How much water does it take to grow an apple? How does a needle pass through a balloon without bursting it? Can you make music with a stringless harp? If “mystery is the source of all true art and science”, Delhi’s National Science Centre (NSC) satiates that incredible thirst for the unknown.
Inaugurated in 1992 by then prime minister PV Narasimha Rao, NSC stands opposite Purana Quila in New Delhi. After Kolkata, Bangalore and Mumbai got its science museums — the earliest was Kolkata’s Birla Industrial and Technological Museum in 1959 — it was Delhi’s turn to get its own science centre. At the time, it functioned out of a small shed near a municipal swimming pool in RK Puram and, later, within a shrub forest in Timarpur in north Delhi.
Architect Achyut Kanvinde had finished the Nehru Science Centre in Mumbai in 1980 and was commissioned by the National Council of Science Museums to design and build a centre for Delhi next. He employed design ideas from a previously unrealised project, the Tantra Museum (a project for an art collector), where one accessed the exhibition spaces directly from the top floor via an escalator, before descending gradually to the lower floors. This idea was implemented in both the Centres in Mumbai and Delhi.
At NSC, visitors are welcomed by landscaped greens and waterbodies, designed by landscape architecture firm, Shaheer Associate. Then, across six floors, exhibits on water and illusionary musical pools to those about the Harappan civilisation and architectural science and the story of the origins of life are displayed. Inside the museum space, placed rather dramatically, is also the installation ‘Energy Balls’. Spanning three levels, nylon globes travel in spiral paths made of steel wires, showcasing the potential of different kinds of energy.
The NSC built-up area of 17,000 sq m has large, column-free, interconnected spaces, making it easier for the display areas to merge with each other. The varying scales in the design allow for a wholesome experience and the modular plan helps one move seamlessly from one room to the next. The Centre, designed to be flexible with varying volumes and double-height ceilings, is done up in aggregate plaster of local blue quartzite stone and bands in Dholpur stone. The building itself sits on a wedge-shaped site. “This made room for triangular or square bays for terraces, which were meant to be green terraces. So, one would have in-and-out gallery spaces even on the upper floors,” says architect Sanjay Kanvinde, of his father’s work. From some of these terraces, there are views of the Purana Quila, reminding visitors of the juxtaposition of the old and new — a sentiment also shared while navigating the galleries, travelling from the Jurassic age on to the future of telemedicine and polymers.