Wellcome Collection announces £17.5m gallery expansion

Popular London science-based exhibition centre to add new galleries, restaurant and youth centre between 2013 and 2014

The Wellcome Collection is launching a £17.5m development project to massively expand its gallery and public spaces. One of the UK's most eclectic cultural venues, recent exhibitions have had to put up health warnings after some visitors keeled over when confronted with open heart or brain surgery, the history of domestic filth, or gruesome Victorian waxworks of hideous medical conditions.

Billed as "a free destination for the incurably curious", the London complex only opened five years ago, but has been overwhelmed by its own success.

Public events, which include lectures, debates, music and film nights, are usually booked out as soon as they are announced, and many of the exhibitions have been uncomfortably crowded. The venue's most popular ever exhibition, which has just closed, was about the brain, with displays including a preserved slice of Einstein's grey matter.

The centre houses temporary exhibitions – the next is on death – usually marrying contemporary art, historical collections, and science. It also has a superb library and the extraordinary permanent collection built up by Henry Wellcome, founder of the Wellcome Trust, who made his fortune in medications and invented the term "tabloid" to describe his small capsules. His broad science-based collection runs from shrunken heads to Florence Nightingale's slippers.

When the trust moved into a shiny new glass building on the Euston Road, the collection moved into newly created galleries within Wellcome's original 1930s building next door. It was designed for around 100,000 visitors a year, but has had five times that in the last 12 months, and the two millionth visitor this summer.

Architects Wilkinson Eyre have now won the contract to transform the site, adding two new galleries, a studio for youth events, a new public space in the present handsome library reading room, and a new restaurant as well as the existing cafe.

Work will start next summer, and be completed in 2014, but the centre will stay open to the public throughout.

Clare Matterson, director of medical humanities and engagement at the trust, said: "The phenomenal success of Wellcome Collection over the last five years is a wonderful affirmation of our conviction that adults are interested and inspired by complex themses that make connections across science, history, art and health."


Maev Kennedy

The GuardianTramp

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