Alfred Waterhouse was not the first architect to work on the Natural History Museum’s design. The original design was created by Captain Francis Fowke, who had won a competition to design the new building in 1864. Fowke had already designed the Royal Albert Hall, and proposed a similar Renaissance style for the Museum. This influence can still be seen today.

Waterhouse was a fan of the gothic revival, but he had an eclectic style and took inspiration from different places. In particular, he was influenced by the 12 th century Romanesque-style churches he saw in Germany.

The Royal Albert Hall

Like the Albert Hall, Fowke’s original design featured round arched windows and a large central dome, which topped a grand circular staircase entrance hall. If Fowke had lived, the building would have looked very different.

Entrance to the Natural History Museum

Elements of Fowke’s design can be seen in Waterhouse’s building – notably the round arched windows and grand entrance leading to a cathedral-like Hintze Hall (formerly the Central Hall) and spectacular staircase. 

Royal Scottish Museum © The Trustees of the National Museums of Scotland

Waterhouse visited several of Fowke’s Renaissance-style buildings, such as the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin and the Royal Scottish Museum in Edinburgh, pictured above, before moving towards an earlier, less flamboyant, Romanesque style

German church in Romanesque style

Waterhouse was particularly inspired by the 12th century Romanesque-style churches which he saw in Germany. This style is characterised by ribbed, vaulted ceilings and huge, often decorated, pillars or piers, supporting grand round arches.

Stained glass windows

The influence these churches had on Waterhouse’s final museum can be seen in the stained glass windows, high ceilings and Hintze Hall (formerly the Central Hall), which resemble the nave of a church, from entrance to altar.