Walter Lilly appointed to deliver the Natural History Museum’s Urban Nature Project

Working on some of the nation’s most prestigious and iconic landmark buildings has always been a source of pride for Walter Lilly, and our recent appointment on the Urban Nature Project for the Natural History Museum is no exception.

The Urban Nature Project is a nationwide drive to start a new urban nature movement. With some 80% of people in the UK living in urban areas, a new national learning programme is also encouraging children to get outside and engage with the nature on their doorstep.

The launchpad for the project will be the redevelopment of the Museum’s South Kensington gardens into a welcoming, accessible, and biologically diverse green space.

The Museum will work with organisations across the UK – including schools and local community groups– to inspire and create opportunities for young people within cities to learn and work in nature.

The developing designs have been shaped by a number of drivers:

  1. Protecting and increasing the existing wildlife and biodiversity
  2. Respecting the heritage of the iconic Waterhouse building
  3. Improving accessibility across the gardens all year round
  4. Creating a leading, sustainable design
  5. Providing opportunities to learn about and explore nature.

As part of the Museum’s five-acre garden redevelopment programme, Walter Lilly have been appointed as the main contractor to carry out the work to the two principal gardens: the East Garden and the West Lawn and Wildlife Garden.


The East Garden

The East Garden will tell the story of life on Earth. It will include fossils, plants and a geological timeline wall, representing the various geological eras.

As improved Museum accessibility is also a significant part of this project, we will build ramps from the South Kensington tube station tunnel into the garden, and to the main Museum entrance.

Amongst the plants will be a snapshot of some of the life that lived during those periods, including a weather-proof Hypsilophodon and a towering Diplodocus.


Credit: The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London, Feilden Fowles and J & L Gibbons


The West Lawn and Wildlife Garden

The West Lawn and Wildlife Garden will encourage visitors to connect with nature whilst thinking about the future of our planet.

Key features will include:

  • Showcasing the fantastic nature on our doorstep.
  • Improvements to the existing Wildlife Garden
  • Updated paths for improved accessibility
  • Raised walkways to protect habitats, as well as a sunken walkway to encourage pond dipping
  • A reconfiguration of the existing ponds to increase the wetland area by 20%
  • New areas for urban grassland to encourage biodiversity

Credit: The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London, Feilden Fowles and J & L Gibbons


Additional building construction

As well as the East and West Gardens, Walter Lilly will also construct:

  • A Learning and Activity Centre – to be used for scientific projects and educational activities
  • A Garden Building – to be used as a café/function space, designed in keeping with the architecturally modern Palaeontology building and the Grade I listed Waterhouse Building.
  • The Darwin Centre Courtyard – a place where visitors can reflect about the future of nature.

Credit: The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London, Feilden Fowles and J & L Gibbons



Creating a sustainable design that works with the landscape is at the heart of this redevelopment. With an ambitious approach to sustainable construction, the project aims to have a positive impact on the environment. The project aims to:

  • Deliver a project which removes more carbon from the atmosphere than it contributes.
  • Reduce and limit energy consumption and design energy efficient buildings, using 100% renewable energy during construction and beyond.
  • Create a zero-waste garden and ensure no waste from the construction of the gardens goes to landfill.
  • Reduce water consumption and design to minimise water waste.
  • Source materials responsibly and aim to use 100% certified sustainable materials from the UK. When that’s not possible we’ll have a strong justification for a material’s use.
  • Care for biodiversity across the garden and elsewhere. The Natural History Museum will grow the plants coming into the garden in the UK as much as possible. Areas for nature to thrive in the garden will be increased.
  • Improve well-being for the Natural History Museum staff, volunteers and visitors by designing spaces with well-being in mind, providing spaces within the garden for reflection and relaxation, and ensuring mental health support is available for all.

Walter Lilly is delighted to be working with Scotch Partners, our sustainability advisors.

Walter Lilly’s Landmark & Heritage Divisional Director, Rhys Sumpton says, “We are delighted to be working alongside the Natural History Museum to assist in delivering this new urban nature movement for the UK. It is an honour and a privilege for Walter Lilly to be leading the construction of this iconic and educationally significant scheme, which sets a benchmark for sustainable construction practice across the industry.    

This is a project that will be remembered and visited long into the future by people from around the world, and we are excited by the legacy it will leave behind for future generations.”


Project Credits

Architect: Feilden Fowles

Landscape architect: J&L Gibbons

Project management: Mace

Quantity surveyor: Mace

Sustainability: Mace

Heritage consultant: Purcell

Structural engineers: engineersHRW

M&E, lighting and acoustic engineers: Max Fordham

For more information about the Urban Nature project, visit

To see the Museum’s plans for the gardens, designed by architects Feilden Fowles and J & L Gibbons, visit

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