USEE staffer Marta Nielsen shares insights into the Utah Museum of Natural History’s new facility from a tour with School Programs Director (and USEE Board President) Madlyn Runburg
If you have driven up by Red Butte Gardens or been on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail lately, you’ll have seen it: the beautiful new building near completion for the Utah Museum of Natural History. While the exhibits inside are still being installed, and the collections are being prepped for display, Utah’s natural environment is showcased in the building design, inside and out.
Outside the Museum
To represent the geological and mineralogical history, the exterior of this building is banded with three different copper alloys, which will each develop a unique and beautiful patina over time. The exterior not only harmonizes with the foothills on which the building sits, but visually emulates geological stratification and landforms. There are also social spaces featured on outside of the building like patios and seating for the Museum café offer visitors beautiful views of the Salt Lake Valley.
There are also multiple outdoor learning spaces like learning terraces outside of the galleries. A favorite is sure to be the terrace off of the Native Voices gallery which includes an amphitheater with seating for up to 100 people. Of special note to the energy curious visitor is the sky terrace that overlooks the rooftop. The roof, covered with white reflective material (to increase albedo), will include arrays of solar panels and landscaping. Another green feature of this project are the parking lots leading up to the new building. They aren’t your typical asphalt, but permeable. This feature allows for natural drainage, and will hopefully be one of many aspects that will allow the Museum to achieve LEED Gold certification. In addition to the many sustainable building features, Museum supporters have successfully preserved the Museum site’s oak grove through a protective easement.
Ennead Architects and Gillies Stransky Brems Smith are the lead architects for the new building, and while the final design is nothing short of inspired, the process used to create the vision was equally intriguing. To communicate the importance and purpose of the UMNH, the architects were taken on a series of road trips across the state. This enlightening experience is what inspired the copper banding and stratification, as well as an interior “canyon” and triangulated walls throughout the building that suggest faulting. The design of the building embodies so perfectly the natural landscape of Utah that I felt as much at home there as in Arches, Bryce, or Canyonlands.
The new exhibit space will showcase Museum objects, with carefully designed zones featuring different aspects of natural history in a way that integrates key themes that cross cut multiple areas of science. In the Past Worlds exhibit, Museum patrons will be able to walk among dinosaurs, gaining different perspectives on the fossilized remains. Another area, Our Backyard, designed for small children, recreates a backyard, complete with trees, a garden, a stream, and tunnels for little ones to crawl through, making it clear that nature doesn’t have to be a faraway place, but can be out our own backdoor. Inside the Museum is a replica of an archeological dig site, which will be interactive and fun for visitors of all ages. Careful humidity controls inside the changing exhibits gallery will allow traveling exhibits that haven’t been able to come in the past, due to our dry climate, to make an appearance at the new building.
The Museum is truly built to optimize educational opportunities for the community. There are several learning labs within the new building that can be used for formal classes taught by Museum staff, or for impromptu lessons in natural history that any Museum visitor can engage in. Large windows in the Paleontology Prep Lab will allow visitors to see firsthand the amazing science that often occurs behind closed doors.
There is also a Community Room that will be used for a variety of functions including community meeting needs. Other larger spaces will be ideal for banquets or conferences. This new facility is more than just inspired design and stunning valley views, more than just a newer, bigger building; it will truly facilitate better environmental education as the Museum continues its extensive research and shares that work with the public.