Architecture and chemistry celebrated at Open House London
On Saturday 16 September, almost 2000 members of the public came to explore our Piccadilly headquarters for London’s annual open rooms event.
Visitors could take a tour through the historic rooms of our home in the Burlington House courtyard, which also hosts the Royal Academy of Arts, the Royal Astronomical Society, the Society of Antiquaries, the Linnaean Society and the Geological Society. All six societies were open for Open House London, an annual event that allows visitors entry to over 800 buildings in the city, many of which are usually closed to the public.
A total of 29 staff volunteers, including our deputy CEO and the director of our communications and marketing directorate, as well as 12 volunteers from the Open House London project, were on hand throughout the day to show visitors the stunning architecture and historic artefacts on display at our Grade II listed London home.
Our two striking stained glass windows were particularly popular with visitors. Designed by Lawrence Lee, famous for making the windows of the new Coventry Cathedral, the windows were created as a memorial to Cyril Hinshelwood and represent the progression from alchemy to chemistry.
Visitors were invited to design their own stained glass windows, and could also take part in some simple chemistry demos, exploring what makes a glow-stick glow and investigating the best materials for an astronaut’s spacesuit with our 2017 Global Experiment, Mission: Starlight.
Archivist Amina Ricciardi, who was visiting Burlington House with her son, said, “The stained glass windows were a real highlight. I’d love to find out more about them. I liked the contemporary look of them […] and the chemistry and alchemy aspect was fascinating.”
Another couple from Muswell Hill said their highlight was interacting with staff: “Our favourite part was speaking to one of your volunteers. She was really friendly and it was interesting to talk to someone about their work here.”
Other artefacts on display included the president’s ceremonial mace, Joseph Priestley’s air pump and a brick recovered from the site of William Perkin’s dye works in Middlesex. Perkin accidently created mauveine, the first synthetic dye, when he was 18, a discovery that revolutionised the dyes industry. Our 175 faces of chemistry exhibition was also on display, showcasing the diversity of the chemical science community.
William King, one of our publishing editors, volunteered on the day and said: “I thought it would be really fun. I like architecture and was keen to get the architecture and chemistry communities together. I enjoyed meeting lots of people who don’t normally interact with chemistry and getting them excited about it.”
Firouz Thompson, PA to our director of communications and marketing, echoed this sentiment: "Volunteering at Open House made me feel extremely proud of our organisation and also for working here. All the volunteers on the day were really upbeat and this feeling seemed to spread to the public as I had several comments about what a friendly society we are! I would definitely do it again next year."
Public engagement executive, Susan Vickers, coordinated our involvement on the day and sees the initiative as a great way to bring the chemical sciences to new audiences: “During Open House London we welcomed people to Burlington House who have an interest in architecture and history. These people could then relate chemistry to something they’re passionate about and chat to staff from the Royal Society of Chemistry about their role in the chemistry community”, explains Susan.
“I saw and heard the staff members who volunteered on the day having some really brilliant conversations with our visitors, and more than one person told me we had been a very welcoming place to visit. Hopefully this will help to change the stereotype of chemists from aloof to approachable and friendly.”
If you weren’t able to visit us on Saturday, keep an eye out on our Twitter and Facebook pages for future public events. Members of the Royal Society of Chemistry can visit Burlington House any time during opening hours and use our members’ area and library. Check our library opening hours ahead of your visit.