The Natural History Museum in London originally opened in 1881 at its current location in South Kensington. The collections are much older than that and date back to 1753 when Sir Hans Sloane donated his collection to the British Museum. As the natural history collections grew, it became more and more apparent that a separate building was needed and so the Superintendent of the British Museum, Sir Richard Owen, prompted the move. The new building was designed by Alfred Waterhouse and is one of the most beautiful examples of Romanesque architecture in Britain. It is one of the most breathtaking places I have ever been and I was able to work there during my stay a few weeks ago. When looking around, you’ll notice that Waterhouse included elaborate sculptures of plants and animals all along both the exterior and interior of the building. I didn’t realize this, but apparently the western wing displays extant forms while the eastern wing displays all extinct life forms. Take note if you’re able to visit.
The public areas are divided into four zones – red, orange, blue, and green.
The red zone focuses on earth science and you begin in the “Visions of Earth” gallery where you ride an escalator through a giant sculpture of the Earth made of iron, zinc, and copper. I think this hall is especially impressive and I walked by it every morning on my way to work. Along with my coffee, it woke me up. Yes, I drank tea in England, but also coffee. You can then learn about fossils, meteorites, our solar system, and the ever-changing geography of the Earth.
The orange zone consists of the Wildlife Garden (which was closed while I was there, though it’s now open – so you should go!) and the Darwin Centre. The Darwin Centre opened in 2008 and is the modern, new wing of the building that contains the cocoon – a somewhat creepy giant cocoon structure that is home for 20 million collection specimens. (Side note – the beetles are not in there in case you were wondering). Apparently, this structure took over two years to build. It’s impressive and I don’t have a photo of it, so you should go check it out. Around the cocoon are general research areas where you can see scientists performing various parts of their research. If you walked by while I was there, you would have seen me taking pictures of beetles.
The blue zone displays some of the animal diversity on the planet – mostly focusing on dinosaurs and large mammals. There is a life sized blue whale and many taxidermy animals that are impressive even in their preserved states. There are also hallways with exhibits on human biology, but I didn’t visit these while I was there.
The green zone includes the central hall, fossil marine reptiles, creepy crawlies, birds, primates, and our place in evolution. This is where I spent the majority of my time and I’ll be devoting an entire post to it next.
Have I mentioned that there is no admission fee?