Banners outside say the Wellcome Trust is for the incurably curious and they live up to it.
The Wellcome Collection is the vistor centre for the Wellcome Trust, the world’s ‘largest independent charitable foundation funding research into human and animal health’ which was funded by Sir Henry Wellcome. It’s an easy quickie detour from Euston Station in North London. A bit of background – Sir Henry Wellcome was a frontiersman, collector of strange things related to medical science and later founder of a giant pharmaceutical company.
When they say they’re for the curious, it’s a strength that keeps visitors interested. The Wellcome Collection has cracked the formula for how to get people excited about medical science – they boil exhibitions down to universal themes, topics that anyone can understand and find compelling. How are the incurably curious satiated here? Let’s get to it!
Outside, fetching window displays catch pedestrian & bus travellers passing by, displaying explorations of human science as explorers would – with intrigue and wow factors. On display here –
What if emotions were read by machines?
What if we could evaluate the genetic potential of lovers?
What if clouds were geo-engineered to rain ice cream?
They’ve got a great permanent collection upstairs, built from Henry’s collection of medical oddities. You can snoop around opening cabinets to read labels – the sort of details that make you want to explore.
You can grab a chair off the stacked shelves to go and sit wherever you please.
In the main lobby, a constant rotation of exhibits always get me coming back. What’s the trick? They’re so well curated, exploring compelling universal themes, backed with top notch science. Design is always attended to, so exhibits look as exciting as the content. Favourite exhibits from recent past –
Exploring our sense of who we are, with examples including the story of a man without memory, twins separated by time, juicy diary excerpts from the 1600s, gender identity and genetic testing. * Note the detail – the exhibit text is made via a mirror and reflection through a window, it makes your own refection a part of the exhibit image once you enter.
Ambient details encourage curiosity & active exploration.
‘Ask Us’ shows up around signage, give you the feeling they really mean it.
In the permanent gallery, video booths lean over and invite you in. The physical language welcomes onlookers but also optimises sound.
Visitors are invited to leave their impressions on topics inspired by the collection. Large tables with postcards are well stocked with crayons. Cards invite visitors to create drawings inspired by the provocation words printed on the back – molecular – intestine – artificial – nature – life – art – free – beauty – sleep – amputation – microscope – etc. What’s most encouraging is that the display wall is HUGE and it’s DIY. Once you finish your drawing you don’t have to wait for a moderator to choose yours for display, just find an empty spot and voila! Seeing hundreds of other cards makes it easy to come up with your own drawing.
The Wellcome Trust is located at 183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE. Exhibitions are free!