Cocoon countdown as Natural History Museum metamorphosis begins

Press release - 02 September 2008

Eight-storey landmark building for scientists and public will open in September 2009

  • second phase of the Darwin Centre will reveal the Natural History Museum’s world-class scientific research
  • giant cocoon to protect 20 million plant and insect specimens
  • public to see science in action and how Museum scientists study the natural world
  • major supporters include the Heritage Lottery Fund (£20.5m), the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (£10.7m) and The Wellcome Trust (£10m)

From September 2009, Natural History Museum visitors and scientists will share the excitement of exploring, studying and preserving the world around us in the second phase of the Darwin Centre. This eight-storey, £78 million landmark building project completes the Darwin Centre, the most significant development at the Museum since it moved to South Kensington in 1881. The first phase, housing the Museum’s 22 million zoological specimens stored in alcohol, opened in September 2002.

The new Darwin Centre is a state-of-the-art scientific research and collections facility that will be used by over 200 scientists at a time. It is also an awe-inspiring new public space inviting visitors to explore the natural world in an exciting and innovative way. The architectural highlight is a 65-metre-long, eight-storey-high cocoon – the largest sprayed concrete, curved structure in Europe. It will safeguard the 17 million insect and three million plant specimens held inside the building. Visitors will journey into and around the cocoon to see how Museum scientists work, with a chance to see into the collections and laboratories.

Dr Michael Dixon, Director of the Natural History Museum, comments, ‘As well as being a world-famous visitor attraction, the Natural History Museum has hundreds of our own scientists and thousands others who are visiting, all working with our 70 million specimens – from meteorites and dinosaur fossils to Darwin’s finches and the Thames Whale. Until now most of our science has been going on behind the scenes’.

‘At the Darwin Centre, we will show the public more of both our vital research and our internationally important collections. There is no other museum in the world that brings the public and scientists together in this way or on this scale. The Darwin Centre will I hope inspire people to think about the natural environment differently and in turn inspire them to take better care of our planet.’

Visitors to the second phase of the Darwin Centre will experience:

  • Inside the cocoon – an interactive journey. Up to 2,500 people a day will go into the cocoon, deep into the heart of the collections and get a glimpse of the working life of world-class researchers.
  • David Attenborough Studio – celebrates excellence in science communication. Through natural history film footage, new media and face-to-face encounters with Museum scientists, visitors to the studio will be inspired to be naturalists, observing the natural world and debating our relationships with it.
  • Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity – an area dedicated to the study of nature in the UK. This will offer new opportunities for the UK’s many wildlife groups and societies, access to our UK collections and a place to get first-hand information about the natural world from Museum experts.
  • Inspirational architecture – a stunning and unique building with a gigantic cocoon and breathtaking views over west London.

The new Darwin Centre in numbers

  • the second phase of the Darwin Centre will cost £78 million
  • the base construction took around 25 months and 280 people to build
  • at 60 metres long, 12 metres wide, 300 millimetres thick and 3,500 square metres, the eight-storey-high cocoon is the largest sprayed concrete, curved structure in Europe
  • the cocoon will hold 17 million entomology specimens and three million botany specimens in 3.3 kilometres of cabinets
  • these cabinets would stretch from the Natural History Museum in South Kensington to Westminster Cathedral if put end to end
  • the cocoon is approximately 30 centimetres thick and will be kept at a steady 17°C and 45 per cent relative humidity, the optimum conditions to store collections
  • the new Darwin Centre will have 16,000 square metres of floor space
  • the building will accommodate 220 staff and science visitors
  • there will be 1,040 square metres of laboratory space, doubling the size of the Natural History Museum’s current laboratory areas
  • 2,500 people per day will be able to take a self-guided journey through the collections and research areas

The second phase of the Darwin Centre is designed by Scandinavian architects C F Møller, who won an international architectural competition in 2001. It is being built by HBG UK Ltd.


Notes for editors

  • Major supporters of the second phase of the Darwin Centre include the Heritage Lottery Fund, The Wellcome Trust, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, The Garfield Weston Foundation, The Cadogan Family, Professor Anthony and Mrs Angela Marmont, GlaxoSmithKline plc, The Rufford Maurice Laing Foundation, The Dr Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation, The Wolfson Foundation and Anglo American plc.
  • Selected by Time Out in 2007 as one of the Seven Wonders of London, the Natural History Museum is also a world-leading science research centre. Through its collections and scientific expertise, the Museum is helping to protect the extraordinary richness and diversity of the natural world with groundbreaking projects in 68 countries.
  • C F Møller Architects is one of Scandinavia’s oldest and largest architectural practices, whose recent projects have included an extension to the National Museum of Art in Copenhagen and a renovation of The Aarhus Natural History Museum, also in Denmark (having designed the original Museum in 1941). As one of the founders of the Scandinavian architectural functionalism, the practice has been at the forefront of Danish design since its formation in the 1920s and is now one of the most successful architectural practices in Scandinavia.
  • HBG UK Ltd is one of the UK’s leading construction services organisations, with a turnover exceeding £1 billion. It operates throughout the UK from regional centres in Bristol, Cardiff, Coventry, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, London, Manchester, Newcastle and St Albans. HBG UK Ltd is part of the €9 billion turnover European construction company Royal BAM Group.

For more information and images, please contact the Natural History Museum Press Office
Tel: 020 7942 5654