Museums play a very important role in people’s lives as they have stories to tell from the past of a particular place. The Natural History Museum shows the development of the place since its foundation. With the new museum came new challenges because of the memories associated with the former museum.” The former Natural History Museum has a special meaning for people who grew up in Shanghai,” explains James Lu, the managing director of our Shanghai office of Perkins & Wil. 

Shanghai Natural History Museum by Perkins and Will - Sheet1
Shanghai Natural History Museum_@Architectural Record

Inspired by man’s relationship with nature, every part of the museum is open to human interaction, including the green roof that spans the walkway. Natural light floods in from all sides, breathing life and soul into the exhibits. The most striking feature of the museum is the cavernous 109-foot-high cell wall, which looks as if it has been painstakingly carved out of the earth by an archaeologist.

The museum’s total area of 44517 m2 provides space for the display of nearly 10,000 artifacts from all seven continents. The space includes the exhibition halls, a 4D theatre, an outdoor exhibition garden, and a 30-meter-high atrium that invites natural light filtered through the glass wall, inspired by the cellular form of animals and plants.

Perkins & Will was selected after an international design competition involving some of the world’s best-known architects. The concept of the building is to show the integration of nature and human life. To illustrate this, the structure is arranged in a curve that gives the impression of growing out of the ground. It is called the Nautilus shell, which is considered one of the purest forms of nature.

Shanghai Natural History Museum by Perkins and Will - Sheet2
Conceptual Sketch_@Perkins&Will

The Cell Wall

This is a bioclimatic building that responds to the sun by using an intelligent building envelope that maximizes daylight and minimizes solar gain. The wall consists of three layers, each with its geometric pattern and organic shape. It is arranged in an elliptical cone shape that envelops the atrium. The main structural layer highlights the organic cell as the structural building block of nature. An inner layer, which forms the waterproof envelope of the building, is formed by the glass and aluminum mullion façade. The outer layer is a solar screen that mimics the cellular building block of all life forms and acts like traditional Chinese window screens. 

Shanghai Natural History Museum by Perkins and Will - Sheet3
The Cell Wall_@Livin Spaces
Shanghai Natural History Museum by Perkins and Will - Sheet4
Cell Wall detail_@Architect Magazine


Shanghai Natural History Museum by Perkins and Will - Sheet5
Basement Level Plan_@Architect Magazine
Shanghai Natural History Museum by Perkins and Will - Sheet6
Ground Level Plan_@Architect Magazine

The building consists of two basement floors, a ground floor, and two upper floors. The spaces are mainly distributed as exhibition areas around the central oval courtyard, together with the service core, which remains the same on all floors. The café area is mainly located on the second basement floor, while the first basement, ground floor, and first floor comprise the exhibition spaces and various lobbies. The rooms on the second basement level are a theatre, a lecture hall, and an exhibition space.

The planning of the whole space along with the façade elements is done keeping in mind the traditional design and construction techniques. The form, the spiral parametric form, is constructed in such a way that it retains the simple design principles, namely the grid, while maintaining a certain grid throughout, which facilitates the play with the partitions of the different exhibition spaces.

The Façade

The three main façades underline the content of the museum. The central cell wall refers to the cellular structure of plants and animals. The eastern living wall represents the vegetation of the earth’s surface. The northern stone wall refers to shifting tectonic plates and canyon walls eroded by rivers.

The sunken garden and water feature form a central point of the entire building, bringing diffuse daylight into the public and circulation areas of the entire design and helping visitors find their way around.

Shanghai Natural History Museum by Perkins and Will - Sheet7
Facade_@James and Connor Steinkamp


The LEED Gold-certified China Green 3-star museum is a bioclimatic building. In response to solar radiation, the building envelope is designed to allow maximum sunlight inside while reducing incoming radiation. Using the evaporative cooling method, the oval central pond regulates the temperature, while the temperature of the ground provides heating and cooling through the geothermal cooling method. In addition, rainwater from the green roof is collected in the pond and reused together with grey water.

Sustainability section_@Archdaily

The museum is located in the Jing An District, in the center of downtown Shanghai, and Jing’an Sculpture Park. The building replaces the original Natural History Museum and expands the museum’s ability to showcase its collections by providing 20 times more exhibition space. The form of the building creates the illusion of becoming one with the surrounding spiral landscape elements.


Shanghai Natural History Museum. (n.d.). Retrieved from Perkins & Will:

Shanghai Natural History Museum / Perkins+Will. (2015, April 24). Retrieved from Arch Daily:

Shanghai Natural History Museum. (2016, March 21). Retrieved from Architect Magazine :


Aditi, a people’s person, looks and observes everything around her. She will tell you the simplest of stories in a way that makes you start dreaming about them, you being the main character. Writing gave her a tool to express herself and the world around her for the world around her to listen to.