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Science Center of Iowa reveals its bold new design


The architects working on the new Science Center of Iowa had a daunting challenge: to create a unique, yet functional, building that would make a bold statement, but still fit in with its traditional downtown surroundings. They wanted it to draw people in from the Court Avenue district and the Principal Riverwalk.

The design for the building was revealed June 25: a 110,000-square-foot structure of soaring glass, bright terra cotta and gleaming metal. The main entrance, with a 60-foot-tall glass wall, will be located at the south end of Southwest Fourth Street. The Science Center will be south of relocated Market Street between Southwest Third and Fifth streets and north of the new Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway extension.

Throughout the planning stages, those designing the new museum tried to take into consideration the opinions of future customers. Many requested an IMAX theater. Some said they liked the current location’s park setting. Most people were concerned about the fate of the Foucault pendulum, which will make the move into a 40-foot-tall glass vestibule at a front corner of the building, visible inside and outside the new science center at all times.

“The input was refreshing,” said Ev Ruffcorn, design partner with Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Parntership, the Seattle-based principal architect for the project. He said he’s rarely enjoyed a project as much, and the active role Iowans have taken has been a pleasant surprise.

The new Science Center of Iowa will contain a 220-seat IMAX Dome Theater, a 140-seat performance theater for science-themed plays and a star dome theater for interactive planetarium shows. The shining metal turret of the IMAX theater will be edged with a reflecting pool, and the lush landscaping will give the center a more parklike setting. The transparency of the building will invite people in, and the lighted corner stairwells will serve as lanterns, Ruffcorn said.

The science center will have seven “experience platforms,” sites for permanent and traveling educational displays. “Science is where you find it” will show science in everyday life, “Who are we” will teach about human beings, “What on Earth” will feature demonstration gardens and a weather lab, “When things get moving” will display current science and technology, and “Why the Sky” will take a scientific and cultural look at astronomy.

Construction is slated to begin this summer. The Science Center has received $43 million of its $60 million fundraising goal, but more contributions will be announced in the coming months, according to Mary Sellers, executive director. Major non-government donors to the project, with contributions of more than $1 million each, include the Edwin T. Meredith Foundation, the Myron & Jacqueline Blank Fund, Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino and Principal Financial Group Inc, according to Steve Zumbach, chairman of the Greater Des Moines Partnership.  Although construction was delayed by about a month due to archeological discoveries on the site, Science Center officials say they are still on schedule to open in spring 2005.

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