Shanghai Natural History Museum Opens Its Doors

  • Dinosaur skeletons take pride of place in the central atrium, whose latticed facade references the cellular structure of plants and animals.

    Dinosaur skeletons take pride of place in the central atrium, whose latticed facade references the cellular structure of plants and animals.

  • The museum's soaring entrance lobby.

    The museum's soaring entrance lobby.

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From a thundering Tyrannosaurus rex to 140-million-year-old Mamenchisaurus bones, Shanghai’s newest attraction is a veritable Jurassic Park of excitement. Established in 1956, the Shanghai Natural History Museum was previously housed in the 1920s Shanghai Cotton Exchange, where only a fraction of its assemblage of artifacts could be displayed. A new architectural landmark in the downtown Jing’An Sculpture Park now does full justice to the museum’s incredible 10,000-piece collection, displayed across a whopping 45,000 square meters. Designed by Chicago-based architect Ralph Johnson of Perkins+Will and inspired by a nautilus shell, the six-story building coils around a sunken courtyard of Chinese-style landscaped rockeries and waterfalls, filling the underground exhibition spaces with natural light. Starting on the top floor with a starry-skied interpretation of the Big Bang, visitors descend through a series of elegantly designed spaces describing various aspects of creation and evolution, accompanied by bilingual background notes on touchscreens. Fossils and bones are brought to life through a menagerie of full-size moving models of ancient mammoths, whales, and other wildlife. Fun interactive technology includes machines to measure the cranial capacity of human skulls and 360-degree movie pods. But it’s the Chinese dinosaurs that steal the show. The journey winds up at the base of the lattice-walled central atrium where re-created skeletons of Asia’s largest dinosaurs, including the 26-meter-long Mamenchisaurus, provide a last jaw-dropping impression and spectacular photo ops set against the Chinese garden backdrop (260 Yan’an Dong Lu; 86-21/6321-3548).—Amy Fabris-Shi

This article originally appeared in the June/July print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“New Digs For Old Bones”)

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