The Hans Rausing Lecture Theatre, remodelled by Dow Jones Architects, is buried within the Science Museum on the main axial route through the galleries, and is a barrel-vaulted space with an elaborate moulded plaster cornice and skirting. It was originally entered through a pair of tall double doors to each side of the stage area, but these were closed off as part of an earlier redevelopment, and a new small door introduced under the main stair.
The brief focused on refurbishing the auditorium, and making a space that would reflect the expanding range of events the museum now holds. While the lecture theatre had been used primarily and intensively by school audiences watching live demonstrations, the museum wanted to introduce a wider range of events, including lectures and talks, for adults as well as family and school audiences, and for day and evening events. The design needed to be both adaptable and robust but also sophisticated.
The visibility of the lecture theatre has been increased by lining the outer wall and underside of the stair in a folded plate of stainless steel sheet. This is engraved with a pattern derived from nineteenth-century string models, which form part of the museum’s collection. Originally used to train architects and engineers, the models describe complex geometries with a string lattice. The door to the lecture theatre is made as a joinery box laid on the steel, and the foyer floor was remade in black resin which extends into the entrance and stage of the lecture theatre.
The partitions, dropped ceilings and seating that previously filled the auditorium have been stripped out to reveal the original barrel vaulted structure and cornices. A new lighting scheme is designed to emphasise this aspect of the design. A new wall enclosing the seating brings audiences either up a stair to arrive at the top above the seating, or round by the front, so that passing through the wall and entering the lecture theatre becomes a theatrical event. The new bench seating is upholstered in a textured woven fabric, and sits within a black-painted dado that, together with the floor, makes a dark and contained space beneath the form of the barrel vault.