Perhaps it is fortunate that a bomb destroyed the east wing of the old Guy’s Hospital at London Bridge in the Second World War, thus enabling rebuilding with reasonably flexible space free of historic constraints inside a reconstruction of the original façade. The wing has now been transformed as the Science Gallery, one of South London’s three new galleries to be opened this month, the first being the new CCA at Goldsmith’s in New Cross and the last being the Fire Station at the South London Gallery in Peckham.
Guy’s was built in the early 18th century as a hospital for Incurables (‘persons labouring under any distempers, infirmities or disorders, thought capable of relief by physick or surgery, but who, by reason of small hopes there may be of their cure, or the length of time for which that purpose may be required … are, or may be judged or called Incurable’) from St Thomas’s Hospital which was then across the road, later relocated to Lambeth and demolished to make way for the new railway and London Bridge Station (apart from St Thomas’s Church and the Old Operating Theatre which still exists today).
The statue of Thomas Guy with its 18th century railings has been languishing in recent years, first behind a sea of cars at the centre of an untidy car park and then behind hoardings, but is now back as the centrepiece of a new courtyard, car-free, a new space for London Bridge and for London and a new entrance to King’s College London, while also solving some accessibility issues to, for example, Guy’s Chapel. Sadly, the approach to the hospital for patients and visitors down Great Maze Pond is a disaster, as they battle through a wayward sea of motor cycles and vans parked on the pavements – some control is needed here!
London Bridge is being transformed, first with the Shard and the Place, then the transformation of London Bridge Station and now with this new initiative from King’s College London opposite a new residential tower under construction, also by Renzo Piano, architect of the Shard and the Place.
Designed by LTS Architects, the Science Gallery at King’s is part of an international consortium of such galleries, generated from the first gallery opened at decade ago at Trinity College Dublin, which has been a tremendous success. The London gallery is the first of the next generation of galleries, with further planned in Bangalore, Melbourne, New York and Venice. The initial exhibition ‘Hooked’ focuses on the murky world of addiction, which can take many forms – not just the obvious ones of gambling, drinking, smoking, sex and drugs – that can destroy the lives of individuals and their families. The good news is that addictions can be treated, despite the exhibition being located in a former hospital for Incurables.
The exhibition and related events in the new theatre in the lower level do what the Science Gallery does best – bringing art, science and the research work of the university together, with a little touch of politics and questions about the society in which we live – providing a window to some of the ground-breaking research that takes place within the university and its hospital partners, in this case at the Institute of Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience. Even the windows have not escaped – they have installations by Mark King in collaboration with John Marsden, Professor of Addiction Psychology at the College, creating patterns from urban photographs by Changing 7, a group of people who have lived with substance use.
As the Science Gallery settles in and explores what it can do with its new spaces, it will be interesting to see how it takes advantage of the new courtyard, a tremendous asset that is just waiting to be used.