A museum at one with nature

New York architects Ennead harness Utah landscape for new Natural History Museum
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Interior view of the Natural History Museum of Utah. Photography by Stuart Ruckman
Interior view of the Natural History Museum of Utah. Photography by Stuart Ruckman

In the foothills of Utah’s impressive Wasatch mountain range in Salt Lake City now stands the state’s brand new Natural History Museum. Designed by Todd Schliemann of New York studio Ennead Architects and delivered by local firm GSBS Architects, the angular structure mirrors the towering mountains that form the backdrop to the impressive 17-acre site.

Views of the mountainous surroundings from Utah's new Natural History Museum Views of the mountainous surroundings from Utah's new Natural History Museum. Photography by Stuart Ruckman

With the copper-clad-building (which houses over 1.2 million objects and artefacts), the museum's team of designers intended to forge a relationship between the dramatic topography of the surroundings - the mineral, rock and soil deposits - and the building itself. The cavernous interior of the museum, with its high ceilings, rugged looking walls and jagged, heavy beams serve as an effective way of reminding visitors of the natural environment on the shoreline of the prehistoric pluvial Lake Bonneville that covered much of the Great Basin. The site offers breathtaking views of the Great Salt Lake, the Oquirrhs mountain range, Kennecott copper mines, Mount Olympus and Salt Lake City.

Shimmering copper panels on the exterior of the museum. Photography by Stuart Ruckman (left) and  Ben Lowry (right) Copper for the panels originated in the local  Kennecott mines. Photography by Stuart Ruckman (left) and Ben Lowry (right)

The architects say that the design "embodies the museum's mission to illuminate the natural world through scientific inquiry, educational outreach, mutual cultural experience and human engagement of the present, past and future of the region and the world." They add that "Utah's singular landscape and the ways in which humans have engaged its varied character over time were the touchstone for an architecture that expresses the State’s cultural and natural contexts." We can't help but think it's time to go back and finish that history degree. 


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