Science Museum opens new gallery charting London’s historic development
Gitta Gschwendtner creates an abstract cityscape for permanent exhibition at the Science Museum that showcases London’s stratospheric evolution between 1550 and 1800
London is a city built on Science. It’s where Dr Robert Hooke used his microscope to observe the smallest, previously hidden details of the natural world; where Sir Isaac Newton proposed the law of gravity and the three laws of motion; and where revolutionary construction machinery was used to build architectural icons such as Westminster Bridge. All of these advancements took place between 1550 and 1800 – a 250 year time period that was particularly transformative for London, when it grew from a modest commercial centre to major world city.
Its stratospheric development during this time is the focus of a new permanent gallery at the city’s Science Museum. Realised as an abstract cityscape designed by Gitta Gschwendtner, the 650 sq m gallery charts the city’s expansion through objects taken from three collections: the Science Museum Group Collection; King’s College London’s King George III collection; and objects and artworks lent by the Royal Society.
These objects, that include Hooke’s microscope and Newton’s Principia Mathematica, are displayed across a series of vitrines and room sets all housed within a neighbourhood of transparent mesh houses that offer glimpses into other parts of the exhibition.
‘The starting point for my research were drawings and etchings of London from 1550-1800, the time period of the exhibition,’ explains Gschwendtner. ‘The drawings show how London changes over the time, but also how building from different periods coexist alongside each other. Based on that research I have identified a few key characteristics and created a range of abstracted mesh houses.’
‘Not a single house in the exhibition is identical, they share similar characteristics, but amazingly we managed to create them all from an incredible jigsaw of unique punched panels.’
To reflect the growth of London during this time period, the exhibition’s layout changes as visitors journey through its abstract streets. At the beginning, where objects from the 16th century are displayed, the layout is denser and busier with black mesh houses. These narrower houses with pitched roofs and stepped upper floors are a clear nod to the timber-framed buildings that lined the city streets in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Then gradually, as the visitor progresses into the 18th century, the layout becomes more minimal, changing from black to light grey to denote London’s new status as a major centre of the empire. Here, the mesh house structures become more simplified, transitioning to flat fronted Georgian town houses.
‘The starting point for my research were drawings and etchings of London from 1550-1800’
Objects and text are displayed throughout on a teal blue backdrop selected by Gschwendtner and the exhibition’s graphic designer Martin McGrath. ‘The exhibition features a lot of brass and timber objects and teal blue seemed to work best at bringing out these materials,’ explains Gschwendtner. ‘We established that it would work well to showcase all content, be it objects, graphics or illustrations on a band of teal across all sections.’
Along the exhibition’s grid of streets, visitors will come across a series of monochrome room sets designed by former Wallpaper* interiors editor Leila Latchin. Designed to illustrate the back stories of the real objects set within them, the perspective-bending rooms contain a large amount of historic information in a small amount of space. §