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Stunning Museum Architecture

Posted by Christopher Hall on December 18, 2014
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  • part of the exterior of the Natural History Museum of Utah, image
    Photo caption
    The Natural History Museum of Utah's Rio Tinto Center gleams in Salt Lake City's eastern foothills.
  • Getty Center courtyard, image
    Photo caption
    Light slices across the Getty Center courtyard, which features boulders and travertine blocks set in shallow water.
  • exterior of Frederic C. Hamilton building at Denver Art Museum, image
    Photo caption
    The Frederic C. Hamilton Building at the Denver Art Museum is covered with 230,000 square feet of titanium shingles.
  • Photo caption
    From the Hamon Observation Tower at the de Young, you can see views of Marin headlands, Golden Gate Park, and San Francisco.

Road Journals—We generally go to museums for what's inside, whether art or artifacts or natural wonders. But sometimes there's an added bonus: the building itself. To create a distinctive identity and lure visitors, museum boards often demand sizzling design when they commission new buildings. Here's a quartet of museums around the West where the architects have happily obliged.

de Young Museum San Francisco
Designed by the renowned Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron and opened in 2005, the de Young is draped in a cloak of perforated and textured copper. Its 144-foot-high tower torques skyward, a totem-like monolith amid the lush vegetation of Golden Gate Park. The elevator ride up the tower—and the panoramic view from the top—are free. Pay the admission to see American art spanning the 17th to the 20th centuries, textile arts, as well as art of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. deyoung.famsf.org.

Getty Center Los Angeles
Not to be confused with the Getty's Malibu campus, which evokes an ancient Roman villa, this Brentwood hilltop campus of the J. Paul Getty Museum resembles a gleaming white, futuristic village high above Los Angeles. Opened in 1997, the complex—surrounded by stunning gardens—was designed by the famed American architect Richard Meier to house the museum's pre-20th century European art, its European, American and Asian photography, and the highly respected Getty Research Institute. getty.edu.

Natural History Museum of Utah Salt Lake City
Known as the Rio Tinto Center, this 2011 structure rests on terraces that follow the hilly contours of its site and contains earth science, biology and anthropology exhibits. The standing-seam copper that wraps around the exterior was mined nearby, and its horizontal configuration recalls Utah's many layered rock formations. At the building's heart, a soaring space called the Canyon—accessible without charge—has the Collections Wall, covered with 500 artifacts, and offers great views of the Salt Lake Valley. nhmu.utah.edu.

Denver Art Museum Denver
The undisputed star of this multi-structure complex is the 2006 Frederic C. Hamilton Building, a dramatically asymmetrical composition of jutting angles and sloping planes clad in titanium panels that reflect the Colorado sunlight. Housing the museum's collections of modern, contemporary, African, Oceanic, and Western American art, the building—by American architect Daniel Libeskind—joined a 1971 architectural gem, the museum's 24-sided, two-tower North Building by Italian architect Giò Ponti. denverartmuseum.org

Photography courtesy of WolfmanSF/Wikipedia (de Young); © J. Paul Getty Trust (Getty); courtesy of Jim Nista/Wikipedia (Natural History Museum of Utah); courtesy of Trueshow111/Wikipedia (Denver Art Museum)

This blog post was first published in December 2014. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.