Review: Perot Museum of Nature and Science

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You can’t miss it. The large cubic building on the north side of the Woodall Rodgers Freeway and Dallas’ historic West End Neighborhood appears to float atop a large pedestal. Striated concrete covers its facade, while a distinct glass enclosure that houses the escalator protrudes diagonally from the buildings south side.

And architecturally, there’s not much else like it. Since opening to the public in late 2012, the building, in an astonishingly short period of time, has become an icon of the Dallas skyline. Apparently that’s what happens when creative people blend science, nature, technology, and architecture into one exclusive and unique educational facility.

It also doesn’t hurt that a spectacular fund raising effort raised 185 million dollars so that the property acquisition, building design, and exhibit plans were all paid for without debt or public funds. Unlike many museums that are taxpayer subsidized, the Perot was entirely a private sector effort.

The museum’s theme seems focused. But science and nature are, respectively, a process and a concept. The former seeks to determine what is true and what is not, while the latter is what science seeks knowledge about.

So, not surprisingly, the Perot is an ambitious endeavor that some may think to be too ambitious, but it seems to succeed. The 180,000 square-foot building houses eleven exhibition halls, each showcasing some aspect of the natural world, be it a walk through the fossil record of dinosaurs or an explanation of how our species harnesses and extracts nature’s abundant resources.

Once inside, visitors are encouraged to start their tour at the top on the building’s fourth floor. Three separate sections house the T. Boone Pickens Life Then and Now Hall, the Rose Hall of Birds, and the Expanding Universe Hall.

In the Pickens hall a tyrannosaurus rex is dwarfed by an 85-foot-long alamosaurus constructed from three different specimens collected in Utah, New Mexico, and Texas. Skeletons and skulls of triceratops-looking creatures torosaurus, styracosaurus, and pachyrhinosaurus showcase the diversity of the ceratopsidae family of dinosaurs that lived around 65 to 70 million years ago. Other fossils include a giant sea turtle suspended from the ceiling, a mastodon (also dwarfed by the nearby Alamosaurus), and a troodon, a creature of diminutive size that may have possessed excellent night vision.

On the mezzanine above the dinosaurs is the Rose Hall of Birds. It seems to be a fitting placement in that the 10,000 species of extant birds are the modern descendants of the now extinct dinosaurs. Displayed reproductions of transitional fossils such as archaeopteryx and flexomornis have traits of dinosaurs and birds yet appear, from the evidence, to have lived prior to the time of the dinosaur extinction.

In the 2200 square-foot Expanding Universe Hall, you learn the process by which our universe came to be. In this display, you find what you expect to learn about: the Big Bang, our solar system, and physics, but not in the way that you expect to learn about them.

Working your way down to the lower floors, you will find the eight other halls that are dedicated to artifacts and concepts such as rocks and minerals, resource exploration and extraction, climate and weather forecasting, volcanoes and earthquakes, DNA, and engineering. The list is far from exhaustive, but offers some idea as to what you will expect to see and experience here.

Some of the galleries and halls bear, not surprisingly, the names of individual and corporate donors. Tom Hunt Energy Hall, named for oilman, Tom Hunt, and funded by Hunt Petroleum is one of them. The multitude of displays within the hall deal with the formation, discovery and extraction of oil, natural gas, and other energy resources. It does so while also not ignoring the corresponding environmental issues, and providing significant information on renewable energy sources that we all will become more reliant on as fossil fuel resources dwindle.

The emphasis on environmentalism, however, is not overdone. Large machines used in the fracking process on display may appear as if it is the hall’s main theme on energy extraction. It is, but fracking is the extraction method that is driving the current natural gas boom. The point is that, despite the buildings receiving the highest green rating from the Green Building Initiative, there is not a blind reverence to environmentalism that I have seen at other museums. There is a balance here.

There’s more–lots more–in the various halls and galleries. The 298-seat Hoglund Foundation Theater has daily showings of brief science-themed documentaries. There is even a separate children’s museum, and, of course, a cafe for those planning to stay awhile.

As an institution, the Perot doesn’t miss much. It is groundbreaking, so it is no wonder that it is frequently sold out. But unless you plan to spend a long time here, it can be overwhelming. There is much to see and absorb, and equally much to miss. This is not the museum for a casual one-hour tour. So you may–actually you should–want to plan for a long day or even multiple visits, as this is a destination as much as it is a museum.

About Bloice Davison

Bloice C. Davison, III blogs, travels occasionally, and takes pictures. He has experience in the telecommunications, banking, retailing and outside sales businesses. He is a former fly-fishing guide and fly-fishing instructor for the Orvis Company. He served as an Aircraft Maintenance Specialist in the United States Air Force. A 1988 graduate of Virginia Tech, he also has a BS in statistics from the Metropolitan State College of Denver.

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