'Forceful,' 'acrobatic,' 'muscular,' 'raw,' even 'gritty' are usually the operative adjectives to describe the architecture of Thom Mayne (2013 AIA Gold Medalist) and his firm, Morphosis. But not 'refined.' Yet the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, which opened in Dallas last month, seems surprisingly restrained for a building by the Los Angeles firm. With its pale, crinkly precast-concrete panels enclosing a cubic volume, it appears rather sedate from afar. At the same time, there is a raw energy in the way the calm cube erupts from a craggy free-form plinth covered with shards of rock and local plants.

While the cube and plinth provide the dominant volumetric elements, the skin brings the exterior into high relief. Riddled by wrinkles, creases, and puckers, the precast-concrete cladding would look like an elephant's hide if it were not so light in color. Instead, the slightly mottled off-white surface has a ruched texture like a luxuriantly pliable fabric. The heavy cloak of 656 precast panels, typically 8 by 30 feet (and some weighing 16,000 pounds and up to 9' inches thick), gives the striated skin arresting shadow lines, a coup de th''tre made possible by the architects, the engineers, and a concrete subcontractor using building-information modeling (BIM).

The Perot cube did not come all that naturally to Mayne. His first scheme, an angular, hunkering form, extended over much of the 4.7-acre site, and its galleries adopted the splayed shapes of the container itself. But the client, Mayne found, 'felt more of a comfort level with neutral stacked exhibition spaces and not too much light.' And terms such as 'orthogonal' and 'opaque' seemed key to understanding the museum's vision.

Mayne's response was a 170-foot-high building containing four floors inside an almost blank cube devoted primarily to windowless galleries. Three design firms (Amaze Design, Paul Bernhard Exhibit Design, and Science Museum of Minnesota) took over installations for the 11 permanent exhibition halls, focusing on fossils, birds, geology, space exploration, and other topics.

Children's classrooms and exhibition areas occupy the plinth's lower level, which visitors can enter from the east, where the architect's geological formation seems pushed up by a glacial flow of curtain wall. The glassed-in main lobby, a void separating the cube and plinth, is reached by visitors ascending a curved ramp from the parking area to the west.

In order to bring daylight into the museum, Mayne cracked open the southeast corner of the cube to create a glass-and-steel atrium containing escalators and staircases. He made the museum's major circulation device'the escalator'a salient feature of the exterior by enclosing a 54-foot-long section of it in a glass cartridge smacked onto the south facade. The exposed escalator is the final move in a sequence that begins at the lobby level; where it pushes out, the cartridge is cantilevered from a beam that in turn is cantilevered from another beam. These acrobatics control deflections and vibrations, notes structural engineer Kurt Clandening of John A. Martin & Associates, which worked with Datum Engineers on the project.

Daylight floods the cube's atrium and dramatizes the sculptural pyrotechnics: Here a precast-concrete curvilinear vertical assemblage, suspended from the roof, alternately narrows and widens into a tornado-like whorl to embrace staircases and escalators. Nearby a poured-in-place-concrete shaft contains glass elevators for those who succumb to vertigo in glancing over perforated powder-coated aluminum balustrades or by peering down 99 feet through the metal grate floor of the fourth-floor bridge.

The escalators only go up. Visitors are encouraged to start at the top, where an 85-foot-long dinosaur's skeleton (a reconstructed Alamosaurus incorporating actual vertebra fossils) charges through a 36-foot-high space on the fourth floor; large concrete Vierendeel trusses on the floor above allow the dinosaur to have sufficient headroom.

Lower down, where the cube seems to hover above the lobby level on the plinth, large V-shaped concrete columns supplement a grid of round concrete ones, and transfer girders adjust loads at the perimeter. In this light-filled space, a limpidly curving glazed wall relies on a tension-cable-supported system to stabilize its organic flow. The lobby's mesh ceiling partially conceals the concrete deck above and carries slender rods of LEDs. In addition, polygonal fiberglass pods'similar to those resting on the exterior landscape of the plinth's roof'nestle against the ceiling, emitting light through small perforations.

Mayne wanted the building to function as its own scientific exhibition as well as a provocative work of architecture.Accordingly, the museum design includes various sustainable features: Rainwater rolls down the slanted roof into two cisterns (with minimal drainpipes), which recycle up to 50,000 gallons for irrigation and flushing. Three solar collectors on the plinth roof help heat water, and most of the concrete in the project uses fly ash, slag, and other supplementary cementitious materials to reduce the carbon footprint. Since the precast panels cover most of the cube, the heat load is cut down as well'all of which will keep operating costs down for the $185 million museum.

Mayne won the commission over architects Ennead, Shigeru Ban, and Sn'hetta, though he had not designed a museum before. It was a first new building for the client as well. The museum's contents came from three different collections exhibited at Fair Park in Dallas, built for the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition. Nicole Small, the CEO of the Perot, says Mayne 'understood the building could be a teaching tool. The way he thinks about sustainability and materials is creative and rigorous.'

With its Cartesian cube and its free-flowing, lavalike plinth, the Perot museum is one of Morphosis's most remarkable works to date. Like James Stirling's architecturally synoptic Neue Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart (1984)''my model,' Mayne notes'the Perot combines traditional roomlike galleries with unconventional halls. It also mixes Euclidean geometry with hyperbolic curves, and juxtaposes fluid and restrained spaces. The striking design evokes the naturally sheared cube of black pyrite from Spain on view in the museum's Lyda Hill Gems and Mineral Hall. The connection between natural and man-made artifact speaks of a flinty integrity that makes architecture meaningful.


Owner: Museum of Nature & Science

Morphosis Architects
3440 Wesley Street, Culver City
California 90232
Main number 424-258-6200
Fax: 424-258-6299

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Design director: Thom Mayne, registered Architect
Project principal: Kim Groves, registered Architect
Project manager: Brandon Welling, registered Archtiect
Project architect: Arne Emerson
Project designer: Aleksander Tamm-Seitz

Project team
Natalia Traverso Caruana
Paul Choi
Kerenza Harris
Sal Hidalgo
Andrea Manning
Aaron Ragan
Scott Severson
Martin Summers
Jennifer Workman

Project assistants
Katsuya Arai
Jesus Banuelos
Andrew Batay-Csorba
Marco Becucci
Chris Bennett
Anne Marie Burke
Amaranta Campos
John Carpenter
Min-Cheng Chang
Emily Cheng
Kyle Coburn
Jon Cummings
Laura Decurgez
Yusef Dennis
Alex Deutschman
Chris Eskew
Alex Fritz
Andrew Gaudette
Mauricio Gomez
Brock Hinze
Yasushi Ishida
Jai Kumaran
Edmund Kwong
Matt Lake
Jeremy Magner
Hugo Martinez
John McAllister
Jason Minor
Borja Muguiro
Sophia Passberger
Anna Protasevich
Kateryna Rogynskya
Scott Smith
Josh Sprinkling
Satoru Sugihara
Ben Toam
Elizabeth Wendell
Michelle Young

Architect of record:
Morphosis Architects

Associate architect(s):
Good Fulton & Farrell

Interior designer:
Morphosis Architects

Structural: Datum Engineers
Consulting structural engineer: John A. Martin Associates, Inc.
MEP: Buro Happold
Civil: URS Corporation

Landscape Architecture & Sustainability:
Talley Associates

Office for Visual Interaction

Jaffe Holden

Sustainability: Good Fulton & Farrell
Cost estimator: Davis Langdon
Façade: JA Weir Associates
Geotechnical: Terracon Consultants
Audiovisual/IT: Wrightson, Johnson, Haddon & Williams, Inc (WJHW)
Theater: Harvey Marshall Berling Associates (HMBA)
Code: Jim W Sealy Architects
Specifications: Inspec
Vertical transportation: Barbre Consulting
Technology & BIM: Synthesis
Water proofing: Apollo BBC
Accessibility: Access By Design
Security: Jaffe Holden
Architectural visualization: Kilograph

General contractor / Construction manager:
Balfour Beatty Construction

Josh Sprinkling, Morphosis Architects

CAD system, project management, or other software used:
2D and 3D: Microstation, Autocad, Triforma, Revit
Project Management: Constructware, Vela


180,000 square feet (gross)


$92 million (construction only)

Completion date:

December 2012



Structural system
Holcim (cement);
Gate Precast (fabricator)

Exterior cladding
Metal Panels:
Alpolic by Mitsubishi Plastics Composites America

Curtain wall and Window wall:
Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope, Novum Systems

Metal panel Alpolic by Mitsubishi Plastics Composites America

Precast concrete:
Gate Precast

EIFS, ACM, or other:
Alpolic by Mitsubishi Plastics Composites America.

Moisture barrier:
Polyguard sheet waterproofing.
W.R. Meadows Sealtight liquid membrane.
American Hydrotechwaterproofing membrane

Curtain wall:
Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope
Novum structural glass wall Systems

Built-up roofing:
American Hydrotech Garden Roof – Landscaped roof.
Modified Bitumen roof – Tower roof.
Carlisle FleeceBack TPO membrane – Plaza.

Alpolic by Mitsubishi Plastics Composites America.

EFVM® (Electric Field Vector Mapping) – Electronic Leak Detection System at landscape roof and plazas

Metal frame: Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope aluminum frames

Insulated units and laminated glass - Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope, Avic Sanxin Co.

Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope
Avic Sanxin Co.

Interior glass floor and framing: Trainor Glass Company

All glass entries:
Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope all-glass Entrance Systems, CR Laurence pulls and electronic egress handles, Schlage magnetic shear locks, Dorma concealed floor closers, Horton closers.

All glass entries:
Besam / Assa Abloy all-glass Entrance Systems and closers, CR Laurence pulls and electronic egress handles

Terrace doors:
Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope Terrace Doors

Automatic sliding doors:
Besam / Assa Abloy

Custom curved glass doors:
Novum Systems

Metal doors:
Security Metal Products Corp
Adams Rite
Action Door

Wood doors:
Performance Door

Sliding doors:
Besam automatic sliding doors
Stanley Access Technologies

Fire-control doors, security grilles:
Total Doors
Adams Rite

Special doors:
Smoke containment doors - Smoke Guard
GFRC faced hollow metal doors – Performance Door and Baker Triangle


Dorma concealed floor closers at glass entries
Horton closers

Exit devices:
CR Laurence electronic egress handles at glass entries
Von Duprin

CR Laurence
Custom pulls and push plates – Performance Door

Security devices:
CR Laurence electronic egress handles
Von Duprin

Other special hardware:
Rixson pivots

Interior finishes
Acoustical ceilings:
24” x 24” suspended custom metal wire mesh panels – Lobby and public spaces
Hunter Douglas Techstyle – Auditorium, Conference rooms, Offices

Suspension grid:
Custom threaded rod and universal connection for wire mesh panels
Hunter Douglas Techstyle

Demountable partitions:
Ampco Powder Coated Baked Enamel partitions (custom color)

Cabinetwork and custom woodwork:
Custom casework – custom color painted MDF with high-gloss varnish finish.
Custom casework – MDF base with Corian counter, door, and drawer surfaces

Paints and stains:
Sherwin Williams

Wall coverings:
Theater acoustic walls and ceilings – Fabritrak system with Knoll and Maharem fabric

Solid surfacing:

Special surfacing:
Back-painted glass

Floor and wall tile:
MOSA floor and wall tile - Bathrooms

Resilient flooring:
Forbo Marmoleum

J+J Invision carpet tiles

Special interior finishes unique to this project:
Solid vinyl with custom print graphics
Perforated vinyl with custom print graphics
Theater acoustic walls and ceilings – Fabritrak system with Knoll and Maharem fabric

Ground and sealed cast in place concrete floors – Public spaces
Precast, ground and sealed concrete treads – Public spaces (DOT manufacturer)
Terrazzo floor – elevators (American Terrazzo manufacturer)

Office furniture:
By Owner

Reception furniture:
By Owner

Fixed seating:
Irwin theater seats - Theater
Precast concrete bench - Built-in Lobby bench

Café and Auditorium chairs – Vitra 0.3 stackable chair
Remainder of chairs by Owner

by Owner

Irwin Seating – Theater seats
Remainder of upholstery by Owner

Interior ambient lighting:
LED lighting – Electrix (Theater), Neoray (lobby), Omega, RSA Lighting, Linear Lighting (office fixtures)

Linear Lighting
Edison Price Lighting

SPI lighting
Birchwood Lighting
B-K Lighting
Phillips Gardco

Dimming System or other lighting controls:

Geared Passenger elevators Cabs with glass walls – Thyssenkrupp
Passenger elevator interior finishes - Eklund
Freight elevator – Thyssenkrupp
Geared Hydraulic elevator – Thyssenkrupp
Escalators – Thyssenkrupp

Waterclosets – Toto self-generating Ecopower
Urinals – Toto low consumption
Lavatories for Public Bathrooms – custom corian trough sink
Lavatories for Public Bathrooms - Aquaplane
Faucets – Toto Helix Ecopower, Toto Single lever high-efficiency
Shower system – American Standard
Water fountains – Acorn Aqua

Energy management or building automation system:
Andover Systems

Other unique products that contribute to sustainability:
Solar Hot Water:
Viessmann vacuum tube solar collectors