four ellipsoidals (26° and 36°), as well as Source Four PARs as accent lights on areas such as the large, curved floor of the IMAX theatre, which floats overhead. These fixtures have dark blue glass filters from Instrument Glass.

Howard also added color where appropriate, such as on the entry walls in the upper-level galleries. “Each floor is lit in a slightly different color, as a visual cue to where you are,” he explains. The colors range from lavender (Rosco 57) to deep purple made by mixing two shades of Instrument Glass filters. “The blue needed to be cut, and I bumped some of the levels up. But the blue is still dominant,” Howard adds.

An interesting collaboration by architects, engineers, and lighting designers, the Wellcome Wing is a space where the lighting certainly plays an important role in the overall design scheme. “This is an example of architecture expressed in light, not just light added on at the end,” says van der Heide. “That's what I enjoyed the most about this project.”


MacCormac Jamieson Pritchard

Richard MacCormac


Ove Arup & Partners, London


Wilkinson Eyre Architects, Caffon Mann


Hollands Licht

Rogier van der Heide, IALD, principal lighting designer; Heine Feijten, assistant to Rogier van der Heide; Juliette Nielsen, side walls lighting design and custom fixtures; Maaike Duijzer, West Wall natural light design; Bob van der Klaauw, Scale Studio model development


DHA Design Services

Jonathan Howard, designer; Rowena Preiss, assistant designer


Desag98 deep blue body tinted glass 8mm

Okalux99 Okasolar aluminum fixed louver

Clear float 8mm glass with low-emittance coating

Perforated metal sheet 40% transmissive

Custom-designed fixtures by Hollands Licht

Custom-designed reflector geometry by Hollands Licht, fabricated by Architen, Bristol

Osram100 55W 4000K biax compact fluorescents

GAM Products101 890 dark sky blue gel

Rosco102 super-saturated deep blue paint

Erco103 track-mounted tungsten fixtures

Kreon104 surface-mounted tungsten fixtures

Osram 12V QRIII tungsten narrow-beam lamps


ETC86 Source Fours and Source Four PARs

Selecon105 fluorescent floods

Light Projects106 track-mounted fixtures

Osram AR111 lamps

Instrument Glass107 filters

Rosco gel (R34 Flesh Pink, R36 medium pink, R57 lavender)

Circle Number on Reader Service Card

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