Urban Nature Project, Natural History Museum

Feilden Fowles, working closely with landscape architects J&L Gibbons, are leading a multi-disciplinary team on this ambitious new project to re-imagine the five-acres gardens surrounding the Natural History Museum’s Grade I listed Waterhouse building in South Kensington, London. The key aims of the Urban Nature project are increasing biodiversity, accessibility, opportunities for education and the usability of the Museum’s grounds.

The Eastern Garden will become an immersive, educational experience for visitors telling the story of Deep Time, from the Cambrian period 540 million years ago to the present day, through geology, planting and interpretive exhibits. Early time periods will be characterised by low level planting – mosses and liverworts – among rocks. Moving west, larger plants begin to appear – horsetails and tree ferns – growing further still into the Jurassic period where Wollemi pines and cycads will accompany a full-size reproduction of Dippy, the diplodocus skeleton previously located in Hintze Hall. Following this flowering plants, fruits and grasses will create rich habitats of seasonal variety encouraging pollinating insects and bees, as visitors near the main entrance to the Waterhouse building.

A new Garden Building will emerge beyond the Carboniferous forest, at the foot of the Palaeontology building, in the spirit of historic Victorian garden structures, such as orangeries and palm houses, to provide both a café facility for visitors and a support space for the planting of the new Eastern Garden, offering vital seasonal storage and display of the more exotic plants exhibited in the eastern gardens.

To the west of the carriage ramps, the Wildlife Garden is already home to thousands of species of British flora and fauna. More than 3,130 species have been identified in the garden since it opened in 1995. The Urban Nature Project will greatly enhance and enlarge the areas of habitat and biodiversity, expanding the wildlife garden to the south of the museum.The gardens will encourage visitors to zoom in on nature which is all around us, to understand where it came from, the interrelationships between different species and people and to help explain how we all must adapt to changing urban conditions.

A new Learning and Activity Centre will combine vital facilities for scientific work, monitoring, learning activities, maintenance and supporting the volunteer community so important to the upkeep of the wildlife gardens. The new centre will allow improved access, legibility and interpretation of the wildlife gardens, expanding the important scientific work of the museum and encouraging citizen science activities.

The east to west journey through the re-imagined gardens will lead visitors to the Darwin Courtyard. As a conclusion to the narrative, here ‘future nature’ will be explored, through emergent and pioneer species and possible approaches to climate adaptation, resilient communities and promoting improved bio-diversity within our cities. This ambitious project aims to capture the imagination of the museum’s visitors, inspiring, informing and empowering visitors to take action, echoing the words of Sir David Attenborough “the future of the natural world, on which we all depend, is in your hands”.

Project: The Urban Nature Project
Location: South Kensington, London
Building Type: Garden Building, Activity and Visitor Centre, Gardens
Project budget: undisclosed
Status: RIBA Stage 4 Technical Design


Client: National History Museum
Project manager: Mace
Landscape architect: J & L Gibbons
Structural engineer: Engineers HRW
M&E, lighting and acoustic engineers: Max Fordham
Pedestrian Flow Access: Buro Happold
Quantity surveyor: Mace
Sustainability consultant: Mace
3D design: Gitta Gschwendtner
Planning consultant: Deloitte
Access consultant: Earnescliffe
Specialist planting consultants: Fossil Plants

Selected press

10 November 2020, Lizzie Crook, ‘Feilden Fowles to redesign gardens to London’s Natural History Museum‘, Dezeen

29 October 2020, Richard Waite, ‘Feilden Fowles gets go-ahead to overhaul Natural History Museum grounds‘, Architects’ Journal

9 April 2020, Richard Waite, ‘Feilden Fowles reveals all-new plans for Natural History Museum grounds‘, Architects’ Journal