I wasn’t intending to blog about this. I just went to do some sketching. I’ve visited the Oxford University Museum of Natural History before – but I was awestruck all over again. It’s not just that they have a Triceratops skull as tall as a person. It’s not just that you can stroke the bears (you can! And there are other exhibits you’re allowed to touch as well!).
It’s not just the shop has fabulous books such as this:
(I resisted buying it, but if I ever want a book on the Periodic Table this will be it).
It’s that the very fabric of the building is a geology exhibition. It’s that, anywhere they thought things started to get boring, they put in a bit of stone carving, or some other ornamentation. It’s the care and attention with which they did it. You can feel the celebration in it; the homage to knowledge, to science that was joyfully carved into every statue and column.
Why don’t we make buildings like this anymore? Well, for one thing it would be phenomenally expensive (the museum is free, but I happily made a donation because the upkeep on this place must be incredible). For another, we’ve lost the philosophy of craftsmanship. There’s a saying, you can have it cheap, fast or good, pick any two. And we go for cheap and fast every time. Which is a real tragedy, because caring about your work is what makes doing it worthwhile (this is what the Arts & Crafts movement was all about). And thirdly, our world moves too fast. What was a theatre last week is probably a coffee shop today, and a pound store in six months’ time. We need versatility in our buildings, the ability to change the entire feel of the place at a moment’s notice. This place can only ever be a natural history museum. It’s in the very stone from which it was built. Quite literally.
What I’m trying to say is, if you can’t get artistic inspiration here, you probably won’t find it anywhere. A science museum may not be the first place you’d think of, but there it is. Go take a look.