Window onto workspace: When offices come to the museum

·3-min read
Selected highlights from Stephen Hawking’s Cambridge University office will go on public view for the first time in a new display at the Science Museum in early 2022.

Anyone who's ever wondered what Stephen Hawking's office looked like will soon be able to take a sneak peek into the famous astrophysicist's work and study space at London's Science Museum. But the British museum isn't the only institution recreating the workspaces of some of the most brilliant minds of recent times.

As workers around the globe start heading back to offices, visitors to London's Science Museum will soon be able to take a behind-the-scenes look at the workspace of the legendary physicist, Stephen Hawking. The office contents of the late British cosmologist, who worked and studied at the University of Cambridge, recently joined the collection of the London-based museum. The contents include personal reference books, chalkboards and coffee-making equipment, as well as some more surprising items, like bets he made on scientific debates and Star Trek memorabilia.

"While theoretical physics is filled with abstract ideas, the contents of Hawking's office demonstrate how social science can be. It was a hive of activity, where Hawking's colleagues and collaborators could thrash out ideas on blackboards, with a ready supply of tea and coffee," explains the Science Museum Group in a statement.

Contents from Stephen Hawking's university office will go on display at the London Science Museum from next year, while the British physicist's archives of scientific and personal papers will remain in Cambridge at the University Library. "I'm absolutely delighted that my father Stephen Hawking's collection is coming here to The Science Museum Group. It's an amazing collection of all the objects and the paperwork and the books and the artifacts that were in his office in Cambridge. So, it's really an opportunity, actually, to experience his working environment as it was," said Lucy Hawking.

Offices of the famous... and not so famous

The Science Museum Group says it is pleased to have acquired the contents of Stephen Hawking's office, which will join "a very small group of preserved spaces of scientific importance," like James Watt's workshop. "While rooms of decorative or artistic interest are often kept for posterity, spaces of science are rarely saved," explains the museum.

Although the idea of recreating the offices of notable figures in museums may sound surprising, it's actually more common than you might think. The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum notably houses a replica of the world's most famous offices: the Oval Office. This life-sized reproduction is furnished exactly as it was during Jimmy Carter's presidency, offering visitors to the museum a glimpse into the day-to-day life of the 39th US President

Similarly, visitors to the V&A will soon be able to admire the legendary office designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for businessman Edgar J. Kaufmann. This room will, in fact, be the only one of the American architect's interiors on show outside the US. "The V&A has many period rooms in its collections, but none of them are as authentic and original as the Kaufmann Office," explains the London museum.

While some museums reproduce the offices and workspaces of illustrious personalities, others are focusing on figures less well known to the public. For example, in spring 2013, visitors to the Minneapolis Institute of Art were able to discover the office of the former curator, Barton Kestle. At first glance, it appeared to be a workspace preserved in its original flavor since the 1950... except that it was, in reality, an installation by the artist, Mark Dion.

Caroline Drzewinski

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting