The London Natural History Museum's Future-Thinking Revamp
The iconic interior architecture of the London Natural History Museum is set to experience a new look. In the first redesign since the 1970s, the famous Hintze Hall, created by Alfred Waterhouse, will see a future-facing transformation.
Casson Mann, the exhibition design consultancy, has been working with the Natural History Museum since 2013 on what will certainly be a historic project to create a “natural history museum for the future”.
At the centre of the brief is the desire to evoke a tension between the historic Victorian architecture, for which the museum is famous, and the scientific narratives displayed within. Above all, however, it remains crucial that a sense of authenticity is maintained throughout the space. Casson Mann used a limited number of materials to achieve their aim of a “coherent” aesthetic in the Hintze Hall, an aesthetic that seeks to tie all the exhibition spaces together in a fitting and appropriate manner.
In a move that will radically alter the Hintze Hall, the famous Dippy the Diplodocus who has long been the centrepiece that greets visitors to the museum, will be replaced by Hope the Blue Whale. Hope is a 25-metre blue whale skeleton, and will be suspended from the ceiling of the great hall. She will certainly be an awe-inspiring replacement for Dippy.
So, why the blue whale?
Apart from being a breathtaking sight in herself, the blue whale represents her very namesake: Hope.
The blue whale almost faced extinction as a result of unscrupulous hunting throughout the 20th century. It was the among the first species to be the subject of a global-scale protection project.
In 1966, new laws were put in place to protect the blue whale from hunting. At that point, there were just 500 blue whales left in the wild. Clearly, the species was at crisis point. As a result of the laws and protection for the blue whale, however, now the number has dramatically increased to 20,000. Therein lies the hope – hope for what humankind can achieve when the good of our fellow animals is made a priority.
The redevelopment program began with the refurbishment of the Treasures Gallery, and has continued for five years to bring the Natural History Museum up to date. The reopening of the Hintze Hall marks the final stage of the revamp.
The Natural History Museum has also brought in hundreds of new displays, to be displayed on plinths and cases grouped according to the museum’s core themes: Origins, Evolution, and Biodiversity. Among these new exhibits, visitors will be able to see a 4.5 billion-year-old meteorite, giraffes, a blue marlin, and the skeleton of the Mantellisaurus dinosaur.
“The transformation of Hintze Hall represents a new era for us as a natural history museum for the future, says Natural History Museum director, Sir Michael Dixon. “Putting our blue whale at the centre of the Museum, between living species on the West and extinct species on the East, is a powerful reminder of the fragility of life and the responsibility we have towards our planet.”
In addition to the physical space, the Natural History Museum has also worked with web development agency, Potato, to put together a mobile app and interactive website. This digital addition to the museum’s offering not only helps to bring the Natural History Museum up to date, but also allows visitors the opportunity for deeper exploration of the blue whale’s journey, from its origins in the ocean to its final resting place as the focal point of the globally renowned London museum. The website experience charts the entire process involved in preparing the skeleton for exhibition, as well as the process of 3D scanning and rendering Hope for scientific posterity.
The Natural History Museum is not the only great London museum undergoing redevelopment. The British Museum, too, has recently announced a 10-year revamp program. New and refurbished galleries will be revealed, along with a much-anticipated reopening of the museum’s famous Reading Room.
At the heart of the redevelopment, the museum is seeking to focus on exploring “more coherent and compelling stories” about the artifacts and the cultures that it showcases, according to Hartwig Fisher, the British Museum’s director.
The first reopening, in November 2017, will be the Sir Joseph Hotung Gallery of China and South Asia. The new gallery space will boast a fresh interior design, as well as new lighting to emphasise the exhibits within.
The next to open will be two new gallery spaces for The Albukhary Foundation Galleries of the Islamic World. The gallery will be split to firstly explore the history of Islam from its origins up to 1500 AD. The second will display artefacts from the Ottoman era, Safavids, and the Mughals.
Fisher also went on to say:
“We want a walk around our permanent collection to be a voyage of discovery and learning for all. This will involve a new narrative for the collections, an emphasis on the interconnectedness of cultures, the renovation of the building and improvement of facilities for our millions of visitors, and – of course – digital.”
Images from the Hotung Gallery refurbishment can be seen on the Design Week website.