'Immersing visitors in nature': Minnesota's US$79.2m Bell Museum reopening this month following redevelopment

by Megan Whitby | 03 Jul 2018

Minnesota’s new Bell Museum is set to reopen its doors to the public following a landmark US$79.2m (€68.2m, £60.4m) renovation.

The Bell, previously known as the James Ford Bell Museum of Natural History, has been Minnesota’s official nature museum since 1872.

According to the museum's science director, George Weiblen the Bell was aiming to transform how people experience museums.

"Museums used to put nature in a box but instead this museum immerses the visitor in nature," he said, speaking to The Star Tribune.

Based on the campus of the University of Minnesota, the museum has been closed since January 2017 and hopes to triple its annual visitor intake following the refurbishment. Local architects Perkins+Will designed the museum, while Minneapolis contractors McGough were in charge of construction.

An exciting product of the refurbishment is a new state-of-the-art planetarium, which will be the first of its kind in North America. Designed to be a seamless experience, the planetarium will immerse visitors, with graphics ranging from the depths of the cosmos to the inner workings of the human brain.

The museum will additionally feature updated exhibit galleries, with a range of dioramas depicting full-scale natural scenes varying from mammoths and wolves to polar bears.

Curators have also developed the ‘Touch & See Lab’ – a space where all ages can actively learn through observation and sensory engagement with a range of objects, including some small live animals.

Having undergone a 30 per cent increase in size since the renovation, the museum has expanded into its outdoor areas. Called the "Learning Landscape", a second-floor green roof and observation deck is open to the public, while the ground floor also features sustainable landscaping with native plants, a geology exploration area, and a solar station.

The Minnesota Legislature has provided US$51.5m (€44.3m, £39.3m) towards the US$64.2m (€55.1m, £48.8m) construction and landscaping costs, with a further US$6.7m (€5.8m, £5.1m) contributed by the university and US$6m (€5.2m, £4.6m) coming from private donations.

The museum also requested a further US$15m (€12.9m, £11.4m) for programme support, future endowment, technology upgrades, a 1,500sq ft (139sq m) expansion for temporary exhibition galleries and outdoor learning centres.

The Bell Museum and its designers hope that the development will "bring together science, art, and the environment with a unique Minnesota perspective".

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