Cleveland Museum of Natural History reopens Sunday with free visitor hall
Balto, Lucy and Happy are back.
The Cleveland Museum of Natural History reopens on Sunday, with the completion of another phase of its $150 million transformation. The former taxidermy and dinosaur galleries are now a free visitor hall, housing eight of the museum’s iconic pieces. That means beloved sled dog Balto, 3.2-million-year-old skeleton Lucy and Happy the Haplocanthosaurus (a dinosaur) will be free to view.
The area has been redesigned to include natural light and a sweeping, cream-colored motif, in reference to Ohio’s founding. Architect Paul Westlake of DLR Group said it will be the "living room of Cleveland."
"It's based on images of carved ice," he said. "The outside of the building and the interior architecture, which are unified, are actually kind of an homage to the glacier that created our natural history. There are no right angles. It's all flowing like water and ice."
The hall also includes a visual timeline, embedded in the floor, of 4.6 billion years of evolution. By the end of next year, it will be interactive with smart phones to provide added content. CMNH CEO Sonia Winner wants the museum to be educational for all ages. “We’re all about telling the story of life… the beauty and the fragility,” she said. “We want people to understand that there is hope for the planet and that our health is so intertwined with planetary health.”
The reopening brings the debut of a pair of 3D films. In Shafran Planetarium, a new show with museum astronomers will discuss the geometry of eclipses in preparation for next April’s total solar eclipse.
The Centennial Transformation Project began in 2015. Winner took the helm in 2018, not long after the opening of a parking garage and reimagined wildlife area. She's reconfigured the project so the museum could stay open throughout the construction, which is ahead of schedule and slightly under budget, according to Winner.
The University Circle facility last year unveiled a new front façade and children’s area. At the time, Winner said the project is making the Eisenhower-era building look “a little less like a dentist’s office” before it’s slated to be complete late next year. The final phase of construction includes a wing on planetary processes and the return of the museum’s pendulum.
“You’re not going to see just a dinosaur hall,” she said. “You’re going to be able to see a very integrated story, and see how we are all interdependent on other forms of life.”