The Oxford University Natural History Museum is worth a visit just to see the Dodo remains which inspired Lewis Carroll, and other items relating to the author of the 'Alice' books; however, it is also a remarkable building. This summer, I had the rather incongruous experience of standing in the sunshine outside the museum, with my feet in the footprints of a dinosaur. I'm not quite sure which was incongruous, the footprints or the sunshine, but anyway...
Looking at the apparently fairly typical Victorian Neo-Gothic building, I couldn't help but imagine an interior of corridors panelled in dark wood, and stone blind arcades similar to those at London's Natural History Museum. But I was thrilled to pass through the simple lobby area into a single large exhibition space, lofty, open and full of light. The walls of golden stone are complemented by a glass roof supported not by stone columns but by slender pillars and finely engineered open arches, all of steel.
Symbolic of the age, this is a spectacular marriage of the past and future of architecture, and is a union observable right down to the details: the arches are adorned with a steel leaf motif. This modern material is thus a mirror of the fine stone carving we expect to find in public buildings of this period; and since this is a 'cathedral' to science and discovery as well as to nature the carvings here represent plant forms from around the world, and are sited atop columns - all different - which themselves are a catalogue of mineral types.
This airy space provides ideal surroundings for the museum's contents, which these days are a mixture of spruced up Victorian items and jolly new multimedia exhibits. The whole is presided over, entirely appropriately, by a fine sculture of Charles Darwin.