Bell Museum Mammoth

University of Minnesota Bell Museum

St. Paul, Minnesota
An Unveiling of "How We Know"

The Bell Museum is Minnesota’s official natural history museum and has been preserving and celebrating the state for more than 144 years. Previously housed in a confined building, the new site is designed as a learning landscape—its surfaces configured to tie people, nature, and the environment together.

We created a personal journey of discovery through time, space, and life—told through the lenses of art, science, and culture. This unveiling of “how we know” helps visitors recognize the museum and planetarium as a portal to University of Minnesota research.

Bell’s monumental storybox windows are part of the magnificent personal journey that each visitor takes through the museum. Three monumental glass and wood storyboxes are  “lenses” between the interior and exterior spaces inspiring every visitor to connect across time between environmental experiences that are only in the past (within the museum) and environmental experiences that are immediately present (outside the building), informing our collective future.

Living Diorama
The building was conceived as a living, interactive diorama – linking interior space to adjacent landscapes.

Inspired by the innate storytelling power of Francis Lee Jaques’ historic Minnesota dioramas, the Bell’s monumental storybox windows shape the magnificent personal journey that each visitor takes through the museum.

Bell Museum University of Minnesota
The building exterior tells unique Minnesota environmental stories through the use of thermally modified white pine for the exhibit hall and storyboxes. Minnesota’s iron ore history is represented by red limestone roof ballast, weathering steel, stainless steel, and galvanized steel cladding elements.
Learning from Nature

Much of the museum’s exterior is covered with thermally modified white pine wood cladding, harvested from Minnesota forests that are ecologically managed and certified to Forest Stewardship Council criteria (FSC). The landscape surrounding the building includes a diverse blend of drought tolerant native and adapted plants. To mitigate the threat to birds, the architects developed a custom visual frit pattern for the glass that deters bird strikes, and is non-obtrusive to Bell Museum visitors.

Thermally Modified White Pine Cladding
Thermal modification is a technology that transforms underutilized species into no maintenance, low environmental-impact, 50-year exterior cladding.
Bird Safe Glass
The Bell Museum’s use of new fabrication technology for high performance glass with maximum visibility and bird safety will help thrust the global market into full acceptance of bird safe glazing.
Museum Program components include:
Exhibit Spaces, Digital Planetarium Theater, Museum Store, Events Lobby, Offices, Curatorial Workrooms, Science Classrooms, and interactive Discovery Rooms.
Gateway to Research

The new Bell Museum is located as a gateway to the Saint Paul Campus of the University of Minnesota, and showcases the University’s reputation for innovative research, education, and public engagement. The three glass-and-wood storyboxes act as lenses between interior space and the adjacent landscapes. They engage the community, and inspire visitors to connect across time between environmental experiences from the past, and environmental experiences that are immediately present.

120 Seat Immersive Planetarium
Features a "seamless dome projection surface"—the latest innovation in digital education tools.
Bell Museum University of Minnesota
Museum Lobby
The number of visitors has more than tripled since the museum's opening in 2018.
Bell Museum
Amphibian Amphitheater
Roof water captured by the on-site pond provides both habitat and the water needed for irrigating the vibrant landscape.

Rain gardens gather and filter all of the parking lot stormwater and send it into the ground and recharging the aquifer located below the site. Nutrient-rich bee lawns and meadows provide habitat for the endangered Rusty Patch bumblebee and a wide range of other essential pollinators. The building is designed to operate efficiently reducing its carbon footprint by more than 70% relative to comparable buildings and as a result, it protects life around the planet from the ravages of climate change.

Project Team

John Slack
Jeff Ziebarth
Jeff Ziebarth
Douglas Pierce
Heidi Costello