Natural History Museum of Utah
Salt Lake City, Utah
The Natural History Museum of Utah aims to illuminate the natural world and the place of humans within it. The museum, located in the Rio Tinto Center, commands a sweeping view of the Great Salt Lake Basin; the building is surrounded by the story it tells.
Past the soaring central atrium called “the Canyon,” there are 44,000 square feet of permanent exhibitions. RAA sought to reflect the natural forms visible around the building, leading visitors on switchback paths that climb through the earth’s landscapes and time-scapes. Interpretive terraces and indoor and outdoor trails point out biological and geological features. Permanent exhibitions explore topics ranging from Utah’s ancient ecosystems and first peoples to cutting-edge biogeography and genetics.
A key challenge was to communicate to visitors the sheer scale, in age and geology, of the Utah region. RAA also needed to help identify the highlights of a 1.6 million object collection, which includes one million objects related to anthropology.
The nine thematic galleries are Life, Land, First Peoples, Native Voices, Utah Sky, the Great Salt Lake, Utah’s Past Worlds, Our Backyard, and Utah’s Futures. Each gallery reflects multiple, scientific disciplines and collections as well as humanities-oriented subject matter. The Life gallery, for example, encompasses genetics, biology, and aspects of history and anthropology. Educational facilities are embedded in the galleries to capitalize on the drama and data of the surrounding exhibitions, providing hands-on learning environments.
The museum welcomed 300,000 visitors in its first year. It has since been honored with multiple design and architecture awards.
Size 40,000 square feet
Architect Ennead ArchitectsGSBS Architects
Exhibit Fabrication and InstallationMaltbie; Big-D Construction (General Contractor, Interior Fit-out)
Audio-Visual Systems Integration and InteractivesBoston Productions, Inc.; Trails Media System
Mobile MediaMediatrope Interactive Studio; Frankly, Green + Webb
Linear MediaNorthern Light Productions
LightingBrandston Partnership Inc.
A/V Systems DesignBBI Engineering, Inc.
AcousticsShen Milsom & Wilke
AwardsBuildy Design Award: WinnerAmerican Alliance of Museums (AAM), Excellence in Exhibitions Award: Special Distinction, Alignment of Site and MissionThe Society for Enviromental Graphic Design (SEGD) Global Design Award: Merit AwardAmerican Architecture Award, European Centre for Architecture, Chicago Athenaeum: WinnerCommunication Arts Design Award: Winner, Environmental / EducationCreativity International Award: Gold, Environmental GraphicsGraphis Design Annual: SilverIndustrial Designers Society of America (IDSA), International Design Excellence Award (IDEA): Finalist, Environments