The Natural History Museum (NHM) is both a treasured cultural landmark and a world-leading scientific research institution. The Darwin Centre II (DC2) houses the museum’s entomological and botanical collections, along with scientific workplaces for research and curation. It completes the life sciences campus on the west side of the Museum.
The architecture of the Darwin Centre II is intended to reveal to the public the incredible range and diversity of the Museum’s collections as well as the cutting-edge scientific research they support.
The centerpiece of the DC2 is made to appear like a large ‘cocoon’, which forms the inner protective envelope that houses the museum’s unique collection of 17 million insects and 3 million plants. The collections areas within the Cocoon are world class; the regulation of environment, temperature and humidity greatly reduce the risk of pest infestations without the use of toxic pesticides. The exposed thermal mass of the sprayed reinforced concrete shell maintains a stable internal environment and minimizes energy use. The shape and size of the ‘cocoon’ gives visitors a tangible understanding of the volume of the collections contained within.
Teva Hesse of 4D Studio Architects was the lead designer and design team leader for the project during the competition and design phases. The project was opened by David Attenborough and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales in September 2009.
Public access to the scientific core of the second phase of the Darwin Centre takes the form of a visitor route up and through the cocoon, overlooking laboratory and collection areas. Visitors can experience the Darwin Centre as a compelling and interactive learning space, observing the scientific and research activities without interrupting scientific work in progress.