Urban Nature Project - Natural History Museum, London

CLT and Glulam Café and Learning Centre at the Natural History Museum for the Urban Nature Project developments.

Project Year


Xylotek Role

Design development, Supply and Installation

Project Team

Main Contractor: Walterlilly, Architect: Feilden Fowles

Photo Credits

Feilden Fowles, Team Xylotek


The Natural History Museum in Central London is developing the surrounding garden grounds and surrounding buildings to create a campus with increased biodiversity, accessibility, and opportunities for education. With the addition of a visitors’ cafe and learning centre, the 654m² and 207m² buildings, respectively, will provide new views of the rejuvenated garden and combine facilities for education, research and volunteering. These buildings, combined with landscaping and ponds come together to form the Urban Nature Project.  

Xylotek were subcontracted by Walter Lilly to design-develop, supply and install both the Cafe and Learning Activity Centre buildings. The importance to the client of using a specialist timber company for this project reflects their intention to facilitate the developments in a sustainable manner. As this project will become part of the historic, iconic landmark that is the Natural History Museum, timber being at the forefront of the developments speaks to its importance in the modern construction scene.  

The Natural History Museum’s gardens will open to the public in spring 2024.

The design for the Learning Activity Centre consisted of the timber frame, studwork walls, purlins, beams, and roof. The main components of the structure are glulam and solid Douglas Fir. The key specification in the brief was to have visible timber beams which bring a warmth to the space and hidden steel connections between the timber elements. The connections were designed in a way that all metal components will be hidden once the building is finished. The Cafe Building was designed to align with the LAC in similar aesthetic. A timber finish with a light whitewash was chosen to soften the intensity of the timber colour and homogenize the finished appearance.

The Xylotek team used iterative design development to lay out the interfaces between the timber elements, masonry lintels and blockwork. It was important to coordinate these multiple membranes in order to create the whole building envelope. Bespoke connections using steel plates, hidden hangers, screws and bolts were employed to align with the brief.  

Although the timber is not expected to change dimension in this environment, each material where it interfaces with another has a different specificity. This is due to the fabrication methods for each component – for example, the CNC’d glulam has slight differences to the solid Douglas Fir elements. This allows the components to work together to create an integrated building.

Xylotek supplied the Glulam Douglas Fir timber for this project primarily through fabricators Simonin, Arnold Laver, Metsa and East Brothers. The timber is all FSC or PEFC certified timber, which means that it was sourced and responsibly harvested with a net zero loss of forest over time. This aspect of the construction – ensuring responsible sourcing of materials - aligns with the clients’ values to keep the developments clean, green and sustainable.

In summer 2023, Xylotek commenced the installation of the two buildings on site. Amongst extensive ground works and other trades, the team erected the two timber structures. Using a mobile crane, the timber Glulam beams were lifted and installed in sequence. The site access and logistics had to be tightly controlled due to the busy, central location of the site and coordinating with other trade teams. The timber deliveries arrived pre-slung to increase time efficiency when lifting the various timber components.

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