Natura Artis Magistra.
“Nature is the teacher
of art and science.”
How can you create a vital connection with nature in the middle of a city, with limited space and means at your disposal? That is the question driving Amsterdam’s Natura
Artis Magistra (or more commonly “Artis”), one of the
world’s oldest institutions dedicated to the natural world.
Visitor sites include a zoo, planetarium, science
libraries, art collections—and now Micropia, the
world’s first “zoo” for microorganisms, which opened in
September 2014. The permanent exhibit turns a science
museum into an ultra-sensory experience, with interactive
displays that capture the human imagination and invite
visitors to perceive the unperceivable.
Micropia began in 2003, as part of newly-appointed
Director Haig Balian’s “blueprint for the Artis of the 21st
century.” Starting in 2005, a diverse team including exhibition developers, architects, and microbiologists—and
later a specialist microbe photographer, writers, film and
animation artists, interaction designers, educationalists,
and lighting, audio and laboratory technicians—came
together to determine the best way to bring the
immense yet invisible world of microbes to light.
“We haven’t really put on an exhibition here. It’s a
laboratory, an experience, and a microbe zoo,” said
Mark de Jong, the owner of Amsterdam-based exhibition architecture agency Kossmann.dejong, whose
team of spatial and graphic designers led the project’s
The basic design concept began more like a
theme park, with a lot of attention paid to the space,
but the team gradually determined that the microorganisms themselves should take center stage. What
makes the final concept unique is that many of the
organisms on display in Micropia are alive.
“Creating a virtual world would have been much
easier. Duplicating the perfect living conditions for
the microorganisms was the biggest challenge,”
said de Jong.
Making the space a reality were German architectural firm Sprenger von der Lippe, which also led the
restoration of the historic, 19th-century de Ledenlokalen
building that Micropia calls home; and Bruns, a production
and engineering firm from the Netherlands specializing in
The 9,000-square-foot exhibit is set up in two
parts: a normally lit ground floor and a darkened
upper floor, joined together by a two-story LCD wall
featuring what the museum calls its “star microbes.”
Working in conjunction with German media design
By Erika Templeton | Photography by Thijs Wolzak
The newest addition to
Amsterdam’s Artis is a
experience 12 years in
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