Natural History Museum Of Utah

by | 23. Jul 2012

Cultural | Feature

Photo ©Jeff Goldberg/Esto for Ennead Architects

The site, located in the foothills of the Wasatch Range, occupies a prominent place at the edge of the City and the University of Utah campus.

The Museum rests on a series of terraces that step up the hill and lay along the contours of the site with minimal disruption to the adjacent natural landscape; its powerful jagged profile references the mountains beyond.

The building is conceived as an abstract extension and transformation of the land: its formal and material qualities derive from the region’s natural landscape of rock, soil, minerals and vegetation. Further reinforcing the essential continuity of nature and human experience is the landscape design strategy, which, in blurring the distinction between natural vegetation and topography and intentional interventions, places humans at the nexus of environmental stewardship.

The site offers breathtaking views of the Great Salt Lake, the Oquirrhs mountain range, Kennecott copper mines, Mount Olympus and Salt Lake City.

Photo ©Jeff Goldberg/Esto for Ennead Architects

The influence of Utah’s cultural landscape, the specific impact of the site and environmental imperatives and the influence of the Museum’s institutional mission became the basis for the creation of a definitive architectural identity.
/Todd Schliemann, Design Partner

A voluminous central public space – the Canyon – divides the building programmatically into an empirical (north) wing and an interpretive (south) wing and provides access to both. Bridges and vertical circulation organize the visitor sequence; views south across the basin expands the experience; shafts of sunlight penetrate the apex, suffusing the space with natural light; and a grand vertical scale uplifts and inspires.

Photo © Jeff Goldberg/Esto for Ennead Architects

Photo ©Jeff Goldberg/Esto for Ennead Architects

Photo ©Jeff Goldberg/Esto for Ennead Architects

Spaces in the north wing support formal scientific exploration and an objective understanding of our world; these include research laboratories, conservation labs, collection storage and administration. The south wing houses exhibits, whose narratives interpret the Museum’s extraordinary collections and guide the public through an exploration of the delicate balance of life on earth and its natural history.

The material quality of the building’s exterior roots it in the landscape by recalling Utah’s geological and mineralogical history and expressing the design as natural form. At its base, board-formed concrete makes the transition from the earth to the manmade. Copper panels constitute the skin of the building, extending from the building’s volume at angles that reference the geophysical processes that created the metal. Accent panels of copper-zinc alloy enhance the subtle variegation of the copper’s natural patina. The standing seam copper facade is articulated in horizontal bands of various heights to emulate geological stratification on the building skin.

Photo © Jeff Goldberg/Esto for Ennead Architects

Photo © Ben Lowry courtesy Natural History Museum of Utah

Photo: © Stuart Ruckman Natural History Museum of Utah

The building provides much-needed space to preserve, study and interpret the Museum’s extraordinary collection of artifacts, and its exhibits explore and articulate natural history and the delicate balance of life on earth. The building houses advanced research facilities, supporting both undergraduate and graduate education at the University of Utah.

Intended to play a seminal role in enhancing the public’s understanding of the earth’s resources and systems as well as be a model for responsible and environmentally sensitive development, the Museum is designed to achieve LEED Gold certification.

Drawing courtesy Ennead Architects
Site Plan
Drawing courtesy Ennead Architects
Level One Plan

Drawing courtesy Ennead Architects
Level Two Plan
Drawing courtesy Ennead Architects
Level Five Plan Plan

Drawing courtesy Ennead Architects
Section Canyon North Wall


CITYSalt Lake City, Utah
ARCHITECTInteriors Charmian Place: Katharine Huber AIA
GSBS Architects
Valerie Nagasawa AIA
John Majewski, AIA
Megan Miller
Leed AP