Natural History Museum

Darwin Centre, Phase 1

Photograph of the exterior of the Darwin Centre Phase I

Photograph of the exterior of the Darwin Centre, Phase I, 2002
Architect: HOK
Copyright: The Natural History Museum, London

The most recent phase in the development of the Natural History Museum is the Darwin Centre. This extension to the Museum is intended to not only store some of its vast collections but also to provide new laboratories for scientists and 'behind the scenes' access for visitors.

The centre was planned in two parts: Phase I being was completed in September 2002 by the architectural firm HOK, and Phase II, designed by CF Møller, opened in 2009.

Environmental strategy

Phase I, which includes storage for the Museum's collection of 22 million zoological specimens stored in spirit, is an excellent example of a new wave of environmental architecture. The 120,000 square feet/ 11,150 square metre building is faced by a large glass solar wall, designed to reduce heat in summer and heat loss in winter. It has a 'caterpillar' roof made of recyclable materials, which lets in lots of natural light, reducing the need for electricity.

The choice of these environmental features also follows the designer's wish to re-create 'architecture parlante'. This is when the external appearance of a building reflects what happens inside, an idea which Alfred Waterhouse practised on the exterior of the main building with his use of animal sculptures.


HOK achieve this by using zoomorphic brackets in the solar wall; sun-tracking metal louvers which move, changing the appearance of the building; and a triple-skin caterpillar like inflated roof; all of which act to reflect the centre's work and ideals.

The designers also wanted to provide a visual connection to the main museum building by Waterhouse. It therefore incorporates terracotta, and the steel frame echoes the blue terracotta of the Victorian building.


HOK is a global firm of architects well known for completing large scale projects. Most notably the Heathrow Terminal 5 Rail Station, and have been chosen to design the UK CMRI, a world-leading medical research centre in London.