Evolution + Experience

Naturalis Museum Garden

The design for the new Naturalis Museum includes a large feature garden adjacent to the museum, located on top of the new parking facilities. The garden is designed to take the visitors on a journey through time and educate them on the fascinating evolution of nature.


While the Naturalis Museum has long been a hub for environmental education and conservation, until recently there was no outdoor space where the story of natural evolution could be told through living material. Now, however, the Museum has been extended and a large garden is integrated into the design.

Experiential learning

The Naturalis Garden is an intimate green garden, closely integrated with the inside of the museum building. It is an exciting and wondrous space, where the natural beauty of nature can be witnessed in ‘real’, living form. The garden is fragrant, full of colour and displays marked contrast throughout the seasons. It presents a wonderful world for children where they can learn experientially and have fun. It is also an inspirational place for adults and a home for animals.

The challenge was to integrate all the required functions of the garden within the available space

The Naturalis Museum holds over 37 million objects in its collection, making it the fifth largest natural institute in the world. It is, therefore, fitting that the Naturalis should be renovated, renewed and modernised to befit its status as a leading institution in this field. The new public garden presents a stunning backdrop for the new construction, and offers a moment of relaxation and variety during a museum visit.


Our design plan was the result of a two-step selection process. After an opening round in which parties could qualify on the basis of credentials, five parties were chosen to draft a substantive vision for the project, which had to fit within the set budget.


Naturalis selected H+N+S for the project, based on the experience of our team and the quality and innovativeness of the design plan. The biggest challenge was to fulfil the principles in the design, within the limitations of the budget. Naturalis expressly indicated that they did not want an open-ended plan, but one that was feasible in technical, financial and managerial terms.


Public garden

The biggest challenge was to design a garden which could fulfil all the required functions in the limited space of 7000m 2 – a catering terrace, a picnic spot for school children, playgrounds and educational features. The public garden needed to appeal to various target groups and to accommodate for large numbers of visitors at once. The garden also needed to offer something for everyone, without diluting the whole concept into a sum of niched interests. This required inventiveness and creativity in design.

Upper and lower world

The new, lush garden is located at ground level: a green oasis where visitors can explore. In this area, visitors are introduced to the concept of ‘natural history’ and the evolution of the environment. Below the garden are the parking facilities and a number of other functional spaces. The parking lot takes the form of an open steel construction, to enhance natural ventilation and so that relatively little artificial lighting is required.

The spatial concept; a lush green environment built on top of a large parking area. Contact is made between garden, parking, and surrounding areas.


The upper and lower world are designed to interact with each other. A mossy monolith emerges from the parking lot through an open deck and rises into the garden. The downstairs and upstairs are connected via a subtle spiral staircase that runs around the rock. Therefore, the museum experience and wonder start in the parking lot! The monolith acts as a recognisable and distinctive landmark for visitors to lead them to the entrance.


The garden seamlessly blends into the restaurant and entrance to the museum. The garden slopes upwards from the museum entrance and thus creates interesting conditions for natural development (high/low ground, dry/wet, sun/shade). This creates a diverse ecological environment – lush, lavish and colourful - which the visitor can experience.

Nature pond

The central pond adds value to the garden in several ways: it represents a cool space on hot days, it serves an entertainment and educational purpose, and it is a means of water storage and therefore assists with the natural irrigation of the garden. On the upper deck is a second pond. The ponds ensure that the rest of the garden is fed and watered during droughts. The entire garden itself, also serves as a water catchment – almost all rainwater is collected and retained by the garden.

Travel through time

An explanation of the plants and animals found in the garden, as well as their evolutionary significance, can be found in the Naturalis Museum. The garden itself is purely dedicated to experiential learning and play for children (and adults!) as they explore the evolution of flora and life on earth. The development of spores (mosses, ferns), from gymnosperms (conifers) to angiosperms (grasses and flowers), forms the basis for the layout of the garden. Certain areas of the garden are designed to provide characteristic snapshots from this ‘journey through time’. The garden demonstrates more advanced/abstract ecological processes such as plant orders and families, but also more accessible and familiar processes such as reproduction and pollination.

Animal life

The diverse ecology in the garden also attracts a rich variety of animal life: birds eat seeds and berries, and bees and butterflies are attracted to certain flowering plants. The garden, therefore, also demonstrates the essential connection between man and the environment. Bees, for example, pollinate fruit plants and thus make an essential contribution to the food supply on which humans are dependent. Additionally, they provide honey. These unique and intricate processes are demonstrated in the garden.

The value of biodiversity for humans.

Active and playful learning

There are a number of play objects scattered throughout the garden, which have been designed to represent extinct animal species. The structures have been placed in (what was) the natural habitat of the species. For example, micro relief structures in the sandpit for toddlers, a dinosaur skeleton for climbing and, hidden amongst the ferns, a large mammoth swings for older children. Play and education, thus, go hand in hand. The aim of these initiatives is to make learning about the environment enjoyable for children and to promote the message: nature is fun, fascinating and inspiring, but also vulnerable …treat it with respect!

Substantive design contribution by former employee Timothy Vanagt.