Placemaking Through Interpretive Space
A Learning Environment Shaped by Local Surroundings
To give an interpretive space a sense of place, designers involve local materials and motifs that reflect the history, culture, and natural elements of an area.
A major inspiration for the CMNH transformation was how the natural history of the site could inform the future. The design brings together the original museum building and its six expansions into a unified complex. The curving forms of glass fiber-reinforced concrete evoke local land formations. Thousands of years ago, periods of glaciation shaped Ohio and carved out the Great Lakes, and now these brilliant glaciers of long ago return in the design of the museum’s facade and ceiling expression.
The new additions flank the planetarium, a space that exists as both an astronomical instrument and an educational tool: it is a cylinder with a sloping edge fixed at the latitude of Cleveland (41.5 degrees North), which results in an elliptical roof whose longitudinal axis is aligned with polar north. Thanks to this design, the planetarium acts as a star finder, with the North Star always found at the tip of the roof.
Massive exterior glass walls wrap around the building to open sightlines between exhibits and the surrounding landscape, embodying the museum’s mission of revealing interdependencies between people and the world around them. The connection between the building and its surrounding landscape helps visitors consider their agency in their everyday environment.
Sustainability, Education, and a Global Perspective
Placemaking through interpretive space must prioritize connection. At the CMNH, the space will connect visitors to a real-life look into the future through sustainable design elements, prioritize connection between visitors through programs in new classrooms, and connect the local community to a global vision.
Sustainable design elements connect the museum to its environment while educating the public. The new additions use bird-friendly glazing to help preserve natural diversity by eliminating fatal bird collisions. The new addition’s roof expression allows for water collection and reuse after weather events. Strategically oriented passive solar shades on the addition’s curtain wall will aid in energy reduction and conservation. Renewable energy sources such as solar arrays are visible from the new community green. Large windows allow visitors to experience the interplay between the natural world and the built environment.
Investing in the Future
Part of the museum’s mission is to inspire learning and encourage leadership. In pursuit of this goal, the design incorporates a new education wing with three renovated classrooms with state-of-the-art technology, a new lunchroom, and an interactive gallery for young museum visitors. There are also virtual studios for distance learning. An updated auditorium will allow new types of media to be utilized for educational purposes including 3D movies. A focus on education and leadership will empower everyone to make informed decisions based on scientific facts, contributing to the overall health and well-being of the community.
A Local Focus
The design and operation of the CMNH is intentionally local, aiming to give Cleveland residents a fun, educational, and centralized space to expand their global perspective. The Visitor’s Hall will always be free of charge, displaying the museum’s most prized artifacts such as Lucy, Balto, and the Haplocanthosaurus known as Happy. By investing in their community, the museum helps local visitors gain a better understanding of their environment.
We are creating a new model for natural history museums that uses the past to inform our present to build a better future together. Our reimagined museum will illuminate the interconnectedness of human life and the natural world, and how science is essential to our lives.”
When the transformation of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History is complete in 2024, the city will have a design that firmly makes a place in and alongside the local environment without losing sight of its larger global community. It’s with these two perspectives held side by side that visitors will understand the urgency of caring for the future of our planet by connecting with those around them now.
Read more about our work with the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and Cultural+Performing Arts institutions around the world.
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