Bridging Art and Science




The partnership was rebranded as Wilkinson Eyre in 1999 to reflect that both of the partners, who met when working for Michael Hopkins, contribute equally - and that is true of their book Bridging Art and Science which was published to coincide with the exhibition of the same name held at the Science Museum during April and May 2001.


From the main entrance of the Science Museum their glass bridge is overhead, and in the distance is the blue glow of their Wellcome Wing. The exhibition of their work, also designed by them, was above on a higher gallery up on the left, and consisted of two rows of cubes, the contents of which explained themes in their philosophy illustrated with their work.


Each cube represented one aspect of their philosophy or work, and contained models, projected images or backlit display panels. Where one cube was apparently missing there was a piece of the Air Pavilion at Magna suspended overhead.


The Magna cube was appropriately glowing orange with a model of the interior viewed from either end. The Magna Science Adventure Centre is the first of its kind in Britain and uses innovative engineering and design techniques to make a tourist attraction out of a redundant steel works to forge inspiration where once there was dereliction.


Movement and Geometry were illustrated not only by the Hulme Arch in Manchester, but by a Palladian villa, pointed arches at Glastonbury Abbey and a church by Borromini which "bursts with movement."


Responsive structures were illustrated by Explore@Bristol, another of the new generation of science centres with its interactive wall, and the Challenge of Materials Bridge just outside the exhibition.


Lightness of detail could be illustrated by any one of their bridges, of which they have now designed over 100. One of the less well known ones illustrated was the Butterfly Bridge at Bedford.


Gateshead Millennium Bridge had a cube to itself, one panel with six continuously changing slides, and another face covered in newspaper cuttings. Beyond on the gallery's end wall pictures and film of Stratford Depot and Station with time lapse photography were projected.


The last cube, Architecture or Engineering, had the most text, and included a history of the engineer since the 18th century. To quote its conclusion, "Architects are now pioneers armed with the great resource of computer technology. Now limited only by our imagination and the laws of physics we are able to draw and navigate our way around shapes with incredible ease which were previously too difficult to draw. Together we can find new ways of doing things, engineers can analyse them more quickly and the beauty of it is that the same technology facilitates new ways of making things in manufacturing that are economic. What a great opportunity to make technology subservient to art."


While bridging art and science is the named theme, their inspiration from nature is equally important and underlies each aspect of their philosophy.


Both art and science are concerned with the study of nature and Wilkinson Eyre's aesthetic and technical solutions draw inspiration from the geometry, structures and proportions which already exist in the natural world. For example the form of a retail warehouse with curved laminated timber beams and plywood stressed skin was derived from the sea urchin. While order comes from geometry we can be liberated from rigidity by using natural geometric forms like the spiral, which was the organisational force for the multiplex cinema at Merry Hill.


For those who missed this exhibition, itself a good example of the practice's innovative designs, and cannot afford the book at 40, see Blurring the Boundaries in the Architect's Journal of 5 April 2001. Here Chris Wilkinson explains, with numerous colour photographs, how their design work, inspired by nature, is a fusion of art and science.


 In November the Magna Science Adventure Centre was awarded the Stirling Prize for 2001.


Other references


Building Design 6 April 2001 has a profile of Wilkinson Eyre.


Building studies of the Magna Science Adventure Centre appeared in Building Design 6 April 2001 and in Architect's Journal 5 April 2001.


Building Design 15 October 1999 chronicled the relaunch of Wilkinson Eyre.


John Winter reviewed Bridging Art and Science in the Architect's Journal 26 April 2001.


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