I love Magna and have been going back on a fairly regular basis over the last few years and paid another visit yesterday.  I never cease to be amazed by the imagination that decided to covert a massive steel plant on the Sheffield / Rotherham border into a science adventure centre that looks into the essential elements behind the creation of steel.  That in itself showed ambition but to keep much of the industrial structure in place and to create within the giant building 4 separate zones for Fire, Air, Water and Earth that are brilliantly designed was vision of the highest order.  Ignoring the learning for a second it’s an architectural wonder and is no surprise that it won a RIBA award back when it was first created.

Unlike many places you visit as well it’s atmosphere is incredibly different.  For starters it’s cold, no attempt is made to heat the enormous structure so you need to go wrapped up and it’s dark, incredibly so which is so different from any other “museum” that I can think of.  Each zone is in a different pod linked by gorgeous steel walkways that are seemingly suspended in the air, with different lighting guiding the way, but around you everything else is very dark but with large hooks and gangplanks etc left over from it’s industrial heyday appearing out of the gloom making for a very otherwordly and somewhat ghostly feeling as the steel plant still echoes back to it’s glory days when it broke the world record for steel production.

Each zone is a little wonder in it’s own right but Air takes the biscuit as it appears to be a suspended blimp some 60 feet or so in the air reached by a lift that when you first walk into the atrium in front of the lifts crackles with electricity that is set off by your movement, making the unaware jump.  Fire is reached along a walkway past the furnaces that replicate what happened as steel was produced with sparks shooting into the inky blackness.  Once inside the fire zone the most amazing sight is the fire tornado which no matter how many times I’ve seen it still mesmerizes.  Water is full of get your hands wet fun while down in Earth little and big kids alike get to operate a full size JCB.  Every zone is full of hands on fun (although some could do with some updating and maintenance as quite a few were not working yesterday).

All of the inside is incredible but it is matched (if you have kids) by the best adventure playground you could hope for which provides a fantastic space for kids from little ones through to early teen.  The cost of going to Magna used to put me off a bit but the pricing policy has changed in recent years so it’s £36 for a family of 4 for the year – cracking value I’d say.

Yes I’d much rather it was still producing steel, and in fact several years ago it was strange to take my dad who had visited often when it was a working plant as the company he worked for supplied them with valves, but if it can’t produce steel then it helps to tell the story, both of steel production but also the people who made it all inside an architectural wonder that uses the structure of it’s industrial past to create an amazing space for the future.

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