The Paleontological Museum is a large-scale cultural destination and research facility for the National Park Service three miles off US Highway 40 in southwest Colorado. It is a self-sufficient megastructure consolidating exhibits, labs, storage, education, visitor amenities, and administration. It is also shaped like a giant dinosaur.
Can an apparently facetious response be substantial? The Museum ties into American traditions of roadside architecture, and dinosaurs are a perennial subject of public fascination and spectacle – but these notions are hardly legitimizing. The redeeming circumstance here is that this site is really no place for a building at all. Instead, the Museum poses as a character inhabiting – and at the scale of – the topographical mise-en-scene. Or rather, two characters: the biomorphic public entity and its technological service sidekick, connected by arterial gangways.
The absurd form is further validated by the clarity with which its occupation is defined. Since the Museum is necessarily reached by car (or RV), parking is submerged in a “dig” that gives on to an underground entrance, eliding the impossible question where to get inside. The galleries are attained via a mammoth spiral ramp that evokes both innards and the temporal progression of evolution. The primary exhibits occupy the top level of the museum, with a scenic overlook at the head.
The Museum’s double-cantilevered steel chassis sits on cast-in-place leg piers, and is faced in aluminum and red brass sheets. The sidekick bar’s steel frame construction is clad in aluminum panels printed with images of Cor-Ten steel at 20x actual scale.