The unique challenge of this project was designing an enclosure around the fixed position of a paleontological treasure, which was to remain in the earth as it was found. Great care was needed to cause the least disturbance possible to the dinosaur tracks. The structure needed to provide a large clear span of space to enclose the tracks, with no interior walls or columns, and have at least 15 feet vertical height to fit a backhoe in. This meant the structure would have to be completely supported from the exterior edges. The structure is an architecturally significant enclosure design with a simple interior program. It provides environmental controls to preserve the tracks, and it provides supportive areas for a visitor attraction, such as space for group presentations, and a souvenir shop. The designers worked with paleontologists to design the exhibit flow through the building. Solution: The site will remain an active dig site for excavation and research while simultaneously serving as a visitor attraction. The industrial feeling of the metal material was actually a desired effect to make the site look and feel more like a “working site” rather than just another static exhibit. The excitement of an ongoing dig site becomes part of the visitors’ experience. At the same time, as a major visitor attraction, the structure needed to have an aesthetic and visitor friendly appeal.
We started with the concept of a simple metal building and, similar to dinosaur skeletons, expressed the “skeleton” of the building, or the exterior, through a series of cantilevered columns and beams. Walls of corrugated metal materials were chosen to complement the light exoskeleton, and to provide strong and durable protection for the scientific treasures within. The strong textured look of the corrugated metal creates shadow lines for an interesting and attractive design effect that also softens the materials’ presence in the natural setting. The metal panels would also be easy to install and therefore presented a low risk of the tracks being disturbed by construction activity. Large panels of glass, sturdily framed within the light metal walls, were included on every elevation for a high degree of transparency, providing direct visual access from the exterior of the building to the exposed dinosaur tracks within. This effect was further enhanced by a clearstory of windows in the ceiling. The clearstory is a set of three separate rows of windows that appear to unfold in an upward pattern. This soft light from the ceiling provides simple and unsophisticated illumination to view the dinosaur tracks in the natural and uncontrived setting that was intended. The steel framed cantilever system provides structural support while also being the main architectural feature of the exterior. In the interest of the least disturbance possible to the site, the steel framed cantilever structural system was constructed with no excavation.
The structural steel sits directly on indigenous bedrock, anchored into place by drilling two 20-foot deep rock anchors for each section. The light, transparent skin of the building accents the exposed structural system. The overall effect is a light, suspended feeling of an “enclosure” as opposed to a more typical visitor center.2180 East Riverside Dr. St. George, UT 84770