Museum unveils £50m 'cocoon' plan

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The Independent Online

A cocoon-like design has been chosen as the new £50m home for 34 million plant and insect specimens never previously exhibited at the Natural History Museum in London.

The futuristic design is the second phase of an enormous project to house about 80 per cent of the museum's collection of 70 million specimens in a new extension, named after Charles Darwin, by the year 2007.

The first phase of the Darwin Centre has already been built to house the museum's 22 million zoological specimens stored in alcohol, which require particularly cold conditions. Situated on the west side of the museum on Queen's Gate, it will open to the public next year.

The cocoon was selected yesterday as the design for the second phase, which will nestle between phase one and the much older museum buildings.

The airtight cocoon will create the right environments for plants and insects to be looked after properly and protect them against pests. The extension will also provide state-of-the-art facilities for 300 scientists whose work has been scattered throughout the museum's site in South Kensington. Until now, their work has been done behind closed doors.

Sir Neil Chalmers, the museum's director, announced the decision to accept the design, by the Scandinavian architects CF Moller and partners, after a meeting of trustees.

Anna Maria Indrio, the architects' partner in charge of the project, said they intended "to express in the language of architecture the Natural History Museum's vision of a unique meeting between the visiting public and the research scientists of the Darwin Centre".

About £27m has been raised already towards the cost of the cocoon and the Heritage Lottery Fund has earmarked nearly £15m for the construction of the new wing.