Darwin Centre / C.F.Møller Architects

© Torben Eskerod
© Torben Eskerod

Architects: C.F.Møller Architects
Location: London,
Architect in Charge: Anna Maria Indrio
Client: Natural History Museum
Main Contractor: HBg ltd
Structural Engineering: Arup
Project year: 2008-2009
Site Area: 16,000 sqm
Budget: £$78 M
Photographs: Torben Eskerod

© Torben Eskerod © Torben Eskerod © Torben Eskerod © Torben Eskerod


Expressing a unique and appropriate architectural concept

The design of the second phase of the Darwin Centre project is characterized by a compelling and strong architectural concept in order to contain and represent vast entomological and botanical collections housed within the Natural History Museum.

The Cocoon

The solution to resolving the various Client requirements and to clearly symbolize the world class collection of specimens is the ‘Cocoon’, an architectural translation which forms the inner protective envelope.

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© Torben Eskerod
© Torben Eskerod

The scale of the Cocoon form is such that it cannot be seen in its entirety from any one position. This emphasizes its massive scale. The shape and size give the visitor a tangible understanding of the volume of the collections contained within.

The collections housed in the Natural History Museum are among the world’s most extensive and treasured. In order to adequately preserve, maintain and represent this collection, a structure suitable in both its expression and physical construction was necessary. The Cocoon does this by creating an icon, which represents preservation, protection and nature. It is constructed of 300mm thick walls, with a defined geometric form based on mathematical equations. The surface finish is ivory-coloured polished plaster, resembling a silk cocoon, in which a series of expansion joints wrap around, resembling silk threads.


Respecting the existing architectural heritage

© Torben Eskerod
© Torben Eskerod

The second phase of the Darwin Centre is intended to manage the difference in scale, architectural approach and to create a physical link between the original landmark Alfred Waterhouse Museum building and the more contemporary addition of the first phase of the Darwin Centre. It also serves as a landmark building in its own right, the full height wall partially revealing the solid 3-dimensional form of the cocoon within.

Bridging past, present and future

The second phase of the Darwin Centre improves and transforms the existing buildings into something more than the sum of its parts. The new building links existing and new buildings into a dialogue forming a set of dynamic, spatial experiences, bridging the past, present and future for the museum.

© Torben Eskerod
© Torben Eskerod

The smooth curved form of the immense cocoon is an iconic feature of the new Darwin Centre building and the public atrium space is dramatic, tall and filled with daylight.

The second phase of the Darwin Centre completes the western portion of the Natural History Museum estate, linking the existing buildings and enhancing and clarifying the circulation patterns within the museum for both staff and visitors.


Public access to the scientific core of the second phase of the Darwin Centre takes the form of a visitor route up and through the cocoon, overlooking the science and collection areas without compromising the central activities of protection, preservation and research.

© Torben Eskerod
© Torben Eskerod

Passing through the Cocoon, the visitor enters a new space where the boundaries between the inner and outer worlds of scientific research are blurred.

The visitor can experience the Darwin Centre as a compelling and interactive learning space, observing the scientific and research activities without interrupting scientific work in progress.

Cite: "Darwin Centre / C.F.Møller Architects" 28 Sep 2009. ArchDaily. Accessed 26 May 2015. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=36284>
  • alifencer

    what’s the exact material of the big white stuff?

  • alifencer

    well.polished plaster.i’ve got it

  • nimiral

    what a waste of outer skin!
    I don’t have a problem with “egg in glass envelope” type concept (although outdated…),

    But the egg is too big to experiencing the space in between the two…

  • Michael

    I can’t believe Prince Charles allowed it!

  • Squidly

    The plan is strange. The “egg” can’t seem to decide whether it belongs to the orthogonal ground or apart as its own figure. How can such a simple idea be so muddled in plan?

  • ryan knock

    am I missing something? nothing is inside this yet. I agree, the skin-egg relationship is too close. Gorgeous building, but there is no program at this point. Botanical and insects? there is almost no light inside this egg!!!!!!!!! who grows plants in caves?

  • Thomas

    That hurts…

  • http://yorik.orgfree.com Yorik

    I find that cool, and for me it is a very sound answer to the problem of building something new next to that old building. Its size is similar but a bit lower than the old one, like out of respect, and there are a couple of interesting contrasts, old one is complex, new one is simple, old one is opaque outside and transparent inside, new one is transparent outside and opaque inside, etc…

  • http://www.ess.com The Ess

    So cool…. an evolution temple this is. Awesome architecture.

  • Robb

    They ripped-of Grimshaw’s Empac building design.

    • sam

      there are a lot of blob in box schemes, the discussion of who ‘ripped off’ who in architecture is often a fruitless one.