20/21 May, Museum für Naturkunde Berlin, Invalidenstraße 43, 10115 Berlin
The nineteenth century saw the building of natural history museums across Europe, at a time when there was acute controversy among scientists and the wider public over whether and how life had evolved. These natural history museums were built as interventions in these controversies, and at the same time they served to assert the importance of national scientific traditions. They remain key sites for the public understanding of science and nature. In this workshop we will examine how the architecture and aesthetics of the major natural history museums in Europe express distinct conceptions of science from within their national traditions and reflect on the meanings embodied in their plans, design and decoration. Through discussions of the interpretative implications of museum architecture, we hope to become more mindful of the implied scientific and ideological narratives built into the fabric of natural history museums and to turn the architectural legacy of nineteenth-century science into a richer resource, both for the public and the museums themselves. Looking at three modern examples of architectural additions, alterations of historical buildings and new constructions, we aim to shed light on contemporary forms and their capacity to combine old and new architecture based on current discourses, insights and requirements.
The workshop was conceived and organized by the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin in cooperation with the University of Birmingham, the Mount Allison University (Canada), the Naturhistorisches Museum Wien, and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.