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Inspired by the Landscape: The Natural History Museum of Utah

Posted Sep 27 2011 7:35pm

Natural History Museum of Utah

Sky. Native Voices. Life. Land. First Peoples. Lake. Past Worlds. Our Backyard. Utah's Futures. On Nov. 18, these nine exhibits will be in place at their new home. The Natural History Museum of Utah reopens this winter with a facility that aims to blend in rather than stand out.

Inspired by the rock, soil, minerals, and vegetation of the Rocky Mountain foothills, the new structure mimics its steep backdrop. Its architecture sweeps across the terraces of a 17-acre site in the Wasatch Mountain Range. Christened the Rio Tinto Center , its copper skin references the area's geological and mineralogical history.

The museum prides itself on being a model for environmentally responsible development. It seeks LEED Gold certification for its sustainable design: “recycled materials, local resources, photovoltaic energy, radiant cooling, and . . . an extensive stormwater catchment and management system.”

Todd Schliemann of Ennead Architects designed the project with support from Don Weinreich of the same firm and David Brems and John Branson of Salt Lake City's Giles Stransky Brems Smith Architects . With its collection of more than 1.2 million specimens and objects in mind, the museum retained Ralph Appelbaum Associates to design the exhibition space.

The interior and exterior share the same purpose: to respect and reflect the natural world, so between the building’s two wings sits the "Canyon," a 60-foot-high central space with wide-open views of its inspiration. The exhibit space and galleries fit on one side, with labs, offices, and research facilities on the other.

The exhibit space was designed after a careful analysis of the museum’s extensive collection. The interdisciplinary galleries tell a story of nature and show how different people understand the world.

So if you find yourself trekking the Bonneville Shoreline Trail anytime soon, that’s not a rocky mirage you see in the foothills. It’s the Natural History Museum of Utah.

--Carolyn Cotney /  photo courtesy of the Natural History Museum of Utah

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