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Natural selection for history museum extension begins

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The Natural History Museum has launched a competition for the second phase of its Darwin Centre extension. The £53 million budget is double that allocated to phase one of the Darwin Centre, designed by HOK and now nearing completion.

The building will house 28 million insects and six million plant specimens, including some collected by Charles Darwin and Joseph Banks.

Museum director Neil Chalmers is looking for designs which allow public access to areas which are traditionally regarded as off-limits, enabling visitors to meet scientific staff and see them at work. Chalmers is also demanding 'excellence in environmental design' as well as architecture which complements the original 19th century building by Alfred Waterhouse.

'The Darwin Centre must be designed to the highest architectural standards and become a model for new museum buildings in the 21st century, ' said Chalmers, who wants to change people's perceptions about what a museum is.

The closing date for entries is 5 June, after which a selection panel will draw up a shortlist of five. Each shortlisted practice will receive an honorarium of £10,000 to work up a scheme. Museum trustees will announce the competition winner later this summer.

The Darwin Centre is the most significant development that the museum has undertaken since it moved to its present site in South Kensington in 1881.

An advertisement appeared in last week's Official Journal of the European Communities and guidance notes are now available. Further details can be obtained by calling 020 7942 5995.

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