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Natural wonders right in the city

Kerry Boettcher
Thursday 14 May 2015

The much anticipated Shanghai Natural History Museum, designed by Perkins + Will’s Global Design Director Ralph Johnson, has opened to the public

Set in the Jin An Sculpture Park right in the centre of buzzing downtown Shanghai, the new Shanghai Natural History Museum is one of the largest museums for natural history in China. 

Visitors will be able to explore the wonders of the natural world through exhibits of more than 10,000 artefacts from all around the world. The 44,517 sq m building includes exhibition spaces, a 4D theatre, an outdoor exhibit garden, and a 30-metre tall atrium that welcomes visitors with an abundance of natural light filtered through a striking glass wall inspired by the cellular structure of plants and animals.

Perkins + Will’s design won the international competition to design the museum, over entries from some of the world’s best known architects. The architects looked to nature to find inspiration for the design, in order to reflect the purpose of the museum. The overall shape was inspired by the nautilus shell, one of the purest geometric forms found in nature. Throughout the building, natural forms are used, including the central cell wall representing the cell structure of plants and animals, a living wall, lush with green vegetation, and a stone wall suggesting shifting tectonic plates and canyon walls eroded by rivers.

Ralph Johnson said: “The use of cultural references found in traditional Chinese gardens was key to the design. Through its integration with the site, the building represents the harmony of human nature and is an abstraction of the basic elements of Chinese art and design.”

The building is also bioclimatic; it responds to the sun by using an intelligent building skin that maximises daylight and minimises solar gain. The oval courtyard pond provides evaporative cooling, while the temperature of the building is regulated with a geothermal system that uses energy from the earth for heating and cooling. Rainwater is collected from the green roof and stored in the pond, along with recycled grey water. All of the energy features of the museum are part of exhibits, which tell the story of the museum.

“For people who grew up in Shanghai, the old nature museum has a special place in their memories, noted Managing Director for Perkins + Will’s Shanghai office, James Lu. “Likewise, there is much excitement surrounding the opening of the new museum, which will have a similar place in the hearts of both residents and tourists alike. The museum will bring a renewed experience of natural history to this city for generations to come. We are honoured to have served as the architect.”

Kerry Boettcher

News editor

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