SVM Consulting Engineers
SVM Consulting Engineers
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State of the art(efact) design for the Natural History Museum

1st August 2017

Following an unprecedented level of media coverage, the Natural History Museum opened its spectacular, re-imagined central Hintze Hall to the public on 14th July. The 6-month programme of works, which culminated in the careful suspension of a 4.5 tonne blue whale skeleton, was prefaced by SVM’s own revival of the original ventilation design which dates back to 1865.

We were appointed to undertake the M&E base build and exhibition fit-out works required to suspend the blue whale skeleton in the iconic Hintze Hall.  In preparation for these works we carried out a full thermal analysis of the hall to understand and improve the internal environmental conditions for both visitors and exhibits.

Using the latest CFD modelling techniques we were able to revive Alfred Waterhouse’s original ventilation plans for the iconic hall, designed in 1865. Having researched Waterhouse’s original plans we discovered many of his solutions were not finished properly during the museum’s construction, significantly compromising the ventilation in the hall.

Hintze Hall is the cathedral-like entrance to the Natural History Museum. The hall is an exhibit in itself, made up of unique, listed artefacts such as the hand-painted botanical tiles lining the roof, and the 1,300-year old sequoia tree cross section sitting high above the main entrance archway. Paul Rushmer, Director at SVM said, “Conditions in Hintze Hall are important to the Museum’s visitors, and crucial to the Museum’s exhibits. We needed to find a non-invasive solution for this Grade I listed space that stabilises the temperature and humidity in the hall, despite the fluctuating conditions effected by visitor footfall, dwell time and the impact of the weather.  Being able to view Alfred Waterhouse’s original drawings was an honour in itself, and helped galvanise our preferred passive solutions.”

The ground floor of Hintze Hall is bordered on two sides by ten alcoves, and over the years a number of these bays had been closed-off. In our early exploration of Waterhouse’s initial designs we discovered the alcoves would play a crucial role in our passive ventilation solution for the Hall.  By opening up these ‘wonder bays’, curators have been able to display ten headline specimens showcasing the breadth and diversity of the Museum’s collection.

The Museum’s Patron, HRH The Duchess of Cambridge, and Sir David Attenborough attended a gala launch reception on 13th July 2017, ahead of the public opening the next day.

In a personal letter of thanks Sir Michael Dixon, Director of the Natural History Museum, said, "We have received congratulations from across the globe from natural history museums and friends to welcome Hope, our blue whale.  Already we are seeing record levels of visitors.... [The team] have created a bold, ambitious and beautiful public space that will be the first touchpoint of visitors to the Natural History Museum for generations to come."

The dramatic story of replacing the famous Diplodocus cast with the blue whale skeleton was be broadcast in Horizon: Dippy & The Whale on BBC Two on 13th July. Narrated by Sir David Attenborough, the film tells the story of the bones of a young female blue whale who died after getting beached off the coast of Ireland and how they found their way to the Museum. Programme makers spent two years behind-the-scene at the Museum following teams involved in what is one of the world’s most unique engineering challenges.  


The photograph accompanying this story is credited to the Trustees of NHM

Read more about the new Hintze Hall collection here




About the Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum welcomes more than five million visitors a year and is a world-leading science research centre. Through its unique collection and unrivalled expertise it is tackling the biggest challenges facing the world today. It helps enable food security, eradicate disease and manage resource scarcity. It is studying the diversity of life and the delicate balance of ecosystems to ensure the survival of our

About SVM’s expertise in designing for museums

SVM was founded in 1956, and a CIBSE Building Performance Consultancy of the Year finalist.  The company is one of the UK’s leading providers of sophisticated and sympathetic building services design schemes for the museum and galleries sector.  The Natural History Museum, The Tate, V&A, Museum of London and the Science Museum (to name just a few) are amongst SVM’s ongoing client base.

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