Rendering by CO Architects

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An intact, teeth-baring 33-foot-long Tyrannosaurus rex named Thomas is among the 20 dinosaur skeletons and 300 fossils that are moving into an upgraded space inside the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, located in Exposition Park.

Designed by Los Angeles-based CO Architects, in collaboration with Brooklyn-based exhibition designer Evidence Design, the exhibition hall, at 14,000 square feet, is twice the size of the museum’s old dinosaur gallery. Never-before-displayed stars of the exhibition include a Triceratops and the world’s only T. Rex “growth series”—a baby, teen, and adult (Thomas).

The new Dinosaur Hall, which will open this July, consists of two conjoined galleries, one in the museum’s original 1913 building and the other housed in the 1920s addition. Both galleries have been outfitted with glass balustrades, steel framing, and polished concrete floors. Some masonry wall sections in the 1920s building were replaced with glass to introduce more light.

As many barriers as possible have been removed, allowing visitors up-close views of the fossils. Plus, mezzanines in the two galleries will enable visitors to see eye-to-eye with the immense dinosaur skeletons. The gallery also will feature a host of interactive displays and videos. Luis M. Chiappe, director of the museum’s Dinosaur Institute, says that instead of clumping dinosaurs together by type or time period, the hall will be organized around a series of questions: What are dinosaurs? What was the world like when they were alive? What happened to them?

The project marks the midpoint of the museum’s $135 million capital campaign, which has so far raised over $84 million. It began in 2005 with seismic retrofitting of the original Beaux-Arts building designed by Hudson & Munsell, as well its restoration and renovation. The major addition in the 1920s, designed by Allied Architects Association, and subsequent smaller additions also received seismic upgrades and retrofits, in 2009 and 2010. As a result, 12 new galleries were added by repurposing space rather than changing the footprint of the building, says Don Webb, president of Cordell Corporation, the museum’s project management team. 

The final stage of the campaign will wrap up in 2012 and 2013, as phases of a new North Campus open. It will include 3.5 acres of gardens and outdoor exhibition space where there was once a parking lot and loading docks, along with the three-story glass pavilion, also designed by CO Architects, to mark the museum’s main entrance on Exposition Boulevard. “It’s ironic that a museum of natural history should find itself confined inside the building,” says Webb. The new “front yard” for the museum should change that.

Editor's Note: This story was updated on March 18, 2011.