Locale : Global (English)
1 / 2
Darwin Centre entrance hall interior Day time view of Darwin Centre

Darwin Centre, UK

Some 20 million insect and plant specimens are held in the Darwin Centre at London’s Natural History Museum. Preserving one of the world’s most important collections and providing working conditions for some of its most eminent scientists posed unusual challenges.

Interior of Darwin centre

Mott MacDonald provided building services design. This included specialist and natural lighting, building physics and sustainable low energy solutions.

The internal building in the Darwin Centre consists of a 35m tall glazed box which houses an eight storey cocoon, like a specimen in a glass display case. The cocoon protectively envelops the museum’s collection, state-of-the-art laboratories, visitor centre, exhibition space and lecture theatres.

Stable archive conditions were needed to optimise the environment in circulation spaces and in research laboratories so that specimens could be protected as much as possible when removed, viewed and handled.

Precise management of the centre’s climate was also key to eradicating a major hazard, the museum beetle, which feeds on organic matter. We calculated the optimum control point, 17ºC – not too cold to work in, but cold enough to prevent the beetles from reaching sexual maturity. Relative humidity was fixed at 45%.

We achieved a low energy solution by harnessing the site’s existing resources and working with architect CF Möller to exploit the building’s structural design for ideal energy efficiency.

The cocoon is buffered from outside temperatures by the space between the inner and outer structures. Initially, the atrium was to have been naturally ventilated, but concerns about pollution build-up led to adoption of mechanical ventilation instead. Rather than condition the entire space, air handling units were placed beneath the floor, pushing a small amount of treated air into the 2m immediately above. We focused on the area occupied by people.

Temperature and humidity in the cocoon are controlled using purpose built air handling units. Heat, cooling and power are supplied by the Natural History Museum’s central combined heat and power plant and absorption chillers.

An energy recovery system recycles around 75% of thermal and latent energy from exhaust air back into supply air. Walls and floors of the cocoon itself are concrete. Insulated on the outside, the concrete is exposed on the inside. The concrete provides a stabilising thermal mass. Collections should remain at suitable storage temperatures for many hours even if the ventilation systems are switched off.

We achieved additional energy savings through lighting design. In the corridors of storage areas, lights are activated by movement sensors. In storage cabinets lights dim automatically after 40 minutes. In the laboratories, artificial lighting automatically adjusts according to how brightly the sun is shining.

expand-image mail-envelope icon-icon-linkedin-mmdv-green icon-close arrow-left icon-section icon-section-white arrow-down icon-arrow-down-sml icon-arrow-left-lrg icon-arrow-left-sml icon-arrow-right-lrg icon-arrow-right-sml icon-arrow-up-sml icon-champions icon-section icon-section-white icon-download icon-education icon-email icon-grid-view icon-language icon-link-to icon-list-view icon-location icon-login-register ec-icon-login-register icon-ec-apply-arrow icon-ar-apply-arrow icon-mm-icon-search-ec icon-minus icon-more icon-phone icon-plus icon-recently-viewed icon-search icon hash key-facts-corner-sash quote-underline social-icon-facebook social-icon-googleplus social-icon-linkedin social-icon-twitter social-share-icon-facebook social-share-icon-facebook social-share-icon-googleplus social-share-icon-googleplus social-share-icon-instagram social-share-icon-instagram social-share-icon-linkedin social-share-icon-linkedin social-share-icon-twitter social-share-icon-twitter social-share-icon-youtube social-share-icon-youtube sina-weibo MM-Shape01-Quote-Views MM-Shape03-Quote-Locations MM-Shape05-Quote-Projects MM-Shape12-Quote-Sectors MM-Shape13-Quote-Expertise MM-Shape14-Quote-About-Us MM-Shape14-Quote-Careers checkmark icon-expand-view icon-apply-now menu linkedin-mmdv-green icon-ad-close mail-mmdv-green icon-ad-menu menu-close ec-menu-close sphere icon-cookies icon-legal icon-registered-companies target rotate-screen video-replay-flat video-replay audio-mute audio-play
Mott MacDonald main logo

Would you like to hear more from us?

Sign up to receive notifications