The Perot Museum of Nature and Science has already garnered attention for its exhibition of fighting giant dinosaur fossils, and it’s not set to open until January. But KERA’s Jerome Weeks reports the museum’s biggest exhibition — by far — is being installed now.
KERA radio story:
Expanded online story:
[sounds of digging equipment, engine running, squeaks and clanks]
Along Woodall Rodgers Freeway, in front of the Perot Museum, there are backhoes and workers and new plantings. Coy Talley points to the dozens of new trees that crowd the area. It looks like a botanical garden having a sale.
Talley: “These are pines right here, these are cedar elms, burr oaks, white oaks, chinquapin oaks. And then down below, in the very bottomland, we have willow and cottonwoods.”
Talley (left) is a co-founder of the Dallas firm, Talley Associates; they’re the Perot’s landscape designers. In size, what they’re creating is not exactly the Great Trinity Forest, south of Dallas. But the Perot Museum’s grove of trees actually extends and rises up to the roof of the entrance plaza. There on the roof, it transitions into prairie and then snakes around the building in hills and valleys. Overall, it’ll cover an entire acre with more than 60 types of grasses, shrubs and trees,
Talley: “It’s designed as a cross-section of the Texas landscape. From the west Texas desert area, it transitions into some of the grasslands and all the way over to the east Texas forest and then the wetlands. So it’s very abstract in its representation but this is basically a large exhibit. It’s a living, breathing exhibit.”
This only makes sense for a museum of science and nature. The science and technology will be inside: all the DNA displays, the giant drill bit, the energy industry’s exhibition about the Barnett Shale.
And the nature is outside.
But Thom Mayne doesn’t see it that way. The founder of Morphosis Architects, Mayne is the Pritzker Prize-winning designer of the Perot.
Mayne: “We’ve been interested in a hybridized architecture. We talked about the buildings as augmented landscapes. We’re looking for an architecture which is neither landscape or building. It’s this in-between world.”
Much of the exterior of the Perot has been given a corrugated surface meant to resemble the different strata of a natural limestone wall. When we enter the Perot, we’re more or less entering a rocky bluff. As we do, the exterior landscape of stones and water and plants comes in with us. Sometimes, it’s visible through windows that slice open the walls. (Originally, Talley had tried to design that limestone-like bluff as a ‘living wall,’ with lichens and vines, but it didn’t work out.)
The Perot landscaping actually serves several functions. The piney woods in the lower entrance area provide park-like shade for an outdoor café area. The prairie grasslands form a sustainable roof that collects rainwater to irrigate itself. Living roofs or green roofs, as they’re called, have become popular environmental features. Architect Renzo Piano put one on top of the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.
But the Perot’s sustainable landscape doesn’t stop with the roof. Running through the parking lot is what’s called a bioswale. It’s basically a long ditch with vegetation that collects and filters rainwater – instead of just running it into a storm sewer and down into the Trinity River.
Talley: “That way, we allow water to penetrate into the earth versus collect every bit of water and then pipe it off of our site.”
And yes, because this is Texas – even a miniature, botanical model of Texas – the Perot will have wildflowers. There’ll be scarlet sage and purple coneflower. There’ll be lemon mint…
Talley: “… and we have coral bells, daisies. But not necessarily bluebonnets.”
After all, in Texas, you certainly don’t need to go to a museum – to see bluebonnets.
Master plan of the plantings: Bioswale in the parking lot, left, then the East Texas forest and wetlands with pond and then creek leading up to the entrance plaza, below center. The roof deck’s prairie grasslands and West Texas cap rock, right.
Masterplan artwork, courtesy Talley Associates