Natural History Museum of Utah


Ralph Appelbaum Associates, Ennead, GSBS, Infinite Scale Design Group, Poulin + Morris, Design Workshop

Practice Area


Natural History Museum of Utah


Project Vision

The Natural History Museum of Utah has created a remarkably integrated suite of design components: the Ennead-designed building nestled in the foothills of the Wasatch Range, a series of 10 interconnected exhibitions designed by Ralph Appelbaum Associates that resonate with the natural setting, an interior and exterior wayfinding program by Poulin + Morris, brand identity by Infinite Scale, and landscape architecture by Design Workshop. This work was possible through deep and long-term collaboration among the various designers and the museum’s creative and leadership teams.

The 160,000-square-foot building, known as the Rio Tinto Center, uses a materials palette recalling Utah’s geological and mineralogical history. A richly colored stratigraphic surface of copper on the building’s exterior references the mountainous landscape and the geophysical processes that created it. Three structural bays, organized along a central axis, reduce the perceived scale of the building and create a central, wedge-shaped public space referred to as the “canyon.” Inside, permanent exhibitions are organized as a system of trails, inviting visitors to choose their own paths through the space.

To approach the building is to experience an unfolding, a series of discoveries of materiality and content. Artfully placed windows link the rich and varied exhibitions inside with the natural world outside, reconnect visitors, again and again, with the natural landscapes that give the museum its purpose. The integration of design serves to physically and visually embody the museum’s mission: to illuminate the natural world and the place of humans within it.

(See full feature story in eg magazine, issue eg03.)

Project Details
The exhibit armature connects quite well with the building architecture. Views out to the landscape reinforce the earth-tone palette and the formal expression.
Juror 1
It seems obvious to say that the dinosaurs in the exhibition are the heroes, but everything about the installation keeps the visitor focused on the wonderful specimens. The tectonic shapes of wall and platforms mirror the landscape that surrounds the museum. The muted color palette, black and white photographic murals, and subtle material choices are what make this project distinctive.
Juror 2
The manner in which the exhibit elements, material selection, and colors reference the natural Utah environment and guide the visitor to search and discover are particularly engaging. The information is organized and presented in a very clean and understated manner that doesn't detract from the primary exhibit elements but enhances the experience.
Juror 3
Design Team

RAARalph Appelbaum (principal in charge); Tim Ventimiglia (project director/lead designer); Jennifer Whitburn (senior sesigner/project manager); Kai Chiu, Anthony Dong, Brian Walker (senior exhibition designers); Sanne van Haastert, Niki Shah-Hosseini, Tony Lualdi, Jenny Wong (exhibition designers); Miranda Smith (interpretive planner/lead content developer); Anne Bernard, Madeline Chinnici (content developers); Tommy Matthews (senior graphic designer); Chelsey Chapman, Lauren Francesconi, Gregory Goings, Joel Stillman (graphic designers); George Robertson, Sean Pattison, Scott Shephard (rendering/visualization); Nikki Amdur, Susan Packard (copy editors) EnneadTodd Schliemann (design partner); Tom Wong, Alex O’Briant (project designers); Don Weinreich (management partner); John Majewski (project architect); Charmian Place, Katharine Huber (interiors); Joshua Frankel, Aileen Iverson, Kyo-Young Jin, Apichat Leungchaikul, Megan Miller, Thomas Newman, Jarrett Pelletier (project team) GSBSDavid Brems (principal in charge); John Branson (project manager); Valerie Nagasawa (project architect); Stephanie DeMott, Stacy Butcher, Beccah Hardman (interiors); Clio Miller, Jesse Allen, Bill Cordray, Jennifer Still, Eduardo De Roda, Felissia Ludwig, Cathy Davison, Todd Kelsey, Seth Robertson, Robert Bowman (project team) Infinite ScaleCameron Smith (creative director), Molly Mazzolini (brand strategy), Drew Ehrgott (senior designer), Travis Lee (senior designer) Poulin + MorrisRichard Poulin (principal) Design WorkshopTodd Johnson (design partner); Terrall Budge, Chuck Ware (principals in charge); Amanda Szot, Troy Cook (project managers); Nancy Monteith, Ekpanith Naknakorn, Michael Budge, Eliot Hoyt, Lisa McGuire, Wayne Sanderson, Emily Benton, Steve Brozo (project team); Craig Johnson (ecology specialist)MediaBoston Productions (interactives), Frankly, Green +Web/Mediatrope Interactive Studio (trails/mobile media), Northern Light Productions (linear media), Ben Simonson (immersive soundscapes) 

Design Firm

Ralph Appelbaum Associates, Ennead, GSBS, Infinite Scale Design Group, Poulin + Morris, Design Workshop

Project Area

168,000 sq ft

Project Budget



Fusion Imaging (graphic print production); Fossil Industries (laminated graphics); Click-Netherfield (showcases); 3-Form/Meta Design (Ecoresin, metal fabrication); Brandston Partnership (lighting); BBI Engineering (AV systems design); BPI (AV integration); Shen Milsom and Wilke, Inc. (acoustics); Spectum Engineers (electrical, IT, security); Leslie E. Robertson Associates, R.L.L.P. (design engineer); Dunn Associates, Inc. (engineer of record, local engineer); Colvin Engineering (MEP); Dixon Studios (scenic modeling, dioramas); Blue Rhino Studio (topographic models); Vertebrata, RCI, Triebold Paleontology, Inc., Gaston Design, Inc., Michael Holland Productions (cast skeletal reconstructions); Ben Simonsen, Linda Feltner, Victor Leshyk, Douglas Henderson, Scott Hartman (illustrations); Eric Kankainen, Adriel Heisey, Craig Denton, Charles Uibel, Bruce Hucko, Laurel Casjens, Stuart Ruckman, Kirstin Roper (mural photography); Stephen Trimble, Jessica Brainard, Michael Rigsby (writers)


Maltbie Associates (exhibition fabrication and installation), Big-D Construction (general contractor and interior fit-out)