Natural History Museum of Utah

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Natural History Museum of Utah

Defining the threshold between nature and culture and embodying the Museum’s mission to illuminate the natural world through scientific inquiry, educational outreach, mutual cultural experience and human engagement, the Museum 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.

Utah’s natural environment memorializes the story of how human beings interpreted their world and their land over one thousand years ago. The material quality of the building’s exterior roots it in its context, recalling the importance of landscape in Utah’s human and natural history.

Todd Schliemann, Design Partner
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Utah’s singular landscape and the ways in which humans have engaged its varied character over time are the touchstone for an architecture that expresses the State’s cultural and natural contexts. Together with the interpretive exhibit program and landscape design, the architecture creates an inspirational visitor experience and sponsors curiosity and inquiry.

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The Museum rests on a series of constructed terraces that step up the hill and lay along the contours of the site with minimal disruption to the adjacent natural landscape; the building’s powerful jagged profile references the mountains beyond. Like the Bonneville Shoreline Trail that traverses the mountains, a series of ascending switchbacks defines the path to the building.

Inspired by Utah’s distinctive slot canyons, a dramatic central public space – the Canyon – organizes the visitor experience, dividing the building programmatically. Bridges and vertical circulation organize the visitor sequence; views south across the basin expand the museumgoer experience; shafts of sunlight penetrate the apex, suffusing the space with natural light; and a grand vertical scale uplifts and inspires.

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The empirical (north) wing supports formal scientific exploration and an objective understanding of our world, including research laboratories, conservation labs, collection storage and administration. The interpretive (south) wing houses exhibits that interpret the Museum’s extraordinary collection and guide the public through an exploration of the delicate balance of life on earth and its natural history.

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Salt Lake City, UT
161,000 GSF
Interpretive Exhibit Galleries, Temporary Exhibit Gallery, Multi-Use Public Space for Banquets, Lectures and Performances, Collections Storage, Discovery Classrooms, Lecture Space, Research and Conservation Laboratories, Administrative Offices, Retail, Cafeteria


Ennead Design Team
Todd Schliemann, Don Weinreich, Thomas Wong, Alex O'Briant, John Majewski, Megan Miller, Charmian Place, Katharine Huber, Joshua Frankel, Aileen Iverson, Kyo-Young Jin, Apichat Leungchaikul, Thomas Newman, Jarrett Pelletier, Anthony Guaraldo
GSBS Architects
Ralph Appelbaum Associates, Inc.
Photography / Videography
Chuck Choi, Jeff Goldberg/Esto, Benjamin Lowry, Aislinn Weidele/Ennead Architects, Proxcinema


  • 2017
    • NACIA Copper Awards, Anniversary Winner
    • International Dark Sky Association, Reducing Light Pollution
  • 2014
    • Honor Award, SCUP-AIA/CAE Excellence in Architecture for a New Building
  • 2013
    • WIN Design Award in Museums/Exhibition Spaces, World Interior News
    • Excellence in Exhibition Award, American Alliance of Museums
    • Buildy Award for Most Outstanding Large Museum Construction Project, Building Museums Conference, 2013
  • 2012
    • AIA New York State Design Award
    • Award of Excellence, Society of American Registered Architects/National Council
    • Award of Honor, Society of American Registered Architects/New York Council
    • Chicago Athenaeum Awards for American Architecture
    • Engineering News Record, Best Government/Public Building
    • Jury’s Choice Excellence in Concrete Award, American Concrete Institute Intermountain Chapter
    • North American Copper in Architecture Award, The Copper Development Association
    • The Concrete Industry Board, Roger H. Corbetta Awards, Award of Merit Out of Area


  • 2018
  • 2017
  • 2012
    • Antrim, Taylor. "The Natural Museum of Utah's Organic yet Dramatic Look" (Architectural Digest, 2/29/2012)
    • Meinhold, Bridgette. "Utah Opens its Striking New Natural History Museum in Salt Lake City" (Inhabitat, 1/12/2012)
    • Iovine, Julie V. "Natural History, Modern Setting" (The Wall Street Journal, 5/8/2012)
    • Lange, Alexandra. "Hiking the Museum" (The Design Observer, 7/28/2012)
  • 2011
    • "Natural History Museum Of Utah Reopens In $103 Million Building" (Huffington Post, 11/18/2011)
    • Harris, Rachel Lee. "In Utah, a New Home for Natural History" (The New York Times, 11/6/2011)
  • 2008
    • Brake, Alan G . "Unveiled: Utah Museum of Natural History" (Architect's Newspaper, 8/5/2008)
    • Brake, Alan G. "Unveiled: Utah Museum of Natural History" (The Architect's Newspaper, 8/5/2008)
    • Illia, Tony. "For a Utah Museum, Polshek Takes Its Cue from the Land" (Architectural Record, 12/2008)