The Museum of Nature and Humankind
Il Museo della Natura e dell'Uomo

Padua, Italy

A museum is many things. It is a place of knowledge and exchange, of growth and integration, of study and interaction. But it’s also a social hub, a nexus for sharing and dialogue. In short, a museum is a unique catalyst: it creates a reaction between the visitor and the objects or works on display. The result of this exchange is a transformative individual experience.

The Museum of Nature and Humankind (Museo della Natura e dell’Uomo) aims to ensure this type of experience is at the heart of what it offers visitors. Opening in 2023 on Palazzo Cavalli, it is the largest university science museum in Italy, covering more than 4,000 square meters in the center of Padua.

There, visitors are taken on a journey through time and space, through geological eras to the present day, in an environment populated by old and new: striking Baroque frescoes and stuccoes, ancient artifacts and modern immersive multimedia effects.

The Museum famously houses rich collections of mineralogy, geology, paleontology, zoology, and anthropology, which have been gathered and curated over centuries by scholars from the University of Padua. The new exhibit design, entrusted to the highly experienced Guicciardini and Magni studio, maximizes the presence of these collections, and also includes innovative digital exhibit solutions and the implementation of a dedicated app.

The Museum’s second floor now hosts a temporary exhibitions space, covering an area of at least 400 square meters. Exhibits here will change every 6–12 months, encouraging repeat visitation and engagement with a wider variety of visitors. This gallery fulfils a long-held ambition for the University of Padua museums system: to have an autonomous space for temporary exhibitions. It enables more of the valuable collections to be displayed, and will also host important touring scientific exhibitions, connecting the university with both national and international exhibition networks.

Goppion has previous experience working with extensive natural science collections – for instance, having delivered a highly complex, innovative display system for MuSE in Trento, in 2013. For Museo della Natura e dell’Uomo we created all the new showcases, the largest of which are 6-meter island showcases of irregular shapes – hosting large Pleistocene fossils such as Mammuthus, Hippopotamus, Elephas, and Ursus. Unsurprisingly, working at such a scale, these presented a number of challenges: the showcases had to be built around the specimens and the entire process required close collaboration with all parties involved in delivering the new museum galleries. The results are worth it.

But mammoth or mineral, great or small, no matter what the size of the display objects, each Goppion showcase has been designed to meet specific individual requirements. This includes optimum conservation specifications, maximum legibility of the objects and an aesthetic lightness of setting. For the most easily perishable objects, the cases have systems to control and actively regulate levels of relative humidity. The precision and care of our manufacturing process guarantees a high level of airtightness which, in some cases combined with a filtering system, ensures any harmful and particulate matter present in the exterior environment is kept out.

The opening systems of the showcases are easy to use, with systems and materials that will stand the test of time. Great attention was devoted to detail throughout, such as the study of internal supports, inclined planes, brackets and safety hangers to ensure secure mounting of fragile objects and specimens and maximum visibility for visitors.

Overall, the new Museum of Nature and Humankind is an experience that has been carefully curated, unified, simplified and enhanced for the best visitor experience. Former cul de sac spaces and small, cramped rooms have been removed to allow for more large exhibition spaces. The result is better circulation and a vastly improved style of display that celebrates the richness of the university collections. Goppion is delighted its display cases are part of this reimagined place that connects people with the wonders of the natural world.

All photos © Mario Ciampi