Waterhouse Building,
the home of the
Natural History Museum

The world-famous Waterhouse Building is a London landmark and a work of art. This beautiful building was designed by Alfred Waterhouse, a young architect from Manchester.

When you arrive, pause to take in the huge fašade and high, spired towers. The rounded arches and grand entrance were inspired by basalt columns at Fingal's Cave in western Scotland. This is one of Britain's most striking examples of Romanesque architecture.

When did you last visit the museum? Have you seen the new Darwin Centre?

As part of the launch of the property magazine later this month, PropertySpy shall be contributing to the work against mosquito spread disease carried out by leading scientists at the top research part of the Natural History Museum, click here for details.

The Natural History Museum first opened its doors to the public on Easter Monday in 1881, but its origins go back more than 250 years.

It all started when physician and collector of natural curiosities, Sir Hans Sloane, left his extensive collection to the nation in 1753.

Originally Sloane’s specimens formed part of the British Museum, but as other collections were added, including specimens collected by botanist Joseph Banks on his 1768-1771 voyage with Captain James Cook aboard HMS Endeavour, the natural history elements started to need their own home.

Sir Richard Owen, Superintendent of the British Museum’s natural history collection, persuaded the Government that a new museum was needed. He had an ambitious plan – to display species in related groups and to exhibit typical specimens with prominent qualities.

The chosen site in South Kensington was previously occupied by the 1862 International Exhibition building, once described as ‘the ugliest building in London’. Ironically, it was the architect of that building, Captain Francis Fowke, who won the design competition for the new Natural History Museum.

However, in 1865 Fowke died suddenly and the contract was awarded instead to a rising young architect from Manchester, Alfred Waterhouse.

Waterhouse altered Fowke’s design from Renaissance to German Romanesque, creating the beautiful Waterhouse Building we know today. By 1883 the mineralology and natural history collections were in their new home. But the collections were not finally declared a museum in their own right until 1963.

Research projects

More than 300 scientists work at the Museum to tackle a diverse range of global problems, such as threats to the Earth's biodiversity, the maintenance of delicate ecosystems, environmental pollution and disease.

At the heart of the research is the naming and classification of organisms and natural objects and the study of their inter-relationships. The collections of plant, animal, fossil, rock and mineral specimens are vital to this research and are growing constantly.

The Darwin Centre

The building, which provides world-class storage for precious collections, new laboratories and behind-the-scenes access for visitors, is at the forefront of environmental architecture. It has an energy-saving glass solar wall, which reduces heat in the summer and heat loss in the winter, and a ‘caterpillar’ roof made of recyclable materials, which lets in lots of natural light.

It also links with the museum’s past by incorporating terracotta into its design, reflecting the architecture of the Waterhouse Building. Its steel frame echoing the blue terracotta of the Victorian building.

Jonathan Dimbleby asked Sir David Attenborough about his vision for the David Attenborough Studio, which will be part of Phase Two of the Darwin Centre opening in 2009. Sir David said, 'the Natural History Museum is one of the greatest scientific institutions in the world. The Museum's collections and scientists, teamed with the wonderful archive of footage of the Natural History Unit of the BBC, will engage visitors in the natural world in a way the two institutions could never achieve on their own.'

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