Naturalis is the national research institute for biodiversity, founded in 1820 by King Willem I in Leiden, The Netherlands. The institute, with a long and rich history, has experienced exponential growth in the last decade, leading to an urgent necessity to expand and renovate. The office Neutelings Riedijk Architects developed a high atrium that distinguishes this new museum from the existing building while creating a meeting place for the users of the institution.
Scagliola Brakkee © Neutelings Riedijk Architects
The new, future proof Naturalis brings together the growing collection of 42 million objects. Its state of the art facilities accommodate more than two hundred researchers whose studies are at the center of attention, contributing solutions to global issues such as climate change and the decline of biodiversity on earth, food supply, and water quality. The Naturalis facilities and the collection contribute high-level solutions to these problems while the new museum offers the chance to show the public the wealth and beauty of nature.
The institute’s new design forms a sustainable ensemble of existing buildings and new build, with each activity housed in a specific form.
The central atrium connects the various parts of the institute: the existing offices with the newly built museum and laboratories. The design of the atrium consists of a three-dimensional concrete structure in the form of interlocking molecules which make up a lace of ovals, triangles, and hexagons. The filtered light that enters through the circular windows is like a glass crown where scientists, staff, students, and families meet, reinforcing the monumentality of the space.
Public functions such as the restaurant, the shop, and the exhibition hall can be found on the ground floor where passers-by can catch a glimpse of the examinations of the lastest whale to be washed ashore. The main staircase leading up to the exhibitions resembles a mountain path, becoming narrower at the top and providing enough space to welcome Trix, the sixty-six million years old T-Rex which has been given pride of place in the Dino Era gallery.
The exterior of the exhibition halls, with its stone blocks in horizontal layers, mimics a geological structure. Its travertine variety of stone has developed natural crystals over the span of eons, creating a beautiful sparkle. The layers of stones are interrupted by friezes of white, concrete elements designed by a famous Dutch fashion designer Iris van Herpen. Invited by Neutelings Riedijk Architects, she designed a total of 263 panels, inspired by the natural shapes of the collection which seem to be as smooth as silk, using a special technique that she developed for Naturalis. This fabric resemblance is a nod to the innovative dresses designed by Van Herpen for celebrities such as Cate Blanchett, Beyoncé, and Lady Gaga.
Inside the museum, Dutch designer Tord Boontje, known for his lighting, furniture, and fabrics with exquisite floral and animal motifs, shows almost 100 striking and colorful wall panels. They are visual stories that blend photography and drawing to reveal the wonders of the natural world. The project covers a total of 38,000 m2 which includes 18,000 m2 of renovation and 20,000 m2 of new construction.
Caption Scagliola Brakkee © Neutelings Riedijk Architects
DATE: 2013-2019 / LOCATION: Darwinweg 2, Leiden, the Netherlands / AREA: 17.000 m2 (museum), 18.000 (offices), 3.000 (laboratories) / PROGRAM: museum, offices, laboratories / STATUS: built / DESIGN: Neutelings Riedijk Architecten / TEAM: Michiel Riedijk, Willem Jan Neutelings, Frank Beelen, Kenny Tang, Guillem Colomer Fontanet, Jolien Van Bever, Inés Escauriaza Otazua, Marie Brabcová, Cynthia Deckers / CONSTRUCTION: J.P. van Eesteren / CONSULTANTS: ABT BV Ingenieursbureau (architectural engineering), Aronsohn Raadgevende Ingenieurs (Structural engineering), Huisman en van Muijen (Installation design), DGMR Raadgevende Ingenieurs (Building physics), IC ULC-Kuijpers (Installations contractor), Neutelings Riedijk Architecten (general public areas design), Hollandse Nieuwe (Interior designer offices), Iris van Herpen (Designers of artworks), Studio Tord Boontje (graphic design), Studio Hartzema (Urbanist), IGG / Bointon de Groot (Cost calculation), H+N+S, Amersfoort (Landscape architect) / CLIENT: Naturalis Biodiversity Center / PHOTOS: ScagliolaBrakkee © Neutelings Riedijk Architects