As the first phase of The Natural History Museum’s most significant development since its 1881 opening, the Darwin Centre offers visitors rare, behind-the-scenes access to the work and people of the museum. The design for this new wing of the renowned museum celebrates its vast body of research while safely housing and displaying more than 22 million zoological specimens and providing secure accommodations for dozens of scientists.
With the addition’s location near the Grade I listed Alfred Waterhouse Museum, the team worked with English Heritage and explored technical innovation within a design ethos of lasting civic architecture. The new building promotes research and exhibits in an atmosphere of dignified utility.
To the north, the collection is contained within a solid, heavily serviced cold store that is eight stories high. To the south, labs are placed behind a glazed elevation—an intelligent skin with shading louvers that track the sun, sandwiched between two layers of glass.
The contemporary detailing recreates the historic tradition of architecture parlante—buildings whose external appearance describes what happens inside. The zoomorphic brackets of the solar wall, the changing appearance created by the sun-tracking metal louvers and the caterpillar-like inflated roof refer directly to the activities occurring indoors.