The Museum of Zoology in Cambridge is one of those museums that is frequently loved when people find it but often provokes the reaction – ‘just where is it’? When asked directions the usual answer is ‘go through the arch and look for the whale’. Tucked away behind the imposing facades on Downing Street, is the New Museums site and what is known as the Arup building – the home of the Museum of Zoology.

The entrance to the New Museums site is through the arch on the left

The entrance to the New Museums site is through the arch on the left

Following the signs:


Leads you into the New Museum site and the imposing Arup building.


This is the front of the Arup building, and yes, before you ask, there is the skeleton of a whale outside.

The finback whale hanging on the podium of the Arup building

The finback whale hanging on the podium of the Arup building

The building was designed by Sir Philip Dowson and Ove Arup in the late 1960s and has attracted praise and damnation in equal amounts, the latter due primarily to its ‘brutal’ appearance. However in architectural terms it is an important building – see for example the entry for it on the 20th Century Society website at:

The building opened in 1973 and houses the Babbage Lecture Theatre, the Materials Science Department and the Museum of Zoology. The museum was set out in the early 1970s and is a classic example of taxonomic arrangement where animals are arranged in order. Truly all animal life is here.

The current displays in the museum

The current displays in the museum

Now we need to update ourselves and step into the 21st century. The University has given us the ideal opportunity to do this. An ambitious project, initiated in 2012, plans to refurbish the entire Arup building including the Museum. However the University’s plans can only extend to doing a minimum of work on the Museum – providing new storage areas for the extensive collections, upgrading the showcase and lighting. Our aspirations go much further than this and we are making a significant bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to enable us to develop the Museum in new and innovative ways, explaining the wonders of the animal kingdom and the importance of zoological collections.

All this will take almost 3 years to complete starting with the closing of the Museum on 1 June 2013. During this time we hope to let you know what is going on, how we are progressing and tell some of the stories behind a project such as this.

I’m Kay Smith



and I am the Project Manager for the Museum, trying to make sure we keep on track, meet the demanding and tight schedule and ensure that we re-open in 2016, on time and within budget. So, although we’ll be in a cocoon, I hope to be able to share with you the development of what will, eventually, be a beautiful butterfly.


One thought on “Introductions

  1. The old museum was really lovely, and stepping through the understated entrance you felt as if you were entering a magical animal world. I’m really going miss it (and the whale) while it’s closed, and I hope the old magical feeling of the “room full of skeletons” I used to love isn’t spoiled by the new developments.

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