The Neuron Pod is a three-legged steel structure that has been designed to mimic a neuron—a nerve cell that processes and transmits information by electrical and chemical signaling. Courtesy of: FF Journal, the Magazine for Today’s Metal Fabricating & Forming Technologies

Magnificent Metal Monday take us to London, England, where a 23-m-long and 10-m-high “Neuron Pod” has opened at the science learning center at Queen Mary University of London’s campus in the area of Whitechapel. The Guardian reports, “Standing like an intergalactic porcupine, covered with long glowing quills that sway gently in the breeze, it is a startling thing to encounter in this unremarkable corner of hospital buildings and curry houses.” The structure was built from 13 pieces of weathering steel that were welded together on site.

According to FF Journal, “Prior to fabrication, each steel plate was shotblasted. After the sections were complete, each was hand-blasted again to blend the seams. The final rich orange/brown coloring is the result of outdoor exposure. The pod is accessed from a new galvanized steel bridge and positioned to peek out to encourage intrigue in the activity within.”

Credit: FF Journal

The Guardian reports that this is one of the last posthumous works of architect Will Alsop, who died in May 2018. It will serve as an informal science learning space for schoolchildren who benefit from the teaching hospital’s education program. The article goes on to say, “Raised up on three tapering legs, the 23-metre-long rusting steel creature is arguably one of the architect’s most lovable creations. You first spot its rotund spiny backside from the street corner, then as you approach, its three little legs are revealed, narrowing to delicate points as if standing on tiptoes. Its long snout, meanwhile, stretches forward as though nuzzling towards something it can’t quite reach. It might be made of raw steel and covered in plastic spines, but you just want to give the chubby little thing a cuddle.”

“The building’s role is to inspire the next generation about science and medicine.”

The Neuron Pod is designed with images of a nerve cell in mind, following on from the four pods inside the main building, each inspired by cell science. The Neuron Pod is the newest feature of the “Centre of the Cell,” which opened in 2009, and has delivered a range of unique educational programs designed to inspire pupils to pursue a career in the sciences and to engage the public with biomedical research.

“It was important that it was an unusual structure to catch the schoolchildren’s curiosity,” says Lucy Atlee, director of Alsop’s former firm, aLL Design. “The building’s role is to inspire the next generation about science and medicine. ”It’s not modelled on a porcupine, she says, but a neuron, a nerve cell that transmits information around the body by electrical and chemical signalling. The tapering snout and legs are the bits that connect to other cells, while the 500 fibreoptic spines represent dendrites, hairlike extensions of nerve cells that transmit electrochemical signals.