Polshek Partnership Architects LLP And GSBS Architects
An artist's conception depicts the west elevation of the new Utah Museum of Natural History.

A $15 million donation from Kennecott Utah Copper Corp. is projected to generate more interest in mining and the land and also help to build a new museum offering "breathtaking views" from Salt Lake City's east bench.

The new Utah Museum of Natural History at the Rio Tinto Center will be nestled along the shoreline of the ancient Lake Bonneville in the University of Utah's Research Park. It is intended to mimic the landscape. Construction begins this summer.

Polshek Partnership Architects LLP of New York City and Salt Lake City-based Gillies Stransky Brems Smith Architects are hoping the facility they have designed will have minimal disruptions to the natural environment — while still preserving popular running and hiking trails nearby.

"It's inspiration is primarily the land of Utah," said Todd Schliemann, lead architect for the project. He said a 2005 tour of Utah introduced him to many facets of the state's "unique" landscape.

"Each place I went, I saw things that were extraordinarily architectural," he said.

The 17-acre site in upper Research Park will try to complement those findings, and will house a sprawling multi-story building reminiscent of the surrounding landscape, built with materials such as board-formed concrete and its exterior boasting Utah-mined copper panels, shards and wiring. The design, Schliemann said, is "influenced by the culture and context" of the site it will occupy.

"The site is sensitive," he said. "It sits on the edge of the city and at the foot of the Wasatch Range. The building itself will blend with the site."

As a partner in the venture, Kennecott Utah Copper Corp. announced its donation in a meeting with U. administrators Thursday. The new facility, which is estimated to cost more than $97 million, will bear the Rio Tinto name of the parent company of Kennecott's Utah companies.

The Utah State Legislature allocated $25 million to the project as a result of the recent session. The project was listed as part of the State Building Board's five-year building program. So far, more than $81 million has been raised for the building of the new museum, including donations of $15.5 million from the U.S. Congress, $10 million from the Emma Eccles Jones Foundation, $2 million each from the Willard Eccles Foundation and the R. Harold Burton Foundation as well as a number of individual gifts of $1 million and less.

Kennecott's influence will be obvious when the new structure rises: The new building's exterior will include about 42,000 square feet of copper. "Horizontal bands of copper of various heights emulate geological stratification, recalling Utah's geological and mineralogical history," said museum director Sarah George.

"This latest gift is truly remarkable because of the scope of its impact," said U. President Michael K. Young. "Not only will it help the Utah Museum of Natural History build its beautiful new facility, but it will benefit all Utahns by supporting the museum's educational mission throughout the state."

The gift, called "generous" by Young, is helping to continue Kennecott's 30-year support of the museum. The $15 million donation represents the largest single corporate donation in the university's history.

"It is a rare opportunity to find community partnerships where two groups can proudly support the same cause," said Andrew Harding, president and CEO of Kennecott Utah Copper Corp. "In this case, it's the support of sustainable principles and an interest in the natural sciences."

The museum is an active research institution that cares for more than 1.2 million objects and exhibits.

"Through this partnership, we will continue to introduce youth to careers in the natural sciences," Harding said. "We also hope to expose people to mining and show them how it is important to modern life."

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