University of Oxford

Community + Culture

Structural Engineering
Services Engineering


History of Science Museum, Oxford

Art Department, Notre Dame School

Plantain Place

History of Science Museum, Oxford

Rejuvenating the World’s First Purpose-Built Museum


As the world’s first purpose-built museum, the University of Oxford’s Museum of the History of Science holds a monumental place in the city’s rich architectural heritage. This makes it important that everyone who visits the city can enjoy what this Grade I listed building has to offer – so the University appointed us to prepare a feasibility study, looking into ways to improve accessibility and the overall visitor experience.


We began by assessing the building’s long and important history, assessing where the Museum’s strengths lay, and where the University could do more to draw out those strengths. While the building’s extraordinary value was clear, we found issues with how that value was made accessible to the public: the Museum was uninviting from the street, the public toilets weren’t operational, and visitors complained that the exhibitions looked “crammed” and “old-fashioned”.

To tackle these problems, we proposed a number of work packages to help the University target funding, including refurbishment of the light well between the main building and extension, new flexible galleries, improved toilets and lockers for visitors, and a café and shop. Accessibility was one of the central goals of the project – so we proposed adding a new four-storey lift to the building, and explored various options for integrating it harmoniously with the Museum’s historic structure.


Our concepts have set the stage for the rest of the project’s development, and include sketches of various spaces, a new circulation strategy, proposed layouts and a range of sustainability suggestions. Using Corde for the feasibility stage has allowed the University to explore services and structural engineering aspects in more detail, and to proceed with the project confident that it will hugely improve the experience of visitors to this unique cultural treasure.