Real Estate

An Afternoon at the New Perot Museum, a Peek Inside the Geologically Striated Gray Cube

A Perot Museum of Nature & Science curator wound us through the fourth floor of the partially completed space, calling upon visitors to imagine the 80-foot-long dinosaur that would soon occupy where he was standing. Next to that prehistoric giant will be the 25-foot Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum, that horned dino named after the Perot family, the $185-million museum's namesake and chief donor.

Another reptile will hang from the ceiling, with a wingspan the curator compared to a fighter jet and a true bird's-eye view of view of downtown from the windows on all sides of the museum's open floor plan. Architect Thom Mayne of Morphosis aimed to highlight the "middle ground between nature and architecture," he says. "And everything is connected to the city." And it's really freaking cool.

Mayne is a master of fantasy-like architecture-speak. He says things like, "Everything around us is creeping into the building ... the indigenous landscape is coming through the roof" and around the building, to the edge of the windows, appearing as though encroaching on the interior in a "continuous connection between landscape and building."

Mayne designed the boxy structure, with a craggy gray facade reminiscent of undulating geologic formations, to look like a cube floating over a landscaped roof, which consists of more than one acre of garden space. The escalator, which occupies the glass rectangle that appears to be falling from the building's exterior, is designed as a playful "quasi-enigmatic" transport mode that appears to be taking people outside the building.

After guests exit the series of escalators that overlook Woodall Rogers and only go up, up, up, they will begin spiraling, via stairs or glass elevators, through the museum's floors of attractions ranging from prehistoric creatures to energy generation.

The project's third floor, one floor beneath the dinosaurs, houses a 3,700-pound geode from Uruguay with a steering wheel that, when spun, closes and opens the massive rock, like a massive imposing oyster. Geometric imitations of crystal structures jut from the walls. A short walk along the energy wall will lead visitors to a humongous rotating drill bit made to look as though it's drilling a well into the building. This portion of the museum exhibits energy exploration; there's even a "Christmas tree" well head just like those used at drilling operations. This is North Texas, after all.

Today's media sneak peek bypassed the second floor, home to the "engineering" and "being human" halls, and snaked through the lower level, which will house a sports hall, theater, temporary exhibit hall, classrooms, and a children's center with a replica dinosaur dig and a mock-up of the Great Trinity Forest.

Outside, the sweeping entrance plaza will be open to the public with access to the cafe and theater. Huge trees native to Northeast Texas will blanket the surrounding grounds, giving way to a frog pond and a musical forest. What's a musical forest? We're not sure either, but it should be a mythical experience when the museum opens early next year.

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Leslie Minora