WonderLab gallery shows the wonders of the railway

The new space at the National Railway Museum in York features graphics inspired by railways and bespoke interactive works that encourage visitors to “think like engineers”

The National Railway Museum in York has unveiled its largest new gallery in more than a decade. WonderLab: The Bramall Gallery is part of the museum’s ongoing Vision 2025 project, which looks to transform the attraction into “a global engineering powerhouse”.

Set within a former workshop on the grounds of the National Railway Museum, the gallery was developed with children aged seven to 14 in mind, and came to life with the help of various designers and artists. These include London-based design studio LucienneRoberts+, which won the pitch by submitting a poem attesting to its team’s love for the railway.

All images: 2D design by LucienneRoberts+; 3D design by De Matos Ryan; Illustrations by Masha Krasnova-Shabaeva. Photos by David Shaw / LR+

“As genuine railway enthusiasts, and great believers in how art can humanise science, we couldn’t resist, but decided to take a new approach,” says the studio. “[The poem] celebrates the special place that trains, locomotion and simple engineering concepts hold for children and adults alike.”

Tasked with figuring out the 2D design aspects of the space, the LucienneRoberts+ team first drew inspiration from the physical side of the project, working with architect and exhibition designer De Matos Ryan’s vision and finding ways to complement it.

“We set about considering how our design could work ‘outward from what was there’ to foreground the industrial nature of the space, employ production processes and expertise also used in the 3D and reflect engineering habits of mind, by adopting an enquiring, iterative, prototype-based approach to the 2D design and production,” says the studio.

Crucially, the 2D elements in the gallery needed to be both “instructive and imaginative”, helping to guide visitors around the space, but also providing moments of inspiration as they discover the “the how, the what and the why of railways”.

As such, the floor of the gallery became a key point of engagement for the team, and they created painted markings to live on it that are used “not only to differentiate zones but to prompt behaviours”. Referencing playground markings, they created a set of bespoke shapes and connectors to run across the floor, over the metal rails and up onto the walls.

Meanwhile, supergraphics found throughout the space take inspiration from network maps and turning circles to highlight the action of an exhibit or to serve as wayfinding, drawing visitors in and then guiding them to their intended destinations.

Colours also play an important role in the gallery and the team chose a “restricted” primary palette of black, white and sage green to juxtapose with pops of fluorescent orange and safety yellow that signal action. The latter, in particular, was influenced by the colours found in the original workshop, given its traditional use in signage and for buttons and levers.

The studio also invited other creatives to contribute to its plans. Keen to prioritise “access, inclusion and representation” in its approach, it commissioned Russian artist Masha Krasnova-Shabaeva to draw 35 different images, ranging from the informative to the conceptual, for the space.

All of these 2D designs come together inside the Bramall Gallery to create an educational experience that, rather than feeling prescriptive, encourages individual discovery as a valuable method of learning.

Reflecting on the process, the studio described the project as “a voyage of discovery, as it will certainly be for each of the young minds it excites and challenges”.