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HOK's new shop window for nature

Zoology inside,zoomorphic forms outside.hok International has unveiled its full plans for the Natural History Museum's proposed new Darwin Centre (hok 18.11.99),featuring a series of zoomorphic brackets lining a south-facing contemporary solar-venting and glass facade.

Echoing in appearance some of the form of the organisms to be kept and newly revealed to the public inside,the 1650mm high brackets are finished in nickel and sit in front of curved perforated louvres, themselves in front of curtain walling.The louvres will track the sun to give controlled light onto the labs inside,while cold air will come in at the base of the solar venting wall and be allowed to escape at the top.

The 10,985m

2 building will hold the museum's zoology collection and embody its new philosophy of transparency and openness rather than the rigid Victorian barriers between public and staff.It will also reveal to the public the inner workings of its scientific research for the first time.Suddenly the problem-solving work of 300 scientists in such areas as biodiversity will come out from behind the scenes for visitors in a building especially designed to turn the institution 'inside out'.

The eight-storey building will feature an extensive use of terracotta as a reference to the original Romanesque museum by Alfred Waterhouse,a curved roof of stainless steel and part-fritted,inflated cushions to avoid excessive heat loss but allow daylight to filter through. A wedge-shaped atrium between the labs and cold storage to the north of the building is broken into two parts by access bridges at each end and an occupied bridge in the centre of the floorplate.And this atrium should give touring parties of visitors views of the collections and a wall-climbing lift overlooking Queen's Gate.

The first phase will cost £27 million and be open to the public in 2002.It is part of a £100 million expansion plan including new spaces and research areas for other collections,new public spaces and an informationtechnology programme.With the V&A's proposed Spiral extension by Daniel Libeskind and in recent years new galleries,a new bridge and a new wing at the Science Museum by Ben Kelly,Chris Wilkinson and MacCormac Jamieson Prichard respectively, South Kensington's museum quarter is clearly looking up.

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