London Museum of Water and Steam

Project Aquarius
‘Project Aquarius’ first started six years ago when the then-titled Kew Bridge Steam Museum refocused its aims to become a museum dedicated to telling the story of London’s water supply. This remit was to supplement the preservation and interpretation of the historic pumping engines at the site. Thinking about the future of the museum it rapidly became clear that the there was an unrivalled opportunity to effect a quantum leap in the museum’s offer, creating an immersive and participatory experience for a wider audience profile.

Our planning and design work
hsd was appointed in 2011 to produce an Interpretative Master Plan and assist in compiling the HLF bid for the Trust. Following a successful bid, hsd developed detailed design and specifications in conjunction with the Trust and provided contract management services for the interpretation and exhibition design and installation. The fully redeveloped museum opened to the public in March 2014.


Our project proposals were developed to ensure that the attraction thrives into the future, brings in a larger and more diverse audience, provides a full range of museum services, allows the museum to maintain accreditation, continue to grow, prosper and be seen as one of the finest sites of its kind left anywhere in the world. The initial interpretative work was informed by the findings of an audience survey and was developed in close collaboration with the museum team. It creatively addressed the shortcomings of the existing visitor offer identified by the Trust and others, and put forward achievable visioning solutions. Following this work, hsd was commissioned to develop an Activity Plan that worked in harmony with the interpretative proposals.

hsd worked closely with the client team to submit high-quality and successful Round One and Two bids to the HLF and take the design proposals to ‘Scheme Stage’ level of detail (equivalent to RIBA Stage D). As we worked on the design proposals with the client team and project architect, two public meetings were held which generated a number of highly pertinent questions and comments demonstrating the interest and involvement of members, volunteers and the general public. Issues raised during the consultations were addressed in the design development process.

An engaging new experience
hsd’s interpretative design proposals provide a much more coherent account of the story of London’s water supply, setting the unique pumping engines in context and helping people to understand their role more clearly. The designs include new interpretation throughout the museum that makes full and effective use of a range of low and high tech media solutions. There are storylines for all, from the very young and family groups to the expert seeking a high level of detail. Crucially, the interpretation has been designed to be minimally obtrusive in the historic engine houses and work within the conservation parameters of the site.


In the “Water for Life” Galley we developed a series of exciting multimedia and interactive exhibits that tell the expanded story of water supply in London. The area round the water wheel at the front of the museum is now used to set out a wide range of fun hands-on activities. These include more sizable interactive elements (up to five metres high) which enable multi-user engagement, through a variety of different pumps and other water moving systems, and a series of troughs around the water wheel. This allows visitors to try out experiments with water flows, dams, sluices, wheels and turbines.


hsd’s designs include an enhanced entrance to the museum bringing visitors in to a combined shop and café on an enlarged and altered mezzanine. This dramatic space is full of working engines and pumps, and the walls have been used to display many of the small exhibits currently in the stores and reserve collections.

Dale Lewis Managing Consultant, Telephone: 0116 251 8555 or email [email protected]