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Yorkshire artist commissioned for National Railway Museum’s new £5m ‘Wonderlab’ gallery

Leeds-based contemporary artist Pippa Hale to create ‘a new interactive’ artwork at NRM in York.

The National Railway Museum in York has commissioned Yorkshire artist Pippa Hale to create a headline installation for its new £5m Wonderlab gallery. Due to open in Spring 2023, the new family-friendly gallery will feature up to 20 interactive exhibits with a rail engineering theme.

The artwork will feature a collection of large interactive blocks that will encourage visitors young and old to design, build and play together. It is the latest iteration of Pippa’s interactive play environment ‘Play Rebellion’ previously installed at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead. It continues Hale’s interest in the relationships between play and creativity, but this time with an engineering twist.

The artwork will be produced in partnership with charity the Snappy Trust in York to ensure that the space can be enjoyed by young people of all abilities. As well as the artist commission, another 15 gallery exhibits have been commissioned from three suppliers including Unusual Projects based in Elvington and Amazing Interactives based in Thornaby-on-Tees. A second artwork will be commissioned before the gallery opens to the public.

The exhibits have been created to help visitors think like engineers and range from large-scale immersive experiences to tabletop activities and a large demonstration space. Children will be able to build a bridge, enter a wind tunnel and take part in experiments around the themes of power, motion and control.

Rose Mockford, Lead Interactive Gallery Curator at the National Railway Museum, said: “Wonderlab will be a dynamic, dramatic, and multi-sensory gallery to help visitors think and act like engineers. From standing stationary amongst the most impressive locomotives in the world, Wonderlab will take visitors on an active journey which will excite and inspire young people about the world of engineering. I am grateful to all the groups and industry experts who have given their time to ensure Wonderlab will be a relevant and engaging experience for everyone.”

Pippa Hale said: “I am thrilled to be working with the National Railway Museum on this permanent installation. It will have fixed and moveable parts that visitors of all ages can use to create their own structures. The new shapes are inspired by drawings, plans and photographs from the museum’s own archives in terms of form and colour.

“I’m also excited to be working with NRM volunteers and the Snappy Trust to ensure the artwork challenges visitors of all ages and abilities. The aim is to create a fun and sociable experience that encourages creative thinking, teamwork and risk taking for everyone.”

Lead designers De Matos Ryan were appointed to work on Wonderlab in November 2019 and despite the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the team worked closely and collaboratively with the NRM to complete the concept and developed design stages.

The project is inspired by the existing repair workshop architecture and the memory of the engineering activities housed within it to create a stimulating, sustainable and permissive space that encourages engineering habits of mind. Work on the technical design (RIBA stage 4) is underway following the successful tender for exhibit suppliers.

Building work is expected to last around a year beginning in Spring 2022 with a completion date of Spring 2023.

Wonderlab will be aimed at family visitors with special appeal for children aged 7–14 and will also host visiting school groups. The Wonderlab concept of interactive science galleries has been introduced at the Science Museum in London (opened 2016) and at Bradford’s National Science and Media Museum (2017). These galleries have been visited by more than 1.5m people since opening.

To ensure the Wonderlab content is informed by the latest thinking from the rail and engineering sectors, the museum established ‘Team Wonder’—a group of STEM ambassadors and industry experts who have been providing advice and guidance to shape the project’s development. The museum also appointed a specialist access consultant to ensure the gallery will be accessible for all visitors.   

Wonderlab will be constructed on the site of the museum’s Workshop. As part of the development, locomotive maintenance facilities will be retained on site for museum use, with a prep bay for visiting locomotives to enable heritage tours to continue.

The decant of equipment and machinery has begun and is due to be complete by early 2022. Wonderlab will retain many of the Workshop’s original features such as the locomotive wheel drop and the crane which will be incorporated into the final design.

Wonderlab is kindly supported by Friends of the National Railway Museum, Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851, and The Holbeck Charitable Trust.

The project to build Wonderlab is part of the National Railway Museum’s Vision 2025 development which will see widespread transformation across the museum’s galleries and buildings. For more information, visit


For more information, please contact:

Simon Baylis, PR & Press Manager (01904 686 299 /


About the National Railway Museum

  • The National Railway Museum in York has the largest collection of railway objects in the world and prior to the Covid pandemic attracted around 700,000 visitors per year.
  • The collection includes over 260 locomotives and rolling stock, 600 coins and medals as well as railway uniform and costume, equipment, documents, records, artwork and photographs.
  • The National Railway Museum forms part of the Science Museum Group, along with the Science Museum in London, the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester, the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford and Locomotion in Shildon.
  • Admission to the National Railway Museum is free, for more information visit: