The Wellcome Collection Reading Room is breaking down any preconceptions we may have on the whole idea of ‘reading rooms’ and completely changing the way we interact with them. Where we might usually picture a hushed room where only reading and breathing is allowed, this space is something quite different.
It is part of the £17.5 million renovation that the Wellcome Collection underwent, which was carried out by Wilkinson and Eyre architects from 2013 to make more space for the 500,000 visitors that visit annually; this was five times more than they had anticipated when they had opened in 2007! They re-opened to the public two years ago to reveal an incredible winding steel staircase, their in-house restaurant (The Wellcome Kitchen) as well as the Reading Room itself. In addition to this, due to the renovation the Wellcome Collection now has an incredible 40% more room for its exhibitions as well as The Hub facilities on the 5th floor which the recipients of the Hub award (which funds researchers with up to £1 million for up to two years) can use throughout their residency.
If you didn’t know about the Wellcome Collection, you’ve been missing out. They call themselves ‘the free destination for the ‘incurably curious’ and probably the reason why the institute continues to be a popular attraction to visitors from all paths of interest is because, through their incredible program of exhibitions and extensive archives, they explore what it means to be human.
The Wellcome Collection is an extraordinary multi-disciplinary institute which is a testament to the passion of the founder of the Wellcome Trust. When medical entrepreneur Henry Wellcome died in 1936, the charitable foundation ‘Wellcome’ was founded, it’s main purpose to fund for scientifical research, which it continues to do. Wellcome was the man who had made his fortune by figuring out how to turn powder medication into pills, but he was also an ardent collector of art and artefacts that related to medicine and the human body. His 100,000 strong collection is housed at this Wellcome Collection, but many more are loaned to other museums around the world, continuing to inspire the topic of how science meets with art!
But let’s focus on the Reading Room and all that it offers. Of course we would expect books-there are around a 1000 in this room- but at first when you walk in you cannot be sure if this space is a gallery, a library or a common room. It’s safe to say this space is all of these combined and more. Created by Architecture Studio AOC, it feels like walking into a children’s playroom: first of all this place is colourful and spacious which makes this place feel so welcoming (no pun intended). The cosy interior design, with cute communal tables, soft chairs and even huge cushions on the red-carpeted stairway, gives that feeling of home (only better) so you can feel relaxed in this space.
"They asked us to create a space that challenged the associations and behaviours of conventional gallery spaces and nurtured a permissive environment in which their visitors could engage with the collection in new and unpredictable ways," AOC director Geoff Shearcrof explained.
Unlike other reading rooms, you can feel at liberty to have a chat in this place and move around and open up the cabinets and drawers to reveal artefacts relating to the books around you, or swipe through the digital and interavtive interfaces which provide further information at your fingertips. It great to add the sense of touch to the whole reading and learning process.
You are also welcome to roam around in the exhibition space, where there are 100 artefacts on view; among these is the Omniskop – one of the world’s earliest x-ray machines developed between 1925-35.
An extra feature to the Reading Room which we really love is the Reading Room events which can be suggested by any members of the public to hold. Past events included poetry and discussion, inviting a guest speaker to talk about any given topic, and drawing classes. They are usually advertised on the day for others to join, so keep yourself informed to not miss out.
The Reading Room at the Wellcome Collection truly emcompasees most people’s childhood dreams, and what is refreshing is that this space was designed specifically for adults. Ever since this revamp, the Wellcome Collection has quickly catapulted itself to be a trendy hotspot where you actually want to make time for. I’m sure I havee only scratched the surface of this wonderful place. Make sure to visit the ground floor café, amazing resturaunt, gift shop and free exhibitions.