We have waited years for this. Finally, that time has come! The Urban Roamer refers here to the National Museum of Natural History, which has finally opened its doors to the public last May 18. And judging from the queue of people who line up to visit, the newly-opened building of the National Museum has been received quite well, despite the fact that not all sections of the building itself are not open yet.
The opening marks the culmination of a three-year project to convert the American-era structure into a modern museum that Filipinos can be proud of. Is it worth the hype though? We shall see…
It was touched upon in an old post here, but the National Museum of Natural History was originally built during the 1930s and completed by 1940 to be the office of the old Department of Agriculture and Commerce, now known today as the Department of Agriculture.. It was designed by architect Antonio Toledo, who also designed the 2 other buildings of the National Museum.
The stylized grill art looks like a rice crop in bloom, a reminder of the building’s past as the offices of the Agriculture department
The Agriculture Department moved out to its present Quezon City offices in 1959; it became the home of the Department of Tourism soon after until it eventually moved out to its current Makati office in 2013. What followed was years of painstaking renovation and “reinvention” of sorts based on the vision by the architectural firm of Dominic Galicia (the same one who designed the modern Magallanes Church….not to mention an Urban Roamer reader) whose services were tapped by the National Museum for the project.
Galicia’s vision involved the redesign of the old open space to be an indoor courtyard and a glass dome of top in which sunlight passes through. And in the middle of the courtyard stands this towering structure that branches out to form a canopy around the dome. This structure is called the “Tree of Life”, which has been described as a reference to a sketch made by the English naturalist Charles Darwin which described all species on Earth are related and came from a common ancestor, while its helix-shaped appearance is meant to evoke that of a DNA, the building blocks of biological life. For Galicia though, the Tree of Life is meant to symbolize humankind’s longstanding quest “to understand his environment.”
Each of the floors of the museum are meant to evoke the different aspects of the geology and biology of the country and, in some cases, of the planet in general. At this time of writing, only 3 of the 6 exhibition levels are open to the public, but they are curated quite well.
Apart from the Tree of Life, two exhibitions stand out in the National Museum of Natural History. The first one pertains to the late and lamented Philippine crocodile named “Lolong,” who also held the record of being the world’s largest crocodile in captivity at 6.17 m in height and 1,075 kg in weight. A replica of his can be found at the upper courtyard of the museum while his skeleton can be seen hanging on top of one of the halls at the ground level of the museum.
The other significant exhibition in the museum is the product of the recent archaeological discovery that was announced in May just right before it opened. At the same hall where one can find the skeletal remains of “Lolong”, one can see on display the butchered remains of a rhino and several stone tools that were dug in an archaeological site in Kalinga. What makes these items more interesting is the fact that they were dated to be around 700,000 years old, much farther back to what was then the earliest dated archaeological discovery in the Philippines which was dated to only be around 67,000 years old. While no human remains have been found in the Kalinga site yet, the rhino remains and the tools show that humans have inhabited what is now the Philippines as far back 700,000+ years back, which deems a rewrite of the country’s prehistory.
Despite still being a work in progress at this time of writing, the National Museum of Natural History already stands as a worthy home to showcase the country’s rich natural heritage that deserves all the more to be preserved and protected in the midst of the dangers it is currently facing. It also helps that it is also one of the best looking,if not the best looking, museums here in the Philippines…both inside and out.
Here’s hoping visitors get to appreciate the country’s natural wonders for the sake of future generations.
As part of the National Museum network, the National Museum of Natural History offers free admission. If you plan to visit one of these days, make sure you visit during the morning, when the queues (if any) are either non-existent or not as long as it usually gets in the afternoon. Unless, conditions change in the future, making this tip outdated by then.