Chengdu's Museum of Natural History is a civic landmark for a forward-looking city

Chengdu, China

A celebration of Chengdu’s modern ethos and historical legacy, the Museum of Natural History will transform the city’s skyline and symbolize its innovative spirit. The museum will be a preeminent institution for science and culture, welcoming visitors from around the world with expansive exhibits, public spaces, shops, a café, a cinema, state-of-the-art educational facilities, and a verdant landscape that invites gathering and connection.

tons of steel

At the source of southwestern China's distinctive natural beauty

The museum’s form embodies the splendor of the region’s landscape. Chengdu is located on the western side of the Sichuan Basin, a vast plain bordered by mountains, home to rich farmland and vibrant urban centers. The area’s bordering mountain ranges are the result of ancient volcanic activity and shifting tectonic plates — an evolutionary process that anchors our inspiration for the museum’s design.

“We looked deeply into the natural beauty of the area’s distinctive geography and geological features. Through an inspiring collaborative process with our partners in Chengdu, we were able to realize our vision for the building to be an expression of this dynamic and striking landscape.” — Kristin Hawkins, AIA

Evoking a traditional cliff trail in a remote mountain area of China, a glass room appears to be effortlessly attached to the museum’s exterior.

Inside, the glass room — the “dino box” — functions as found space, a discovery that will delight and inspire visitors as they travel between the second and third floors.

A world of discovery in motion

The museum’s dramatic forms embody the process of rock breaking apart due to opposing forces of volcanic activity and shifting tectonic plates. The building’s form sweeps up in places to reveal the interior before descending again, reflecting the tension between ascension and gravity. The exterior granite surface is punctuated with organic perforations that create the impression of daylight reflecting on mountain snow. At night, light from within evokes a starry sky.

Mock-up of the stone exterior.

Construction is set to complete in 2022.

An uplifting sense of connection

An expansive canopy marks the main entrance, welcoming visitors into the museum. Inside the central atrium, sculpted wooden bridges recall the historic connection between Chengdu and its ancient water passages. A four-story glass elevator is patterned as an ancient bamboo forest, creating the impression of entering a prehistoric habitat. Glassy clefts between the granite forms give visitors continuous visual connections to the surrounding city and landscape.

Inside the central atrium.

Traditional cliff trails inspire the interior sky bridges throughout the museum.

At the crossroads of nature and culture

Outside the museum, an immersive nature experience awaits with indigenous plants, topography, and waterways. Reflecting pools and tributaries will frame the museum, highlighting the region’s historic irrigation systems, the Sichuan River, and Dongfeng Canal.

The existing river landscape embraces the museum as reflecting pools at the base of the mountains and as silky tributaries threaded through the landscape.

More About the Project

Project Team

Principal Collaborators

  • Architect of Record: China Southwest Architectural Design and Research (CSWADI)
  • Structural Engineer: China Southwest Architectural Design and Research (CSWADI)
  • MEP: China Southwest Architectural Design and Research (CSWADI)

Project Information

  • Location: Chengdu, China
  • Client: Chengdu City Construction Investment and Management Group (CDCI)
  • Size: 540,000 sq. ft. / 50,000 sq. m.
  • Completion: 2022
  • Certifications: Project Goal - Chinese Green Building Design Label 3 Star Rating
  • Firm Role: Design Architect
  • Renderings courtesy of Steelblue, CSWADI

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