Glasgow Science Centre is one of the most popular paid-for visitor attractions that Scotland has to offer. The centre was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 2001 and plays a significant role in scientific education within Glasgow and beyond.
Some 20 years later, Glasgow Science Centre – having visited the Richter Spielgeräte play workshop and having attended many play presentations by Timberplay – found the funding to renovate its outdoor space with the inclusion of many sensory and inclusive items. The overall project promotes active travel, enhances biodiversity, improves accessibility and encourages interaction with new external science exhibits and interpretation.
Creating successful links to the city
The external space has been renewed to create a new and exciting experience as part of a legacy from the COP26 Green Zone in November 2021. It improves links between the Science Centre and Glasgow city centre, focusing on playful encounters as a route through the area for cyclists and pedestrians.
Since its opening, the outdoor space has been popular with visitors at all times of day, with playful experiences complemented by lighting and street furniture to create a great social hub on the riverside. The design focused majorly on creating safe and sustainable cycling routes with a two-way bike lane that has been formed by repurposing car parking spaces and a cycle park.
Learning through CPD
Glasgow Science Centre has always had a desire to add educational play experiences to its offering for young visitors. The centre was driven by a desire to improve its external spaces, to match the tremendous indoor experiences that are on offer at the centre and threshold into the attraction. It has worked with Timberplay for many years and, before deciding to go ahead with the project, had attended many Timberplay seminars and playground tours. It also visited the Richter Spielgeräte, workshop (Timberplay’s manufacturer) in Frasdorf, Germany. From this, it was sold on the vision of using playful experiences to engage children in education and providing sensory equipment to create inclusive opportunities too.
The external area features several ‘play exhibits’ within the space. The elements include a wide range of sensory encounters and create playful opportunities around the centre. Amongst these is the visually-striking turning stone, a large stone boulder situated atop a rotating base. The stone has grooves running along its edge; inquisitive minds are invited to try and push the cumbersome rock round on its pedestal to see how fast they might set it spinning. The stone is a practical lesson in energy, weight and force, educating visitors on how these relate and promoting the use of touch to engage with their senses.
By interacting with the equipment, visitors can playfully create music, experience visual phenomena and explore the physics of water and rotation. The stone xylophone, dance chimes, conferences, kling klang disc and sound leaves all bring together the use of sound and communication to encourage the public to experiment with different tones and how varying forces can affect volume. A walk-in kaleidoscope provides an optical illusion mirroring the user in different ways. Whilst sensory rotating discs also offer optical illusions focusing on sight and the changing of patterns with speed. The whirlpool column allows users to experiment with water forces and better connect our relationship with the elements.
Carefully-considered interpretation for each exhibit helps visitors to delve deeper into their understanding of the pieces, if they wish, and are not only fun for the young ones but people of all ages. As well as being great for play, the scale of the sound leaves and turning stone act as sculptural gateway features to the new public realm.
The outer space at Glasgow Science Centre has been nominated for prestigious design awards with fantastic work from the landscape architect, the client and all stakeholders. The project has been shortlisted in the 2022 Pineapples Awards ‘Public Space’ category; the prestigious landscape award winner will be announced as part of the Festival of Place in London this month. Furthermore, the outdoor space has also been shortlisted in the 2022 Scottish Design Awards in the ‘Landscaping/Public Realm’ category.
The new space has become immediately popular, and the beautiful use of lighting ensures that the area is utilised throughout the day and into the evening. As well as visitors to the Science Centre, people walking and cycling through the space are frequently observed stopping and taking a moment to engage with the exhibits and each other. A credit to the broader landscape design, this unique and beautiful space has playfulness at its heart, delivering on a variety of levels.
Dr Gillian Lang, Deputy Director of Science at Glasgow Science Centre, comments: “We’ve created a safe, welcoming, outdoor learning space with exciting hands-on exhibits and opportunities to connect with science. The aim was to create an outdoor space that is loved, social and interactive, connecting the science centre to the community, to the environment and to the city, we can’t wait for more visitors to come and explore.”
Mark Grimshaw, Business Development Manager at Timberplay Scotland, added: “Being able to work so closely with the client at Glasgow Science Centre and with the Landscape Architects Austin:Smith Lord was a pleasure. It is great to see a leisure attraction so determined in creating inclusive spaces that are sustainable and align with our vision of creating child-friendly spaces. This project was very special to work on and is key in developing child education through play in Glasgow and beyond; its award nominations really back the great work of all involved in this project. We congratulate all on creating such an amazing place for people.”