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Naturalis Biodiversity Center

An iconic museum building, its façade designed and modelled so that concrete appears silky smooth. Commissioned by Neutelings Riedijk Architects, ABT provided the architectural design, construction management, 3D digitization and technical design of Naturalis' unique façade. The concrete relief sculptures were designed by Iris van Herpen.
Client Neutelings Riedijk Architects
Completion time 2014-2019
Market Art and culture
In collaboration with Neutelings Riedijk Architects
Location Leiden
Project scope 38.000 m2 viz. 18.000 m2 renovation, 20.000 m2 new construction

42 million natural history objects

The Naturalis Biodiversity Centre is the Leiden research institute and natural history museum with a rich and long history. The institute’s exponential growth called for a renovation. The collection had reached 42 million natural history objects (top 5 in the world). The number of researchers increased sharply and the museum building also fell short for the more than 400,000 visitors a year.

A different form for each building function
The design by Neutelings Riedijk Architects forms a sustainable entity of existing buildings and new construction, with a specific form for each function of the institute. The central (reception) area is a large and bright atrium. It is the building that connects all parts of the institute: the old building with its offices and depots, the new building with the laboratories and finally the new exhibition building. The first floor houses public functions such as the restaurant, store and an exhibition space. The stacked rooms gradually narrow toward the top and their staircase rises like a mountain path.

3D relief sculptures

At the invitation of the architect, fashion designer Iris van Herpen designed unusual three-dimensional relief sculptures for the façade of the new museum section, inspired by the Naturalis collection and natural shapes and patterns. ABT and partners have realized these designs through digital design, engineering and new production methods in high-quality white concrete.

Glass Crown

The design stands out for its striking openwork glass crown for which architect Michiel Riedijk drew inspiration from forms found in nature. The façades and ceiling of the hall, composed of three-dimensional elements, together form a leaf pattern. The structure, as well as the façades and interior of the museum are made of sustainable materials. Sustainability was also a requirement for the installations.

Parametric modelling and VR

For the structural design of the new Naturalis building, parametric modelling was used to generate the complexly shaped concrete façade elements (leaf pattern). A parametric design allowed the exploration of multiple design variants. Direct combination of the parametric model with virtual reality realizes experience of alternatives at real scale and in the context of the entire building and they can be adjusted instantly.

Naturalis, Leiden, Neutelings Riedijk architecten

‘Silky smooth’ concrete relief sculptures

Iris van Herpen’s 2D designs were translated by ABT into digital 3D models through the use of computerized computer scripts. Using a Virtual Reality application, a lifelike experience of the artwork was then created (virtual mock-ups). This allowed the designer, architect and client to experience the design alternatives at actual scale and in the context of the entire building. Thanks to the application of new digital technology, the design was realized to perfection. The concrete forms appear to be silky smooth and made of fabric. Not unlike the innovative couture Van Herpen creates for international celebrities.



After a five-year renovation, the museum reopened on Aug. 31, 2019! The work was awarded the 2019 Concrete Prize win. Museum Naturalis received the most votes from students of all seventeen nominated projects, and was the winner of the 2019 Future Award. Naturalis, designed by Neutelings Riedijk Architects, was submitted by three firms (ABT, Aronsohn Constructies and Lievense). The judges combined these into one submission. The jury on Museum Naturalis: “The various up-to-date applications make the whole entity stand out in one building. It is a high-profile building with several high-quality concrete constructions.”

Image: © scagliolabrakkee and © Neutelings Riedijk Architects