Although Science Projects is probably best known as a designer and fabricator of interactive exhibitions, it actually has its origins as a science centre back in 1988 when Stephen Pizzey set up the Discovery Dome – Britain’s first travelling interactive science centre.
The Ontario Science Centre in Canada had already instigated its ‘Science Circus’ which had travelled to a number of countries, including a visit to the Science Museum in London. It proved extremely popular but was still constrained by being an exhibition which required a museum or other venue in which to operate. What made Science Projects’ idea different was the thought that it would be much more interesting to have the building travel with the exhibition as well.
Deciding to test out the theory, a system of tents was hired and exhibits from the Exploratory in Bristol (now At-Bristol) borrowed for an open day in the UK in 1986. The result was a huge success and provided the impetus to take the next step.
The Discovery Dome attracted over 100,000 visitors in its first year and led to teachers requesting to borrow the exhibits. From this interest, the idea of ScienceWorks arose – sets of specially designed, curriculum-based exhibits available for hire to schools. This started operation in 1989 and continues on today.
Meanwhile, Science Projects was developing a new exhibition in Glasgow following a successful visit by the Discovery Dome. The exhibition was intended to form the basis of a science centre for the 1990 City of Culture celebrations. More staff were recruited and the workshop expanded in order to cope with the additional workload.
During 1989 the company was approached by other institutions to design and build interactive exhibits, the first being the Natural History Museum in London. This was soon followed by work for Satrosphere in Aberdeen, Launch Pad at the Science Museum and London Zoo. The success of these and subsequent projects led Science Projects to establish a design and build service which it is now well known for.
In 1991 the company was commissioned by the British Council to build a travelling exhibition in the style of the Discovery Dome exhibits. Named ‘Exploring Science’, this exhibition toured the Middle East and North Africa. It proved to be so popular that another version was commissioned for permanent use in Saudi Arabia. A few years later, the success of this exhibition inspired Science Projects to create a new series of travelling exhibitions for the UK using the same name of ‘Exploring Science’ which today consists of 11 exhibitions which travels to centres all around the world.
By now the workshop was too small to handle the large scale contracts which the company was undertaking. In November 1991 it moved to a church building in Hammersmith, also West London. Over the next few years more contract work was undertaken along with training and consultancy programmes.
The company now had the resources to implement an earlier idea for a small science centre drawing on the resources and expertise of the workshop. One site which had been of interest for a long time was Herstmonceux, in East Sussex, the former home of the Royal Observatory. Considered to be Science Projects most ‘ambitious undertaking yet’, The Observatory Science Centre opened in 1995.
An extensive programme of repair and upgrading of the buildings and telescopes was completed in 2004 with the aid of a grant from the National Heritage Lottery fund. Over 25 years since the Royal Observatory at Greenwich closed its doors, the site continues to be a place of learning and discovery and a place to observe the skies.
Science Projects has moved on from the establishment of a travelling science centre to permanent educational scientific facilities. As a charitable organisation, profits from contract work is invested into their science centre to maintain the Grade II Listed building and expand the exhibitions.
The company still maintains an exhibit and exhibition design and build service for other science centres – and there are many more since their first contract, interpreting not just science and technology but a whole range of topics.