The Wellcome Trust is converting its old central London headquarters into a museum of art and science, at a cost of £20m.
The building on Euston Road, which reopens in 2006, will house material from pharmaceutical entrepreneur Henry Wellcome's enormous collection of artistic and scientific artifacts, ranging from a first edition of Gray's Anatomy to Napoleon's toothbrush, in a trio of galleries and a refurbished library.
Two of the spaces will be permanent and one is for temporary displays. James Peto, former head of exhibitions at the Design Museum, will curate the temporary space, while a new version of the Medicine Man exhibition seen at the British Museum last year will be housed in one of the permanent galleries.
The museum will offer an artistic and cultural perspective on science, according to Wellcome's director of public programmes, Ken Arnold.
"Rather than artificially squishing them together, if you're broad enough in your perspective, it seems to us that you inevitably draw on both art and science," he says. "At the Science Museum, we've been running a series of temporary exhibition projects that mix the historical, the artistic and the scientific. this new space will have a larger gallery where we'll carry on doing these hybrid thematic shows."
The renovation, designed by Hopkins Architects, will add performance and debate facilities to the building, which already houses the Wellcome Library's archive of more than 100,000 images, among them an ancient Egyptian medical prescription and an etching by Van Gogh.
In his lifetime, Henry Wellcome amassed more than a million objects that reflected his interests in medicine, science and society. The result is a collection of "rich treasures, but also glorious eccentricities", according to Arnold.
Many items are currently on loan to other museums, but Arnold says the trust doesn't plan to recall those that are on show. "There are around 100,000 objects on loan to the Science Museum. But the intention is not to remove those [on display] and show them here, but rather to draw on the 98,000 other objects in storage that we've drawn on for temporary exhibitions, and that have been loaned to other institutions around the world."
The Trust will not charge admission for the new public centre, he adds.