Did you ever wonder why South Kensington had so many museums on Exhibition Road? I was always curious about how they all ended being so close together. While I can't answer for the Natural History Museum, I recently discovered the answer for South Kensington's two other famous venues.
In 1851, a science exhibit presented itself at Crystal Palace's Great Exhibition in Hyde Park. It was so popular that Prince Albert decided to provide funding for a number of educational establishments. Since Kensington Palace had been the home of his wife, Queen Victoria, it is no surprise that the first of these was South Kensington Museum in 1857. As well as a few miscellaneous galleries, the main focus was on industry and the arts. Victoria's main interest was expanding on the arts, and several new areas were built dedicated to this. In 1899, it was renamed The Victoria & Albert Museum.
Science Museum, Exhibition Road
The museum was now, heavily one-sided on one area, however, and the industrial section seemed like an odd side attachment. In 1909, it became an independent site, which is now the Science Museum.
The home of human ingenuity, it is a fantastic way to get both a history and science lesson all in one go. It is far more exciting than sitting in a classroom though; it is almost like going to a fun fair; there are simulator rides, shows, interactive displays, a children's play area, and an iMax cinema.
Bicycle Tour by Emily Pugh
The first thing I spotted when walking into the entrance hall is a ring of bikes hanging from the ceiling. Bicycle Tour is a site specific installation designed by Emily Pugh. At first glance, they just look like ordinary bikes, but if you look closely, you will see that many of these bikes are quite dated. They have been specifically selected from the museum's historic collection, and is meant to depict a velodrome floating in the sky.
Peering over the balcony to the ground floor, I could see a large gift shop swarming with customers. They have science related books, games, and toys. One of the staff was demonstrating a paper aeroplane attached to his finger with a piece of string. It would glide out, and then dive back into his hand.
This was very simple compared to some of the other gadgets, which included telescopes and remote controlled helicopters, drones, and cars. Most impressive was a 3D printer. I have never understood how these things work. How you print a 3D object I don't quite know. Still, I doubt it was created for the likes of me. It is most likely for people who work in the field of design. Although it is for sale, I expect it is more of a showpiece to draw in customer than anything else.
Down the stairs is the first gallery, Making the Modern World. This is divided into two large rooms, the first of which covers steam, factories, chemistry, and industry in general. The centrepiece is a giant steam powered locomotive wheel.
Through into the next room is an array of vehicles, including Stephenson's original Rocket locomotive, fighter planes, and popular automobiles from the fifties and sixties.
The next gallery is all about space. With very low lighting, the first thing that caught my eye was a bright holographic projection of the Earth. The image rotates, and the atmospheric conditions change, as a commentary gives insightful facts about the planets life cycle.
You will also learn about man's ventures into space, from the Voyager satellites to the moon landing. Find out what astronauts have for breakfast and what it's like to be a spaceman.
On next level, there is an exhibition called Who Am I? This is the most interactive gallery, where kids can enjoy answering quizzes on funky pod screens. There is also an intriguing quiz that determines if you think like a man or a woman. It tests your visual skills, by asking you to do things like correspond a geometric shape with one of the illustrations below, which is shown from a different angle.
It also looks at genetics, and the things we inherit from our parents, and our species in general, by looking at other animals in comparison.
On the top floor you will find out all about the environment and how technology has affected climate change. This this explores what the future holds, down in the basement you will find out a little bit more about the past. Travel back to early home life, such as the kind of facilities you would have been spending a penny on.
Anyone who grumbles about doing household chores will be grateful for the equipment we have now, compared to what was once available. Although some may not have welcomed these new innovations as it could often put their job on the line.
Fridges and freezers were probably the greatest inventions for the kitchen, but my personal favourite is the convenient microwave. The one we have at home is over thirty years old, works like a charm, and is huge in comparison to the ones available in shops today. Still, even ours could not be out done by the microwaves at the museum. One of them had be dismantled and identified all the parts that make it work.
Returning to the main hall. I went up stairs to a gallery on materials. It covered how different materials are formed, what they are made out of, and what they are used for. It was rather broad in terms, covering everything from fabric, metal, and plastic, to the human body.
All these galleries are free to visit, but there are also several paid for activities, such as 3D cinema, as well as a Jet and Red Arrows simulator. If you get peckish, the basement has a cafe, which is next to a play garden for young children.