Publicly Accessible Buildings

An interaction with humanity

Salt Lake City embellishes cultural credentials with engaging new museum

by Sian 02 December 2011
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    On November 18th, Salt Lake City lay host to a grand celebratory opening for its latest attraction: the new Natural History Museum of Utah. Six days of preparatory build-up preceded this final event; by its conclusion, the culminating figure of flocking citizens, drawn to the week-long proceedings, was numbering in the thousands. Serving as the impetus for this extended unveiling was the brainchild of Todd Schliemann of Ennead Architects, who largely envisioned the designs for this enriching, educational project.

    Immersed in a landscape of sheer beauty - a 17-acre site situated in the foothills of the Wasatch Mountain Range - the copper skin of the structure's façade has been effectively blended into this imposing background. Being just a short drive outside the aforementioned metropolis, positioned on the University of Utah’s campus, it significantly assimilates the respective elements of urban east and wilder west. Figuratively and literally at the threshold of nature and culture, reflecting the very heart of the exhibition’s intentions, the settings here aim to evoke curiosity and reward inquiry.

    Affording much needed space for the display of an abounding collection of artefacts, the museum further hosts advanced research facilities for the benefit of affiliated students. At the core of its intentions the resounding question induced in all visitors is what is the exact place of man in the natural world or even, on a much smaller scale, in Utah?

    “I have tried with my architecture to interpret the extraordinary landscape of Utah and how people engage it - both in the past and in the present” claimed Schliemann. Managing to get as close to the landscape as possible, his building has been positioned atop a series of terraces, scaling up an incline, positioned to fit with the flow of the land’s contours. Board-formed concrete cradles the base, marking the transition from earth to manmade materials.

    Inside is witnessed a vast 60ft high public space, splitting the building in two; each volume pertaining to a different purpose. Northern sectors seek to support scientific exploration whilst the south offers a narrative to the balance of life on earth. What this amounts to in labels though is: a number of research laboratories, conservation labs, storage areas and administration offices; all fitted under the 42,000 sq ft exterior. Bridges and vertical circulation instils a structured element to navigation, whilst various apexes allow an abundance of light to illuminate the paths ahead.

    Tasked with, amongst other duties, helping to promoting a model for responsible and environmentally friendly development, it’s unsurprising that sustainability was a strong feature in the designs. Seeking to achieve LEED Gold certification, a number of green initiatives have been employed. With ‘the use of recycled materials, local resources, photovoltaic energy, radiant cooling and the implementation of an extensive storm water catchment and management system’, the Museum’s inherent respect for local, as well as global, human interaction with the planet, is plain to see.

    Tom Aston

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