David Attenborough Building Synergy Project

14th March 2018

The David Attenborough Building in central Cambridge is a hub for global biodiversity conservation. The Building is home to academics and practitioners engaged in many aspects of understanding and conserving the natural world, ranging from zoological research through to work to protect the world’s pristine habitats and precious species from destruction. The University of Cambridge’s amazing Museum of Zoology, with over 3 million specimens, is also located within the Building, and will reopen later in the year, following extensive refurbishment funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. 

Now a new, publicly-accessible installation on the outside of the David Attenborough Building provides a dynamic window into the activities of those working within its walls. Photographer Toby Smith, in collaboration with 104 contributors from Cambridge and beyond, has adapted, created and curated over 75 unique multimedia segments. Fourteen large HD screens are embedded within the fabric of the David Attenborough Building displaying layers of diverse content to form an engaging and informative media show. The bespoke animations and short films work in harmony to showcase and reveal the work being undertaken within the Building and across Cambridge more generally. 

The installation offers the viewer unique glimpses of Cambridge’s best loved spaces, with one film showing a bird’s-eye-view of the Botanic Garden, while others reveal objects and spaces not normally visible to the public, such as behind the scenes in the Museum of Zoology’s collections, and research being conducted in the Department of Zoology. The diversity of nature within and around Cambridge is highlighted by films of people searching for bats on the River Cam at night, time-lapse footage of Wicken Fen through the seasons, and nature reserves in the Cambridgeshire countryside. 

As many of the people working in the Building, not least those involved in the Cambridge Conservation Initiative, work on biodiversity issues around the world, a number of the films take the viewer around the world, from albatross fisheries in the Southern Pacific to workshops training future conservation leaders in Africa. David Attenborough, as befits a building that bears his name, has his career history and achievements featured on a number of screens. 

The screens are located on the east side of the David Attenborough Building, on the podium walkway that surrounds the Building, close to the entrance on Corn Exchange Street. Once the Museum of Zoology, and the new café, have opened (on 27 March), access to the screens will also be possible through the café; this latter route will be step-free.