Imagine, if after loading them up two by two on to the ark under the pretext of divinity-decreed conservation, Noah had instead brutally massacred every single species of animal with a machine gun, shipped them off to a taxidermist and then stuck them all in a huge building for people to look at. Then you may get a sense of the sheer volume of stuffed creatures currently populating the newly (re)opened Natural History Museum.
An exhibit on such a scale has been made possible by the move from the museum’s old home in the Shanghai Cotton Exchange on Yanan Dong Lu, which could display just one percent of its collection at any given time. This new build offers six levels across 44,517 square metres of space, housing 10,000 artifacts from all seven continents. Not too shabby. The new space welcomed 10,000 visitors on its first 'soft opening' day last weekend, with lines edging outside Jingan Sculpture Park, where the building is located; most of the crowds were asked to come back another day.
The ones who did make it inside after hours of queuing discovered it was well worth the wait. The word to describe the Natural History Museum is ‘comprehensive’, and you’re advised by the museum (and us) to put aside at least four hours of your day in order to absorb everything. There's a 4D movie theatre, an outdoor exhibit garden, and numerous exhibit spaces taking you right through from the Big Bang to a lifelike recreation of a busy African savannah to scale models of early Chinese agricultural communities.
Some of our favourite characters include the animatronic oviraptor, the Tolkien-esque-ly named prehistoric sabre-toothed cat ‘Smilodon the Devastator’, and the extraordinary-looking ocean sunfish, but there’s so much more besides.
In this case, it’s not just the inside that counts either. The stunning ‘bioclimatic’ building was designed by internationally renowned architecture practice Perkins + Will, with an ‘intelligent building skin’ to maximise daylight. Its four external walls emulate natural elements – including a vertical garden on the east wall, and a northern stone wall inspired by shifting tectonic plates and canyon walls eroded by rivers. The overall design is inspired by the ‘pure geometry’ of the nautilus shell, a white, spiralling structure that curves down towards traditional Chinese garden-style terraces.
One of the best things about the museum is the feeling of them sincerely wanting everyone to experience it, and to this end, the 30RMB entry is unbelievably good value for money. With sloped floors all the way through, the space is also superbly designed for wheelchair users or parents with buggies, and you can check in your bags at the left luggage, charge your mobile phone, and have drinking water all for free. There’s even an on-site clinic, so presumably even if you mortally injure yourself along the way, you can get fixed up and go back in.