“This is very exciting for us,” said the architect Zaha Hadid as she unveiled her design for the new gallery at the museum. “Mathematics and geometry have an amazing influence on our work.”
The layout of the new permanent gallery, which will open in late 2016, is inspired by mathematical ideas. A plane will be suspended from the ceiling and the position of the displays will follow the lines of aerodynamic flow around it. Lines representing a turbulence field from the plane’s flight will form the basis of a curved surface dividing the gallery into different spaces.
Funding for the gallery has come from The David and Claudia Harding Foundation. David Harding is the founder of Winton Capital Management, one of London’s most successful hedge fund companies, and his charities have made many donations to fund academic research and science communication in recent years.
Harding said that since his company had been very successful at using mathematical ideas he was “in the lucky position to be able to indulge in my expensive hobby” of supporting museums.
Science Museum director Ian Blatchford said of the donation: “This is a game-changing gift to the museum, and it is my hope that this will inspire further transformational philanthropy.”
He added: “With this gallery we want to evoke the kind of excitement around mathematics as our Collider exhibition has done around particle physics, and with Zaha Hadid’s extraordinary designs this project is off to the best start imaginable. This appointment reflects our ambition to deliver the world’s foremost gallery of mathematics both in its collection and its design.”
The Science Museum says the gallery will “tell the stories that place mathematics at the heart of our lives, exploring how mathematicians, their tools and ideas have helped to shape the world from the turn of the 17th century to the present”. It will replace the current computing and mathematics gallery, which was opened in 1975.
A centrepiece of the gallery will be a 1929 Handley Page aircraft with a 12-metre wingspan suspended from the ceiling. The experimental plane was made as part of a competition to design aircraft that could land slowly and steeply without stalling, and required advances in the mathematics of aerodynamics and material stress.
Hadid, who gained a degree in mathematics before she became an architect, said that it was important to get rid of negative cultural stereotypes about maths. “When I came to do architecture people said you must know how to add. There is that aspect to maths, of course. But there is another aspect that was of interest to me and that was abstract thinking, and that was when I realised how important that degree was.”
Harding said: “We hope the gallery will bring pleasure and interest to Science Museum visitors and feel privileged to be able to associate ourselves with it. Mathematics is a fascinating and mysterious but, for some, forbidding subject. The new gallery has been created to convey something of that fascination in a way that will appeal to a wide audience.”