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The Oxford University Museum of Natural History is home to the University of Oxford’s vast natural history collections. The neo-Gothic building is a striking example of Victorian architecture and its design was influenced by 19th-century art critic John Ruskin.

Purcell were commissioned to oversee an extensive restoration project to repair and clean the museum’s glass rooftop and refresh its interiors.

The Oxford University Museum of Natural History features a large square court and glass rooftop. The building is supported by cast-iron pillars, which divide the court into three aisles. Stone pillars stand tall within the building’s interiors, selected by geologist John Phillips who was originally the keeper of the museum.

The design of the stonework and pillars features detailed biophilic carvings of leaves and branches which pay homage to the museum’s vast collection and reflect the Pre-Raphaelite vision of art and science.

The University Museum is a cathedral of knowledge; the expansive glass roof illuminating the specimens below and dispelling any expectation that a museum should be dark and sombre. The overall impact is incredibly impressive but it is the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it features that you remember most fondly: the original inscriptions above the doors, the delicate painting on the ironwork and the cat’s paw print proudly left showing on the face of a brick.

Senior Heritage Consultant, Hettie Dix

Purcell were commissioned to oversee an extensive restoration project to clean and repair the museum’s glass roof and refresh its interiors. This involved removing, cleaning and resealing 8,500 diamond-shaped glass panels, four storeys above the museum’s exhibition quad.

An offsite mock-up helped our team devise an efficient method for carrying out the works while protecting the exhibits. The museum’s interiors also required extensive professional cleaning and conservation. The roof presented several challenges: improving the weather tightness of the original design, replacing the broken glass to match the original material and maintaining the roof’s breathability.

While working on site, the museum remained open and some of the larger exhibits, notably the dinosaur skeletons, had to be protected and left in place. The ornate painted wrought iron and timber rafters were cleaned in addition to the stone internal colonnade which was laser cleaned. Discrete light fittings were installed, and feature lights were suspended from old gas lamps.

The University Museum is the historical and physical gateway into the field of science in Oxford. It epitomises the University’s tradition of knowledge exchange at every level: from the local primary school pupil enthralled by the dinosaurs to the international community of academics who continue to research the wealth of resources within the collection more than a century after it was established.

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