The design of the Shenzhen Natural History Museum that mimics the natural flow of rivers has been making worldwide headlines in the field of architecture. The competition-winning design was a combined outcome of three globally renowned firms – Copenhagen headquartered 3XN, Chinese firm Zhubo Design and Toronto’s B+H Architects. The museum will be built in the Yanzi lake area of Shenzhen district as part of the government’s initiative to enhance the cultural index of the sixth most populated city of China. The Museum is one of the “Ten Cultural Facilities of the New Era” underway in the city following multiple museums, performance venues, and cultural hubs.

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Shenzhen Natural History Museum ©3XN

The Meandering Form

The structure of the museum beautifully transcends nature into architecture. Resembling the flow of the adjacent river, the project has been titled Delta after the Pearl River Delta. The design of the Shenzhen Natural History Museum seamlessly flows from one facade to the other, subduing the conservative principle of divided geometry. The design humbly rises from the green carpet on the Earth towards the openhearted sky, inviting people to journey this distance along with the building. Like the changing landscape along a river’s path, the assembly frames different views over the surrounding hills, lake, and park through dedicated viewing terraces along the roof park.

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Shenzhen Natural History Museum ©3XN

Inspired by water streaming down a river, the 42,000 sq m world-class facility leads guests through ‘cave’ like passages. This adds an element of surprise in the minds of the visitors who eventually encounter the central, grand museum lobby at the end of the cave. From here, visitors can access multiple galleries dedicated to 365, 000 sq ft of varying themes of natural history. The lobby is also activated by multiple cafes and public areas forming the pulsating heart of the building. The concept of the river also reflects in the interior of the building in the form of the monumental spiral staircase at the center of the museum lobby. The interiors, as well as the exteriors, are a mystical depiction of architecture, unfolding new stories at every turn, every organic corner of the design.

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Grand Museum Lobby of Shenzhen Museum of Natural History ©3XN

An Urban Artefact

The project shall be the first grand-scale comprehensive museum on natural sciences in Southern China. While being an institution of science, the Shenzhen Natural History Museum will also engage people with the laws of evolution connecting the geography and ecology of Shenzhen to a global scale. As an urban artifact, the facility will double up as an urban community infrastructure with an accessible public park on the rooftop. In this way, the design shall expand the open space network of Shenzhen city where city dwellers can engage in various outdoor activities from early morning jogs to late evening strolls. The site further maximizes public accessibility to the green of the city by maintaining openness and activity as an extension of the surrounding riparian ecosystem.

Answering the ideology of how we can create a museum to connect with nature, the museum wonderfully responds to the context. Located adjacent to the picturesque Yanzi lake, the design offers an opportunity for residents and visitors to soak in and connect with nature. Once completed, the museum will join the list of buildings like Jingdezhen Imperial Kiln Museum, the He Art museum by Tadao Ando, and the museum from transformed ruins by Shenzhen Horizontal Design.

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Rooftop Public Park ©3XN

Jury’s Review

Being awarded first place among 70 proposals from across 18 countries of the world, the proposal Delta for Shenzhen Natural History Museum garnered some intriguing jury comments. 2020 Pritzker prize laureate Yvonne Farrell expressed, “This building captures the unique atmosphere of a riverfront site and finds the timeless property of water as a concept. The connection between function, site, concept, structure, material, and space is very clear“. 

Further, Philip Cox, founder of a prolific Australian firm, COX Architecture referred to the concept of Delta as highly creative and appreciated the continuous movement that the design achieves with the landscape through continuously sloping exterior walls. This, in turn, creates a continuous volume and spatial experience for visitors. He also highlighted that the details, the form of the cliff, the interaction of the museum, and the ramp are interesting features of the design. “The plan makes full utilization of the landscape in the site. Through a dynamic architectural form, it creates a beautiful, natural, and dynamic nature museum concept“, said Weiping Shao, another juror of the competition.

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Shenzhen Natural History Museum with surrounding landscape ©3XN

As per media reports, this proposal for the Shenzhen Natural History Museum stands at a total investment of 496 million dollars excluding the cost of acquiring display specimens. Though the construction timeline is yet to be finalized, this cultural facility can already be expected to be a popular global tourist spot with its mesmerizing design and unique concept. In conclusion, the museum artistically blends concept, function, structure, and material with the enclosing space doing poetic justice for a building dedicated to the laws of nature!    


Jagriti Jhunjhunwala, is an Architect and an Urban Designer, suffering from an obsessive need to bring forth stories of people and places through the lens of humanity. Keeping quiet is not one of her many skills, so do ping her on Instagram (@thatshillonggirl) for a stranger's perspective on absolutely anything. Although, you should know, she is rumoured to be a feminist.

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