Copenhagen, Denmark 2012



PROGRAM: exhibition spaces, learning center, research and educational facilities, workshops
    SIZE: 37,275 sq ft
STATUS: competition

The architecture is organized in three parts:

1) Under the Sea:
Five matte glass “Islands of Light” emerge from a large reflecting pond. These ice-like elements organize the supporting structure below and the exhibits in the main space, while bringing in natural light.
Below the surface of water, five tubes of translucent glass shape an exhilarating space with the world’s largest whale specimen collection swimming at different levels.

2) Under the Earth:
Here a triangle of the landscape lifts up to bring natural light into the sections of the exhibit entitled “Facing North.” The entrance from the garden side is defined by this earth fold.

3) Under the Sky:
A convex curve, like a cloud pressing down from the sky, defines a main entrance pavilion constructed entirely out of clear structural glass walls. The sand-blasted top picks up a glow of projected light like the underside of a cloud. A single whale suspended inside reveals a first look at the exhibition to be found below.

The plan/section arrangement facilitates a twenty-first-century openness. Rather than a linear or hierarchic order, a non-linear open-ended circulation allows a cross-reading of exhibitions. The main space in three open horizontal levels of exhibition is connected by five exhibition verticals. The architectural section promotes multiple readings, with many sciences instead of a territorialized layout of a single science. Instead of homogeneity, heterogeneity is facilitated by the verticals intersecting and shortcutting the large horizontal plans.

The clear organization of this transformed new museum, its state of the art sustainable design, and the interaction with its spectacular gardens will establish SNM as one of the world’s foremost natural history museums.


  • architect
    • – Steven Holl Architects
    • Steven Holl ( design architect, principal )
    • Noah Yaffe ( partner in charge )
    • Garrick Ambrose ( project architect )
    • Gary He, Martin Kropac, Yichen Lu (project team)
  • structural engineer
    • – Guy Nordenson & Associates
  • climate engineers
    • – Transsolar