Natural History Museum unveils the Darwin Centre at royal celebrations

Press release - 14 September 2009

HRH Prince William of Wales and Sir David Attenborough herald new Darwin Centre as key to answering the great questions of the natural world

The Darwin Centre's royal opening:

  • unique new public gallery, showing the hidden scientific life of the Museum in a new, free London landmark that opens to the public on Tuesday 15 September
  • millions of plants and insects revealed in hub of world-class life sciences research
  • nature-inspired opening celebrations attended by HRH Prince William of Wales, Sir David Attenborough and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport, the Rt Hon Ben Bradshaw MP
  • major supporters include the Heritage Lottery Fund (£20.5m), the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (£10.7m) and the Wellcome Trust (£10m).

In his opening address to a gathering of over 300 guests, HRH Prince William of Wales said, ‘As the superb new facilities of the Darwin Centre show, the Natural History Museum and the dedicated people who work here are at the very forefront of research, seeking out through study of the natural world the answers to the great questions of our age.’

He concluded, ‘It is such a privilege for me to be asked here today to open the Darwin Centre. The Natural History Museum is one of our great institutions. Its collections, and what it achieves in the areas of research and education make it - quite simply - the envy of the world. This magnificent new wing will further enhance the museum’s peerless reputation.’

When it opens tomorrow, visitors will share the excitement of exploring, studying and preserving the world with leading scientists. Up to 2,500 people a day will travel deep into the eight-storey cocoon to see some of the Natural History Museum’s scientists in action, working in high-tech laboratories, preparing thousands of real specimens and working among 3.3 kilometres of cabinets that hold millions of plants and insects. Through a diverse daily programme of events, new public gallery and high-tech installations, visitors will have an uninhibited snapshot into these once concealed spaces at the Museum.

During what was Prince William’s first official opening at a museum, he helped a museum scientist working in a molecular lab, viewed some of the museum’s 20 million insect and plant specimens and met young patients visiting from The Royal Marsden Hospital as they enjoyed a science show in the centre’s high-tech, Attenborough Studio.

Sir David Attenborough, who also addressed guests, paid homage to the Natural History Museum’s ability to inspire and inform. He said, ‘Never has it been so important to understand the diversity of life on Earth and how it is changing, if we are to tackle many of the issues that humans face today. The Darwin Centre will inspire the next generation of naturalists and scientists through its combination of scientific expertise, specimens, public dialogue, film and interactive media. It will enable all of us to explore the wonders of our world and investigate its secrets.’

The 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 Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP, Prime Minister said, ‘I am delighted to see this exciting new part of the Natural History Museum open its doors. We are absolutely committed to investment in science in this country and our ambition to deliver the next generation of world-class scientists. This innovative new centre, with its high-tech facilities and first-rate research is a fantastic example of this. The Darwin Centre is certain to engage the public on some of the great challenges facing our planet and inspire the young scientists of the future.’

Entrance to the Darwin Centre at the Natural History Museum is free. You can experience:

  • Cocoon – travel through the Cocoon experience deep into the heart of the collections to glimpse the working life of our scientists and the previously hidden world of scientific research. Through viewing decks, video, intercom and over 40 high-tech installations and hands-on interactive activities, you can experience how scientists travel to discover and name new species, prepare specimens and organise collections, and how these are being used to help fight malaria or react to climate change.
  • NaturePlus – take a NaturePlus card with you to personalise your journey around Cocoon. Use it to collect your favourite exhibits and specimens – from butterflies to a rhino beetle – and then discover more online at home, where you can also join in discussions with Museum scientists.
  • Attenborough Studio – the Attenborough Studio is a state-of-the-art communication centre. Innovative technology, Museum specimens, live animals, spectacular natural history film footage and Museum scientists come together to create an inspiring programme of free daily films and live events.
  • Climate Change Wall – interact with the un-missable 12-metre wall of screens. They display films and interactive graphics that spotlight Earth’s changing climate and how the Museum’s research informs global efforts to understand that change.
  • Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity – a new resource centre for people or organisations with an interest in UK natural history. Much of the Museum’s UK collections are available here for amateur naturalists to study and visitors are encouraged to bring in their own finds and meet the Centre’s dedicated enquiries staff.
  • Architecture – explore this architecturally stunning building with breathtaking views from the eight-storey cocoon, look over the west London skyline, into the Wildlife Garden and up close to the Museum’s original terracotta façade.

Dr Michael Dixon, Director of the Natural History Museum, comments, ‘The Natural History Museum is a world leader on research into the burning issues facing humans and the natural world. Through the collections we look after, and the scientific expertise in our staff, we work with many organisations to inspire an understanding of the natural world, to help conserve its extraordinary richness and diversity, with groundbreaking projects in 68 countries.

‘In the Darwin Centre we highlight this work and the vital importance of understanding nature, our planet and its impact on all our lives, personally, locally and globally. There will be nowhere else in the world where the public can engage with the science of nature on this scale and we hope the Darwin Centre will change perceptions of what museums of natural history can be. It is an awe-inspiring new building for both scientists and the public, inviting everyone to explore the natural world in an exciting and innovative way.’

The new Darwin Centre in numbers

  • the second phase of the Darwin Centre cost £78 million
  • the base construction of the second phase 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 holds 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 second phase of the Darwin Centre has 16,000 square metres of floor space
  • the building can accommodate 220 staff and science visitors
  • there are 1,040 square metres of laboratory space, doubling the size of the Natural History Museum’s current laboratory areas
  • 2,500 people per day can take a self-guided journey through the collections and research areas

Darwin Centre visitor information
Dates: open from 15 September 2009
Opening times: every day, 10.00–17.50 (last admission to Cocoon 17.00)
Admission: free, to book timed tickets for Cocoon call 020 7942 5725 or visit
Nearest tube: South Kensington


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.
  • Cocoon is supported by GlaxoSmithKline and Anglo American. As leaders in their fields, they support the Darwin Centre’s mission to promote the development of knowledge, understanding and skills that are needed to make sound decisions about the science-related issues we face every day.
  • The second phase of the Darwin Centre was designed by Scandinavian architects C F Møller, who won an international architectural competition in 2001. It was built by BAM Construct UK Ltd, formerly HBG UK Ltd
  • The Royal Marsden opened its doors in 1851 as the world’s first hospital dedicated to cancer treatment, research and education. Today, together with its academic partner, The Institute of Cancer Research, it is the largest and most comprehensive cancer centre in Europe treating over 40,000 patients every year. It is a centre of excellence, and the only NHS Trust to achieve the highest possible ranking in the Healthcare Commission’s Annual Health Check for the third year in a row. Since 2004, the hospital’s charity, The Royal Marsden Cancer Campaign, has helped raise over £43 million to build theatres, diagnostic centres, and drug development units. Prince William became President of The Royal Marsden in 2007, following a long royal connection with the hospital. For more information, visit or contact catherine O’Mara on 020 7808 2605 or Catherine.o’
  • 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 over 68 countries.

For more information and images of both the opening celebrations and the Darwin Centre, please contact the Natural History Museum Press Office:
Tel 020 7942 5654 email (not for publication)