Renovations for one of the oldest museums in Estonia and a new permanent exposition

Tartu, Estonia
Client: University of Tartu
Open architecture competition: 2011, 1st prize
Completed: 2016
Size: 2,000 m2

The Natural History Museum of the University of Tartu was founded in 1802. The building was designed by Otto Hoffmann and was originally meant to house the museum of geology and zoology and their institutes. The permanent exhibition had not changed in 40 years until renovations began in 2011.

The aim of the new exhibition and learning environment for the museum was to create a cognitive and experience-based exhibition of the history of the natural sciences, including ground-breaking discoveries and findings. Visitors are invited to experience the fascinating world of nature and zoology, and try to grasp its essence. The museum also wanted to unite the previously separated zoology and geology exhibitions and to bring in new areas of botany and mycology.

The exhibition “Earth – Life – Story” is divided into three parts: the history of the earth or the hall of geology, the diversity of life or the hall of zoology, botany and mycology and patterns of life or the hall of biomes, natural communities, the distribution of species and their relations. The spatial organisation of the exhibition was inspired by the desire to take the animals and birds back to the forest.

This idea is expressed through an artificial forest involving high glass display cases. Each tree in the artificial forest is positioned so that it reaches into the ceiling, where the panels, covered with lighting fixtures, seem to become its branches.

The historic walls have been renovated and new sections discreetly set apart from the older ones. The windows of both halls are in no way concealed, so that they continue to contribute to the elegant atmosphere of the original space. The balconies have also been designed to stand further away from the windows in ordered to create a more open feeling.

2016 Estonian Association of Interior Architects’ Prize for best Museum / The Natural History Museum of the University of Tartu