THE SMITH CENTRE. SCIENCE MUSEUM. LONDON
The Smith Centre has been a great asset for the Science Museum. It has provided a comfortable venue for meetings, small conferences and a wide range of events to enable the Museum to interact with senior figures in the academic, commercial and political domains. It has also inspired new activities which have contributed to the fundraising efforts and to the development of the community of Fellows and patrons of the Museum.
The building that houses the Smith Centre is to be sold and the Centre relocated. This is an opportunity to revisit the functions of the Centre in order to increase its value to the Museum even further.
During visits to the Smith Center with Lady Smith, future plans were discussed. Inspired by Ian Blatchford’s vision, Daphne Becket and Phil Meadowcroft presented some of their ideas in a rough working form on December, 2014 in order to contribute to the evolving plans of the Museum.
In searching for an appropriate space to accommodate the new Smith Centre, the disused loading bay was proposed as a new dramatic centrepiece, to become a large reception and entertainment space, to which would be added in the adjacent available area, a lounge, a meeting room, and a library-display room.
The purpose of the study was to gather the ideas we presented in discussion in a concise manner to inspire and to contribute to the development of the thinking around both the future of the Smith Centre and the Museum-wide masterplan.
The New Smith Centre
The plan to relocate the Smith Centre to the Museum’s Groups Entrance and disused loading bay offers a great opportunity to transform ‘back of house’ spaces into an extraordinary setting for a range of activities which contribute to the Museum as a whole and to this area of London.
The distinct character of London has in part evolved from its capacity to assimilate change and to occupy interstitial spaces. The spaces ‘in between’ are as potent as the focal buildings and places. Arcades (e.g. Burlington), alleys, passages, courtyards and mews are a few examples of spaces which are ‘back of house’, subservient transitional spaces which also have their own specific character and identity.
The loading bay is a service space which already has a significant presence by virtue of the arched entrance from Imperial College Street. It has the capacity to become one of London’s iconic ‘found spaces’ as part of the Smith Centre and to form a valuable intermediate space between the public realm and the protected spaces of the Smith Centre and the Museum.
The new Smith Centre’s position with a street frontage gives it a strong public presence and capacity to give a public face to both the Smith Centre and the Museum. It is an intermediary space which links the entrance to the Smith Centre interior and as such has enormous potential beyond its more obvious roles as entrance, gathering and event space for the Centre – for example a space for temporary exhibitions or performances. It is currently a utilitarian space, one with extraordinary character when imagined as part of the Smith Centre. Just how it transforms will evolve from consideration of the full range of activities which could take place and through discussion with all those involved in the Centre and the Museum.