Designed by Perkins+Will’s Global Design Director Ralph Johnson, the Shanghai Natural History Museum offers visitors the opportunity to explore the natural world through the display of more than 10,000 artifacts from all seven continents. The 44,517 square meter (479,180 square foot) building includes exhibit spaces, a 4D theater, an outdoor exhibit garden, and a 30-meter 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 was selected following an international design competition that included entries from some of the world’s best known architects. The overall shape and building organization was inspired by the nautilus shell, one of the purest geometric forms found in nature. Natural elements are depicted across the building’s façades including the central cell wall representing the cellular structure of plants and animals, the east living wall signifying earth’s vegetation, and the northern stone wall suggesting shifting tectonic plates and canyon walls eroded by rivers.
“The use of cultural references found in traditional Chinese gardens was key to the design,” says Johnson. “Through its integration with the site, the building represents the harmony of human and nature and is an abstraction of the basic elements of Chinese art and design.”
It is a bioclimatic building in that it responds to the sun by using an intelligent building skin that maximizes daylight and minimizes 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 vegetated roof and stored in the pond along with recycled grey water. All of the energy features of the museum are part of exhibits which explain the story of the museum.
The museum is in the Jing An District, in the center of downtown Shanghai, and within the Jing An Sculpture Park. The building replaces the original Natural History Museum and improves the museum’s ability to exhibit its collection with 20 times more exhibition space.