On 8 December 2016 the Science Museum will open an inspirational new mathematics gallery, designed by Zaha Hadid Architects. Mathematics: The Winton Gallery brings together remarkable stories, historical artefacts and design to highlight the central role of mathematical practice in all our lives, and explores how mathematicians, their tools and ideas have helped build the modern world over the past four centuries.
More than 100 treasures from the Science Museum’s world-class science, technology, engineering and mathematics collections have been selected to tell powerful stories about how mathematics has shaped, and been shaped by, some of our most fundamental human concerns – from trade and travel to war, peace, life, death, form and beauty.
Curator Dr David Rooney said, “At its heart this gallery reveals a rich cultural story of human endeavour that has helped transform the world over the last four hundred years. Mathematical practice underpins so many aspects of our lives and work, and we hope that bringing together these remarkable stories, people and exhibits will inspire visitors to think about the role of mathematics in a new light.”
Positioned at the centre of the gallery is the Handley Page ‘Gugnunc’ aeroplane, built in 1929 for a competition to construct safe aircraft. Ground-breaking aerodynamic research influenced the wing design of this experimental aeroplane, helping to shift public opinion about the safety of flying and to secure the future of the aviation industry. This aeroplane encapsulates the gallery’s overarching theme, illustrating how mathematical practice has helped solve real-world problems and in this instance paved the way for the safe passenger flights that we rely on today.
Mathematics also defines Zaha Hadid Architects’ enlightening design for the gallery. Inspired by the Handley Page aircraft, the design is driven by equations of airflow used in the aviation industry. The layout and lines of the gallery represent the air that would have flowed around this historic aircraft in flight, from the positioning of the showcases and benches to the three-dimensional curved surfaces of the central pod structure.
Mathematics: The Winton Gallery is the first permanent public museum exhibition designed by Zaha Hadid Architects anywhere in the world. The gallery is also the first of Zaha Hadid Architects’ projects to open in the UK since Dame Zaha Hadid’s sudden death in March 2016. The late Dame Zaha first became interested in geometry while studying mathematics at university. Mathematics and geometry have a strong connection with architecture and she continued to examine these relationships throughout each of her projects; with mathematics always central to her work. As Dame Zaha said, “When I was growing up in Iraq, math was an everyday part of life. We would play with math problems just as we would play with pens and paper to draw – math was like sketching.”
Ian Blatchford, Director of the Science Museum Group, said, “We were hugely impressed by the ideas and vision of the late Dame Zaha Hadid and Patrik Schumacher when they first presented their design for the new mathematics gallery over two years ago. It was a terrible shock for us all when Dame Zaha died suddenly in March this year, but I am sure that this gallery will be a lasting tribute to this world-changing architect and provide inspiration for our millions of visitors for many years to come.”
From a beautiful 17th century Islamic astrolabe that uses ancient mathematical techniques to map the night sky, to an early example of the famous Enigma machine, designed to resist even the most advanced mathematical techniques for code breaking during the Second World War, each historic object within the gallery has an important story to tell. Archive photography and film helps to capture these stories, and introduces the wide range of people who made, used or were impacted by each mathematical device or idea.
Some instruments and objects within the gallery clearly reference their mathematical origin. Others may surprise visitors and appear rooted in other disciplines, from classical architecture to furniture design. Visitors will see a box of glass eyes used by Francis Galton in his 1884 Anthropometric Laboratory to help measure the physical characteristics of the British public and develop statistics to support a wider social and political movement he termed ‘eugenics’. On the other side of the gallery is the pioneering Wisard pattern-recognition machine built in 1981 to attempt to re-create the ‘neural networks’ of the brain. This early Artificial Intelligence machine worked, until 1995, on a variety of projects, from banknote recognition to voice analysis, and from foetal growth monitoring in hospitals to covert surveillance for the Home Office.
A richly illustrated book has been published by Scala to accompany the new gallery. Mathematics: How it Shaped Our World, written by David Rooney, expands on the themes and stories that are celebrated in the gallery itself and includes a series of newly commissioned essays written by world-leading experts in the history and modern practice of mathematics.
David Harding, Principal Funder of the gallery and Founder and CEO of Winton said, “Mathematics, whilst difficult for many, is incredibly useful. To those with an aptitude for it, it is also beautiful. I’m delighted that this gallery will be both useful and beautiful.”
Mathematics: The Winton Gallery is free to visit and open daily from 8 December 2016. The gallery has been made possible through an unprecedented donation from long-standing supporters of science, David and Claudia Harding. It has also received generous support from Samsung as Principal Sponsor, MathWorks as Major Sponsor, with additional support from Adrian and Jacqui Beecroft, Iain and Jane Bratchie, the Keniston-Cooper Charitable Trust, Dr Martin Schoernig, Steve Mobbs and Pauline Thomas.
Design concept It is a wonderful coincidence that we started work designing the Science Museum’s Mathematics Gallery in the bicentennial year of the birth of Ada Lovelace, a pioneering woman in the history of computers and of ‘poetic science’. Her inspirational influence on our approach to the design of the project, from inception to completion, cannot be overstated. Just as her Notes unravelled the abstract world of the analytical engine and its logic to generations beyond, we hope the design of the Mathematics Gallery complements the curatorial ambitions to inspire and engage further generations with the instinctive and physical aspects of mathematics. Collections like those housed within the Science Museum in London are instrumental in allowing the human mind to explore the many dimensions of innovation. The new group of objects on display in the Gallery is meticulously curated to narrate seemingly everyday moments in innovation driven by mathematics.
Our design for the Gallery responds to the ambition of David Rooney and his team to present mathematics not as an academic concept, but as a practice that influences technology and enables the environment around us to be transformed. Mathematics and its tools have always played a central role in the evolution of the human understanding of nature and the constructed world: for example, Sir Isaac Newton’s methods to derive the laws of gravitation, Henri Poincaré’s extension of the Cartesian geometries to the planetary system and Lord Kelvin’s use of the mathematical technique of curve-fitting to predict the tides.
Mathematics forms one of the cornerstones of the foundations of computing and of scientific methods of research within architectural practices. It has had a profound influence on architectural shapes and forms (known as morphology) and their origins, basing them on sound structural principles. The enhancement of the performative aspects of design with respect to the built environment, its manufacture and ultimately the comfortable navigation by people within these environments, forms an integral part of building on these foundations.
With historical training in geometric methods to understand morphology, architects are well positioned to contribute to this collaborative endeavour of delivering information-rich settings that support the complex needs of humans within the built environment. A large proportion of our own work emerges from our fascination with mathematical logic and geometry, with advances in design technology enabling us to rethink form and space. The fluid surfaces and structures of each project thus generated are defined by scientific innovations. Our design for the Mathematics Gallery realises such an effort.
The successful flight of the Handley Page aeroplane in the 1929 Guggenheim competition, with its short take-off and landing distances, represents a triumphal moment in the accessibility of aviation to ordinary men and women. The spatial organisation of the Gallery places a central emphasis on this important product of British aviation, and the transformational capacity of mathematics and science, by taking inspiration from one of the key moments in the flight of the plane and the concepts of aerodynamics embodied within.
While mathematical logic and geometry can provide an intuitive model to understand the natural world, computational tools allow us to examine scenarios that enable a nuanced understanding of the mechanisms of nature. Using the principles of a mathematical approach known as computational fluid dynamics which acts as an organisational guide, the layout of the Gallery allows for the virtual lines of airflow to be manifested physically. The positioning of the more than 100 historical objects, and the production of robust arch-like benches using robotic manufacture, all embody the mathematical spirit of the brief. The resulting spatial experience created by these components within the Winton Gallery enables visitors to see some of the many actual and perceivable ways in which mathematics touches our lives.