On the Boards: Shanghai Natural History Museum by Perkins + Will

August 5, 2011

By Laura Raskin
This story first appeared in Architectural Record’s China edition.

Shanghai Natural History Museum, Shanghai, China, Perkins + Will
Image courtesy Perkins + Will

Shanghai Natural History Museum, Shanghai, China, Perkins + Will slide show


Shanghai Natural History Museum, Shanghai, China, Perkins + Will
Image courtesy Perkins + Will
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When it is completed at the end of 2012, Perkins + Will’s nautilus-shell-shaped Shanghai Natural History Museum will emerge from a proposed sculpture park and provide views of the surrounding city.

Perkins + Will won the international competition in 2007 to design the museum, which will replace an existing natural history museum. The architects were inspired by the classical gardens in Suzhou with their water features, rock formations, and screened walls, which they abstracted in their design. “It’s important that the museum is in the old side of the city,” says Bryan Schabel, the senior designer on the project and an associate principal in Perkins + Will’s Chicago office.

The spiraling 45,000-square-meter building rises out of the park with a ramp-like green roof that is accessible to the public and culminates in an observation deck. Perkins + Will created an aluminum sunscreen with an abstract, cellular pattern to form a curved façade that frames an inner, south-facing courtyard and pond. A glass curtain wall hangs behind the screen, allowing daylight inside an atrium that spans the width of the building.

The other facades also represent elements found in traditional Chinese gardens. On the east elevation the architects created a living wall, while on the north they used curved stripes of stone that recall a mountainside and tectonic plates. “We’re trying to make this a living exhibit,” says Schabel.

Most of the exhibition space sits below ground level with displays devoted to the land, the sea, rivers, and human civilization and the environment. Dinosaur galleries in above-ground spaces will probably attract the biggest crowds. Behind a grand lobby with a large LED informational screen, an IMAX theater will show movies.

The architects designed the museum as a bioclimatic building with an intelligent skin that minimizes solar gain. The pond in the courtyard provides evaporative cooling, while the green roof limits run-off and reduces the heat island effect, says Schabel.

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