Grad students designcourtyard for museum

Emily Dalnodar

As the Bell Museum of Natural History prepares for a scenic face-lift, University officials and professors are taking part in what they call an innovative teaching concept: letting students plan a major design.
A group of about 20 graduate students gathered at the museum Wednesday to show off their individual design ideas for revamping the museum’s courtyard. The project, which officials hope will create a natural Minnesota setting, will be unveiled to the public early next fall.
The idea is drawing people into the scene and letting them know that the museum is there, said Nina Shepherd, the museum’s public relations coordinator. Shepherd said many people don’t realize from its outside appearance that the building holds several natural history artifacts and animal displays.
But the method of designing the courtyard has officials excited.
“This is a really unique idea,” Shepherd said. The students are all part of a landscape architecture class which will take this opportunity to give hands-on experience in design and presentation.
The entire project will be developed at the University level, Shepherd said. Its estimated cost is about $100,000, most of which will be covered by private donations.
The students will come up with designs with the guidance of University researchers and professors. Facilities Management and Grounds Services will do the landscaping this summer. And most of the foliage will come from the University’s Landscape Arboretum.
The most prominent feature of the landscape is also done by a University employee. Four life-sized sculptures created by Bell Museum Exhibits Coordinator Ian Dudley, will be the focal point of the whole scene.
Three wolves and a 9-foot-tall moose are expected to create a sense of Minnesota wildlife. The sculptures, cast in bronze, are frozen in a scene of predators and prey as the wolves hungrily pace around the moose, ready to attack.
“This is a chance to help Minnesotans understand the kind of wonderful heritage in their own backyard,” Dudley said.
The sculptures will be encircled in a setting similar to where they naturally are found. This is the focus of the students’ work. They must design an area which will feature foliage and rocks native to Minnesota. The idea is to create an “outdoor diorama.”
“It’s landscape architecture, but we’re using a different set of criteria; this is an outdoor exhibit,” said Karen Lee Davis, associate director of the museum.
This twist on design challenged the students to come up with new concepts to fit the bill.
“How do you place this natural idea in such an urban landscape? That’s the toughest thing,” said Trent Luger, third-year graduate student in landscape architecture.
Munching cookies and sharing laughs, the students all had an opportunity to present their designs and ideas to professors and museum staff who will decide which of the plans to use.
“When you get 20 student — 20 minds — you get so many different looks. The students have a lot of creativity,” said John Koepke, department head of landscape and architecture.
Ideas presented at the meeting ranged from having handicapped accessible ramps leading into the exhibit to having rocks jutting out of the walls to create a cave-like effect. One suggested that the wolves be set up to appear as if they are coming right at the people.
Students and officials will hold more meetings in the near future.