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Global hunt begins for design team to overhaul Natural History Museum grounds

A major design competition has been launched to ‘re-imagine’ the grounds around London’s Grade I-listed Natural History Museum

Contest organiser Malcolm Reading of Malcolm Reading Consultants said the competition was aimed at the ‘brightest talent, internationally - in particular active collaborations between architects and landscape designers’.

The existing building in South Kensington by RIBA Royal Gold Medallist Alfred Waterhouse was completed in 1881 and is extensively clad in terracotta tiles designed to ‘resist the sooty climate of Victorian London’. In 2009, CF Møller added the £78 million Darwin Centre extension to the museum, which houses 70 million natural history specimens and six million rare books and artworks. Two years later Dixon Jones completed a ground-breaking shared surface revamp of the neighbouring Exhibition Road (AJ 09.12.11).

The museum now wants ‘an innovative exterior setting that matches the architectural excellence of the iconic 19th-century site while ensuring that the museum grounds are easily accessible to all visitors’.

Reading added: ‘It’s a wonderful design challenge with great promise. This is one of a handful of landmark settings in London and the Waterhouse Building will get a landscape to complement its extraordinary look.’

Michael Dixon, director of the Natural History Museum, said: ‘The Natural History Museum is renowned for inspiring architecture that celebrates the natural world and is one of London’s most iconic buildings.

‘The grounds surrounding the building make an important contribution to how people experience the museum. This competition offers the very best of the architectural industry the opportunity to set [the existing building] in a modern context, so it continues to be one of the UK’s most recognised and admired destinations.’

The deadline for expressions of interest is 28 October 2013. The shortlist for the second stage will be announced in November, with the winning team expected to be announced in February 2014, following a public exhibition.

A website providing full details and how to respond is launched today (19 September): http://competitions.malcolmreading.co.uk/naturalhistory

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