Mollusc shell and human cell inspire Perkins + Will Shanghai museum design


Perkins + Will has completed Shanghai’s natural history museum where visitors can explore the natural world through the display of more than 10,000 exhibits from all seven continents of the Earth.

The building includes exhibit spaces, a 4D theater, and an outdoor exhibit garden.

Located on an urban site, the shape and internal organisation of the building references the pure natural form of a mollusc shell. a grass-covered plane rises out of the park and wraps around an oval pond – the focus of the exhibition route through the building – which begins at the upper level and spirals downwards.


The structural network that lines the curved inner face of the building is both an abstraction of patterns found in traditional pavilions, and a suggestion of human cell organization.

The north wall references the movement of tectonic plates, while the south wall is a living wall plane composed of a metal trellis covered with vines. The green wall brings the horizontal plane of the park onto the vertical surface of the structure forming an arcade that represents the vegetation of the earth’s surface.

Temperature is regulated by the evaporative cooling of this pond, which collects water from the museum’s vegetated roof, and by geothermal wells.

The walls are made of glass panes arranged as if they were plant cells, illuminating the gallery spaces so that artificial lighting is hardly needed during the day.

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